Behind the Scenes: TV Sitcom Portrays Comedic Side of Claims

By Denise Johnson | May 11, 2011

“Lights…Camera…Action” is not a phrase often used within the insurance industry. That’s about to change thanks to a new television show created to document the comedic aspect of adjusting workers’ compensation claims.

“Workers’ Comp” is a sitcom produced by Dori Sperko and created by her daughter, Castille Landon, and family friend, Harrison Sanborn. Sperko is no ordinary executive producer; she lived and breathed workers’ compensation claims, as the co-owner of NELCO, an employee leasing company, for several years prior to the show’s development.

Dori Sperko and her mother, Virginia Dorris, owned National Employers Co. (NELCO) for 25 years before selling the business three years ago. Sperko says during the first eight years the firm served as an employee leasing company, but transitioned to offering claims services due to issues they had with third party administrators (TPAs) on high deductible plans for off-shore clients.

Sperko’s employees became accustomed and knowledgeable in managing claims because the issues, such as ridiculous claim descriptions on loss runs and delayed payments, were substantial and lasted an extended period of time.

“While we were trying to get a decent TPA in place, I had employees that were just having to learn how to manage claims,” she said. “In the course of a year, my folks ended up getting licensed as adjusters.”

Sperko and her mother soon realized they could do a better job handling claims internally by providing personalized customer service. She says NELCO made a point of returning phone calls, aggressively defending fraudulent claims, and making sure legitimate claims were resolved proactively. NELCO became known for its internal claims service.

The show came about when Sperko’s 19-year-old daughter, Castille Landon, an actress who has had small roles in two television series, “Ghost Whisperer” and “Tell Me You Love Me”, decided to document the zany claims and vivid personalities she encountered within the family-run business.

The storyline centers around five main characters working for a fictitious family-owned insurance company, Pinnacle Workers’ Compensation Insurance Co.

Though Sperko, now president of VADAR Corp., thought the script was funny, she was concerned that, as Landon’s mother, she might not be impartial. “To get an unbiased view, I sent it to a few folks out in LA that I know,” says Sperko.

The script garnered immediate attention from Hollywood insiders excited for something new. Landon’s manager, David Sauers, liked it enough that he wanted to produce it. “We heard from Morgan Fairchild’s agent that she loved the project and wanted to participate,” adds Sperko.

Peter Bentley, sound mixer for AMC’s “Mad Men”; Sandra Cole, Aaron Spelling’s script supervisor; and Stan Cole, “Murder She Wrote” story editor soon joined the production team.

Production of the pilot began in March and wrapped in mid-April. The show was filmed on location in Bradenton, Fla., in Pinnacle Plaza, the building that housed NELCO for so many years.

“We filmed the majority of the pilot in offices that my mom owned that used to be offices of NELCO…It’s wild to see our offices re-purposed as a production set,” says Sperko.

Sperko says the show doesn’t take a position on either side, the claimant’s or the insurer’s. Instead, the focus of the show is to highlight the humor on both sides.

“Claims are inspired by real accidents. It is a fictional show inspired by real events, real adjusters, and real accidents,” says Sperko.

“This show does not take the position that insurance carriers are all trying to deny claims and that they are bad, and it doesn’t take the position that claimants are all bad because they commit fraud. It looks at the humor on both sides and it looks at how claimants are trying to get the carrier and how the carrier is trying to get back at the claimants, but in more of a light-hearted approach.”

Sperko says the show has two sides.

“On the one hand…we’re looking at the more bizarre accidents that people have…so we have that whole story line and what that turns into as far as the investigation. The other side is all of the relationships within the office,” she says.

The show’s central character, based on Virginia Dorris, successfully started the business and ran it for several years. Though she is semi-retired and focused on her show dogs, she won’t turn over the reins to her daughter. Meanwhile, the insurance carrier’s defense attorney, played by Robert Carradine, acts out inappropriately when faced with outrageous claims. The adjusters, too, reveal their own strong personalities while dealing with the claims investigation process.

Sperko is hopeful the show will be picked up by a television or cable network.

“We filmed it two different ways. The original screenplay was written in an unedited fashion more suited towards cable channels. We completed edited and unedited versions so that it can be picked up by either network or cable. Network is typically a larger budget with a larger audience. We would just be thrilled to be picked up.”

VADAR expects to be shopping it shortly – that’s Hollywood insider speak for distributing it for review. “We have about a month of post-production. We have already started seeing the rough cuts of the footage.”

The show has garnered interest among studios, according to Sperko. “We have already been contacted by a couple of networks that have said they want to see it.”

Sperko says the show has also captured the attention of the insurance industry.

“One thing that has kind of surprised me is we didn’t reach out to the insurance community or claims community, and yet we’ve seen tons of press where the industry is interested and that’s a big group of folks.”

A possible feature film might be in store for the future, Sperko says.

“We’re talking about a feature film, but we’re just in the baby steps at looking at that. It hasn’t been my goal to become a production company. This started out as a small project to basically give my daughter some experience and because I thought it was so funny. I think that it’s a subject matter more people should know more about.”

With so many employers and employees involved in the workers’ compensation system nationwide, Sperko believes everybody can learn from this show. “It’s just a good topic. It kind of took on a life of its own.”

Photos courtesy of Leigh Anne Rodgers

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.