“Wobegon Boy”

Another flash to the past. Meeting Garrison Keillor in 2006. He was a guest on my show, after meeting him I wrote this blog for 207.

There is one great perk to working on 207: the people we meet. In 2006, Rob Caldwell, Paul Doughty, our production manager and I took a trip to Gilford, New Hampshire to interview Garrsion Keillor.

I  generally don’t read much. I am a TV guy, but when I was a freshman in college my girlfriend introduced me to NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”

I was really only doing it to make a good impression, but somewhere during that show of very funny skits and pretty good music, I heard Garrison Keillor. He introduced me to a place called Lake Wobegon, “Where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.” From the moment I heard this profound voice take the air I knew I was hooked.

From then on, I listened every week, having no idea they were coming up on their 30th anniversary. Friends get irritated with me for making them wait until 8 PM, when the show ends, before spending the rest of my Saturday evening with them. Over the years this routine has become a staple in my relationship with my girlfriend. No matter what our mood, good or bad, we knew that we would put it all aside for Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”

As I dove deeper and deeper in the fictional world I discovered what an amazing writer Mr. Keillor was. I began buying all his books, both on audio and hardcover. I soon discovered his Morning Writer’s Almanacs, heard every morning on NPR.

During our interview, Garrison talked about having just written the movie “A Prairie Home Companion.” It was directed by Robert Altman and features an all star cast including Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and of course Garrison Keillor.

When we spoke with Garrison in the summer of 2006, he told us a little bit about the movie. The story is about a long-running Minnesota radio show’s last night on the air. Similar yes, to the original, but hopefully we will never have a last night for the original PHC again. As some die-hard fans may be aware, Garrison started a small tradition of having Fairwell Shows back in the 80’s, when he actually did leave the show for a brief period to focus on his writing.

But now back to Gilford. We were all excited about the idea of meeting Garrison Keillor. I had worked on getting this interview for two years. He came out to greet us and could not have been a nicer man. After the interview he took the time to autograph a few books and pose for pictures with us. It’s not often I get to meet a great American author, but it was more than just an honor to meet him, it was like meeting a relative who you grew up knowing all about, but never had the chance to be in their company.

Mr. Keillor drew me away from the television and back to books.  He introduced me to the pleasures of sitting around with a loved one listening to a great show on the radio. That day in New Hampshire is one I will treasure for years to come.

If you’re looking for a  great read, check out my favorite work of Garrison Keillor’s “Wobegon Boy”.

Meeting a TV Legend

I wrote this in 2009 for my station’s TV review blog:

Russell T. Davies
Meeting a TV Legend

It was my last day in Cardiff, after a week in the UK, and I was taking one last walk by the waterfront. I was enjoying the perfect weather in my favorite city. I was sad to be leaving, but was even more depressed that I had not seen the one thing I had hoped for. I was heading back to the hotel when I saw what I had come to see: a surprisingly tall Englishman, reading his newspaper outside a coffee shop where I had eaten the day before. It was Russell T. Davies, the executive producer and creative genius behind my favorite show, Doctor Who.

I am obsessed with the show Doctor Who. I grew up watching the show on public television, falling in love with a character known only as, The Doctor.  The show is so special to me. When I was a little boy, we would go to my Grandmother’s house and watch Doctor Who every weekend. I even asked my grandmother to make me a 12 foot long scarf. As a kid, I had no idea it was from the early 70’s or that most of it wasn’t real. What I loved was simply that the little blue box was bigger on the inside.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the show, it’s about a time traveller from the planet Gallifrey, known only as The Doctor. He travels through time and space with his companions. The Doctor travels in what is called a TARDIS: Time And Relative Dimension In Space. It’s in the shape of an old English police box and its bigger on the inside. The show started back in the late 1960’s and came to an end in 1989 when the show was cancelled.

As I got older, I wanted to know more about the show and threw myself in whole- heartedly. As the years passed I started to drift away, occasionally going off to watch a DVD or an old VHS copy of the show. In 1996 there was a brief comeback for the show as a TV movie, but it didn’t take.

