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84-year-old Canadian producer debuts animated series "Warren United"

TORONTO - Canadian Bill Freedman has been in show business "forever" but at 84 he's debuting his first animated sitcom.

"Warren United" — a series about a soccer-crazed family man — premiered in Canada on BiteTV last month and Freedman said it was a slow labour of love, taking eight years to come to fruition.

Choosing animation for the show stretched the release date but Freedman said it allowed time for Canadians to get more familiar with soccer, especially with the introduction of Major League Soccer teams in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Canada's passion for the game is especially obvious now during the World Cup but the show was still a tough concept to sell in this country, Freedman said.

"The CBC turned us down because they said no one in Canada is interested in soccer, which I still think is really funny," he said in a phone interview from Ventura, Calif. "They liked the idea (but asked) why we didn't do it for hockey."

Freedman himself didn't watch much sport beyond hockey and baseball until leaving Canada 50 years ago to produce theatre in London. He credits his late friend Eli Wallach for his obsession with the English Premier League team Arsenal FC.

While at dinner with the actor, who was fresh off the release of the "Magnificent Seven," Freedman's wife suggested he get into local sports. The restaurateur, eager to impress Wallach, offered Freedman four Arsenal season tickets.

"I've been hooked ever since," said Freedman.

"Warren United" portrays a typical lower-middle class Londoner whose world is "football and family," said Freedman. The show is based on his own "insane" love for the game and how it brings his family together — his three children and all but one of his seven grandchildren are also loyal Arsenal fans.

The premiere is entitled "July" — the dreaded month where there is no soccer (barring World Cup years).

"I get sad in July," said Freedman laughing.

The episode introduces 37-year-old kitchen salesman Warren Kingsley and his quirky family during this trying time. Warren's Dutch wife Ingrid is so fed up with his moping she sends him to get shock therapy to wean him off soccer. His redirected energy into "helpful" behaviour around the house drives Ingrid and their son and daughter mad, sending Warren back to therapy to reverse the procedure.

The cast features accomplished actors including Darren Boyd as Warren, who won a BAFTA for his portrayal of John Cleese in 2011, and Georgie Glen — seen in "Les Mis�rables" and "Calendar Girls" — as Warren's mother.

Freedman insisted on including a Canadian character, creating Reggie as the boyfriend of Warren's mother.

"If you're Canadian, why do you sound so weird?" Warren and Ingrid's surly teenage daughter, Charlie, ask Reggie in the first episode.

When her grandmother explains he is French-Canadian, Harrison, Warren's seven-year-old son, asks Reggie: "Can't you decide which?"

"It's the best of all worlds buddy — North American burger with a sophisticated European sauce," replies the suave but slightly creepy Reggie, played by Canadian comedian Tony Law.

The show is produced by Toronto-based Smiley Guy Studios and London-based Baby Cow Animations, giving Freedman his first opportunity since 1979 to work in Canada, which he said has been a "real pleasure."

He also said he feels very fortunate to work with British comedy greats to produce the show, including "Philomena" executive producer Henry Normal and Simon Nye, creator and writer of BBC's hit comedy "Men Behaving Badly."

"Having not really worked television I have fallen on my feet with the top people, which is rather nice. They're much easier to work with than dumb people," said Freedman.

Landing among the greats isn't surprising given Freedman's vast experience in show business.

He got his start running his father's movie theatres in Toronto. He showed his first play at Hart House Theatre, then moved up to showing plays at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

He left Canada for New York and later settled in London with his wife, actress Toby Robins. Freedman said he was encouraged to make the move to London by the late former prime minister, Lester B. Pearson, who was a great admirer of Robin's work and thought the pair could do more for Canada by working abroad. (Robins died of breast cancer in 1986.)

Despite his accomplished career, Freedman said he isn't quite done yet.

"I'm still a boy, still a school boy. I still have lots of new projects," he said.

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