After years in the works, ‘A$pen: The Series’ lands on Grassroots
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘A$spen: The Series’ premiere party
Where: Bootsy Bellows
When: Thursday, March 1, 9 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: The party includes a complimentary cocktail and hors d’oeuvres by Caribou Club.
IF YOU WATCH …
‘A$pen: The Series’ will air four times weekly on Grassroots TV during March, beginning Thursday, March 1. It is scheduled to run Wednesdays at 10 p.m., Thursdays at 5 p.m., Fridays at 9 p.m. and Saturdays at midnight.
Producer Greg Simmons’ “A$pen: The Series” will be broadcast on Grassroots TV this month, ending a long and loud 16 years of development and promotion.
If you’ve been around Aspen for a while, you may remember Simmons driving around town in a Hummer emblazoned with the “A$pen” logo and equipped with a video screen playing clips from the show. Or perhaps you ran into the paid models and dancers hyping it at X Games, or witnessed a script reading hosted by the rapper Casanova during (but not affiliated with) HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
Simmons had hoped and hustled to land backing from a Hollywood studio or television network. But after his quixotic journey through show business, his program will finally make its premiere here on local cable access.
“It’s really just about showing my work to the community,” Simmons, 54, said in an interview this week.
Throughout March, Grassroots will air two episodes of the show along with a madcap documentary telling the often bizarre story behind its creation. Bootsy Bellows will host a premiere party tonight.
The show features a millionaire, an Internet entrepreneur, a movie star just out of rehab, a hard-partying trust-funder and a ski patroller who live together in a Red Mountain mansion. The entrepreneur, Walter, is facing a midlife crisis and looking to live the good life in Aspen (“I just want to ski and kayak and luge and curl — you know, everything,” he says in the pilot). His girlfriend, January, decides instead to surprise him on his 40th birthday with a reality television program filming their life. Zaniness ensues.
Simmons, who worked as a real estate developer before his swerve into TV production, has lived in Aspen since 1996 and has been working on this passion project since 2002.
Early on, he convened a crew of TV writers here in a “writers workshop” setting to hammer out details of the concept. In 2003, during the HBO Comedy Fest, he staged a reading of the show at the Double Diamond in hopes of getting some of the industry folks in town interested. He recruited some Hollywood heavy-hitters to work on the project, including producer Gary Walters — who would go on to found Bold Films and co-produce acclaimed movies like “Drive” and “Whiplash” — and veteran TV writer Lawrence Levy, whose credits include “Seinfeld” and “Roseanne.”
“I thought (Simmons) was nuts putting his own money into something,” Levy, who will be in town for the premiere party, says in the documentary. “But later I found out it was just that I wasn’t used to meeting people with so much passion about something.”
With nobody biting on the series, Simmons produced a reality show, “Creating America’s Next Hit Television Show,” with the premise that creative teams would pitch ideas for shows and make a pilot based on audience feedback (the first idea pitched on the show, naturally, was “A$pen”) with interludes featuring scantily clad dancers. Simmons bought early-morning time slots on Comedy Central and Spike TV to broadcast it in the fall of 2005.
“It’s a reality show about a sitcom that’s about a reality show that is a talk show, with dancers,” one observer wryly explains the convoluted concept in the documentary.
The series also inspired a spinoff lifestyle web series called “Sneak-a-Peak.”
In 2006, with a team of paid models and go-go dancers in tow, Simmons crashed the X Games, the Sundance Film Festival and the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, to build buzz for his series. The stunts did not win any financial backers for the show, but as Simmons puts it in the documentary “A$pen” became “the most-wanted show at Sundance by police.” Simmons also parked the “A$pen” Hummer outside of television studios in Los Angeles hoping to garner attention.
After going through the wringer of Hollywood development, Simmons finally filmed the pilot — with his own funding — in 2010. After that, he came as close as he ever would to getting a network to bite — a promise of funding to make a six-episode season for premium cable materialized and then fell through.
In 2011, Simmons finally pulled the plug on the series.
Since then, he’s kept the show in “hibernation,” without a plan to broadcast and no longer actively trying to get it picked up in Hollywood. But recently, Simmons said, through life coaching and self-help books he was inspired to share it. This winter, Steve Chandler’s “100 Ways to Motive Yourself,” he said, gave him a “fire in the belly” and made him decide to finally put the show out there, for Aspen only, on Grassroots TV.
It’s safe to say it’s the biggest budget production Grassroots has premiered.
“I’m the lion’s share,” Simmons said when asked how much “A$pen” cost to produce. “It’s not all my money. I have some investors. But, gosh, it’s millions. I’ll leave it at that.”
He’s excited to share the show with the town that inspired it.
“What feels good is that the community is positive and in an open-arms reception of the broadcast,” Simmons said. “I’ve never had that before.”
Whatever goodwill or interest Simmons had built up within the Aspen community in the first few years of promotion, he said, was squandered by “Secrets of Aspen,” the 2010 VH1 reality show that raised hackles among local residents for its caricatured depiction of glitz, glam and drama in the ski town.
“People were curious at first, then it was ‘That guy is crazy’ and then ‘Secrets of Aspen’ came out and that just buried me,” Simmons said. “Aspen TV got a very negative reception in the community.”
His show treads some of the same cartoonish terrain as “Secrets,” but Simmons is hopeful that Aspenites are willing to have fun with it.
“I took the take of Aspen as the playground of the rich and famous because back in the day I built the show to sell to the world, not to the community of Aspen,” he said.
Had he known from the start he was making it for a Grassroots audience, Simmons said, he would have taken a more “low-key” approach.
And maybe Hollywood hasn’t heard the last of Greg Simmons. After finally putting “A$pen: The Series” to bed, Simmons said he is working with his old fraternity brothers from Chico State University on a sitcom called “Pioneer Days,” based on the college’s notorious annual parade and party.
“It’s like ‘Animal House’ on TV,” he said.
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This summer the Aspen Music Festival is emphasizing this discovery track more than before, as the 2021 season marks the launch of its initiative to spotlight diverse composers who identify as AMELIA (African-American, Middle Eastern, Latin, Indigenous, and Asian).