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Ernest Borgnine: (almost) reality show star

Monday - 7/9/2012, 4:39pm  ET

Jeff Krulik
Krulik and crew spent a week on the road with Borgnine, with the footage resulting in the documentary. (Courtesy Jeff Krulik)
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Neal Augenstein interviews Jeff Krulik

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Neal Augenstein, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Ernest Borgnine could have been one of the first reality television stars, if producers shared the vision of a celebrated independent filmmaker.

D.C. filmmaker Jeff Krulik documented a week-long 1996 trek in Borgnine's tour bus -- with Borgnine at the wheel -- in "Ernest Borgnine On The Bus."

Krulik is best known for his 1986 documentary "Heavy Metal Parking Lot," filmed in the Capital Centre parking lot before a Judas Priest concert.

While a producer at the Discovery Channel, he was brainstorming with colleague Brendan Conway about TV shows they'd like to watch.

"We had read somewhere that Ernest Borgnine had a bus he drove around the country in, but he literally drove the bus," Krulik says. "He was in semi-retirement, wasn't working much. Just like any other retiree in an RV, only his was a souped-up luxury bus."

Krulik and Conway pitched Borgnine the idea at the Plaza Hotel in New York City in 1994.

Borgnine loved it.

"Turns out it was a reality show idea, years before the reality TV craze hit," Krulik says ruefully.

Krulik and crew spent a week on the road with Borgnine as he traveled the country interacting with fans.

"We wanted to get enough footage for a demo reel, to sell the idea" of a television show, Krulik says. "Of course the idea never sold. Nobody knew what we were talking about. They just didn't understand it."

"We were ahead of our time. It could have really worked, but not at the time," Krulik says.

Undaunted, Krulik turned the footage into the 1997 documentary.

After Borgnine's death last week, Krulik uploaded the rarely seen film to YouTube.

"I'm very sad we lost Ernie. He was a great guy, was full of spirit and life up until the end, and I'm really honored to have worked with him," Krulik says.

You can watch the documentary below, or at this link:

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)