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"Fresh Paint' unfolds pastures new

(ran PC edition of PT)

Glenwood Sherry was still new to the Public Broadcasting System and still unaccustomed to being a celebrity.

In the frozen-food isle of the Lutz Winn-Dixie, a woman pushed her grocery cart around the corner. She halted abruptly in front of Sherry. Her eyes widened and she blurted out in astonishment, "You're the guy who . . . "

Words failed her.

Mouth agape, she lifted her hand in a sponge-painting motion. Then she hurried away embarrassed.

"It was hilarious," reminisced Sherry, 45.

It also was a testament to the quick popularity of Sherry's show and another signal that the script of Sherry's life had been suddenly, and permanently, rewritten.

Now, Fresh Paint, Sherry's weekly PBS instruction on decorative painting, has run its course after four seasons and a book. Only re-runs will air. Sherry is planning more books, including Glenwood Sherry's Second Coat next summer. And he has moved to the more lucrative Home and Garden Channel in Decorating with Style.

He also has come to terms with the stares at the Winn-Dixie and the requests for advice at Home Depot.

"The first couple of times it happens, you're a bit taken aback," said Sherry. "There's something about a stranger who knows you and you don't know about them."

But he has gradually come to appreciate the experience and has been known to usher the Home Depot shoppers to the materials they need. They are his coveted viewers.

"It's sort of like giving back. They've given me an opportunity to do something that's really cool," Sherry said. "I owe them."

Sherry has been an artist since childhood, gradually developing a specialty in interiors and furniture. But his career in television may be one of the most impromptu ever.

Active in Tampa's social and charitable circles, Sherry became a regular volunteer at WEDU, the public television station. One day five years ago, he was teaching crew members how to decorate a set for a new show.

Sherry's clear, glib instructions impressed a producer, who asked: "You have enough information or ideas to do a show?" recalled Richard Delaney, now a senior producer at WEDU.

Sherry replied, "I have enough for a hundred shows."

A 13-show season was born.

"Doing my first show, I'd never been before a camera," Sherry said.

He looks back at his performance then, painting a Roman bath in a home in Brandon, as "nervous, stilted, overly serious."

Yet that show, offered to other PBS stations as a pilot, won enough acceptance to take Fresh Paint national.

Delaney admits there were rough spots. Sherry had to learn television terminology, had to relax on camera and had to discard arcane painting language that viewers might not understand.

But Delaney said Sherry, son of a salesman, was a natural at the most important requirement of a how-to show: allow no periods of silence, called "dead air."

"Glen is blessed with the ability to basically talk forever," Delaney said.

Sherry's home in Lutz's Crystal Lake Manors became a frequent studio.

In one show, he replaced the dining-room wallpaper with an art-deco design. A den became a Victorian parlor before the camera. He painted a sky and hot-air balloons in the bedroom of his daughter, Isabella, now 8. The bedroom of son Chris, now 21, became an Egyptian tomb. Sherry and his wife, Peggie, chose a deep gold for their master bedroom, to accentuate the dark wood antique furniture.

"Every room was a show," Sherry said.

It brought their household fun and fame, but not fortune. Instead, Sherry's income has come chiefly from decorating work, particularly painting eye-teasing murals in homes for up to $8,000 apiece.

On PBS, show hosts get a small percentage of the underwriting fee, which is paid by a sponsor for a single announcement at the beginning and end of the show.

"I can honestly say that I make more money on one mural project than I have made in four years on PBS," Sherry said.

And finally, Fresh Paint's underwriter, Anchor Glass Container Corp., didn't renew.

"It's a great show," said Heather Mudrick, vice president of corporate communications at WEDU. "It's too bad that we couldn't find an underwriter for it."

She said underwriting a local show for a 13-part season can cost between $100,000 to $500,000.

"There is a national trend where it is getting harder and harder to secure underwriting," Mudrick said.

She specifically cited the competition from cable television channels, where businesses can advertise outright instead of underwrite. On the Home and Garden Channel, where Sherry now appears, the home and garden industry can aggressively pitch products to an audience tailored for them.

Sherry, whose first season on HGTV began airing during the summer, said five of six people who recognize him now do so from HGTV.

The switch means that every three months, he and Peggie will have to move to Nashville for a taping marathon that will produce 44 shows in three weeks.

The commute doesn't bother them, Sherry said. They would rather live in Lutz than Nashville.

"This is our home," he said. "This is where we're going to stay."