Fast forward to 2005, the show made a fresh and brilliant return. The show was given the budget it needed for what it always tried to be, plus, special effects had finally caught up with writers imagination. “Doctor Who” was back and better than ever. It was a show I could be proud of and not hide it as my little secret. My girlfriend was even a fan. So my obsession with the show exploded. I was going to incredible lengths to get anything “Doctor Who.” After all, “Doctor Who” was the reason I got into TV in the first place, inspiring me to want to get out there and make television.

It didn’t take long until I became very familiar with the show’s current production. There is a show called “Doctor Who Confidential,” where viewers are taken behind the scenes of each episode -great for a TV junkie. The show even has its own magazine (titled, “Doctor Who Magazine”). It is mostly through these sources that fans have become familiar with the name, Russell T. Davies.

Russell is the man behind the show’s reincarnation in 2005. His official titles are “Show Runner” and “Executive Producer.” He is also head writer on the show. He has his hand in every script and has written many of them solo. This man is Doctor Who.

He recently published a great book called “Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale,” co-written by Benjamin Cook, a writer for “Doctor Who Magazine.” The book follows Russell over the most recent series on the production of the show and examines the creative process. While he states this is not a text book on television, I feel you could easily teach a class around this work.

Needless to say the man is a genius and a brilliant talent, who I have admired for years and am so excited to have now met.

The show is produced by BBC Wales in Cardiff, England, and many of its scenes are filmed around the city. Being the geek that I am, I recently took my second vacation there. It’s a beautiful place, and if you know what to look for, you can find Doctor Who everywhere.

It was a fun week, but I had not seen any on-location production of the show. They were in studio all week, locked up tight. I was feeling depressed on our last day, not having had any direct Doctor contact (and not wanting to leave the beautiful location). I decided to go take a few last pictures when I turned around to to see my hero, Russell T. Davies. He was just sitting there quietly outside a cafe having his morning coffee and reading a paper (and, coincidentally, waiting for Benjamin Cook).

I caught my breath and walked over quietly saying “Russell?” He replied “Yes?” and I introduced myself and we had a lovely chat. He was very kind and gracious. Soon my brain caught up with my mouth and I began to fear I was talking gibberish, or about to begin gushing like a 12-year-old girl at a Jonas Brothers concert. I like to think, looking back, that I kept it together, but I suspect some of my geekdom may have seeped out. I did have enough common sense to walk away before I freaked out too much.

I ran back to the hotel, grabbed my girlfriend and another friend of ours and back we went. We got a few pictures and he autographed my copy of his book. He even included a little Dalek drawing.

While producing 207 over the last five years, I have met and talked to many celebrities and important people. None of them have meant as much to me as meeting this man. He is a legend in TV and brought the world back to one of the the best-loved shows in history. All I wanted to do was thank him for that and for introducing us to Cardiff, my favorite place in the world.

So Russell, thanks for taking a few moments out of your day to humor a TV geek from Maine. Maybe one day we will meet again and have a longer chat…
Maybe one day you can come to Maine?

The Future Via the Past – rewrite

One of my favorite quotes from “Doctor Who” is “wibbly wobbly timey wimey.” There is no way I can explain it properly. It always pops into my head when I think about the future. My future, always seemed clear when I was a teenager; I would work in television, it was that simple. I didn’t know in what capacity, but I knew I would end up in TV somewhere.

When I started playing around with TV stuff, I had great teachers. Smart people who helped influence my direction. Having a purpose and a sense of direction isn’t easy when you’re a teenager. The daily teen-angst can be overwhelming. Everyday presented newly discovered end of the world drama. Through these great academic minds, I still found my focus.

When I entered junior high in upstate New York, I found the Cortland Video Club. A program ran by the school district. They had their own television channel on the cable system. The club was ran by only one man, Jim Forshee, it was his entire life and he loved it. Jim, quite naturally, was a former engineer. Back in the late 70’s he was handed a bunch of TV stuff and told to make something out of it for the school, and thus the program was born. Jim taught all the TV classes, they were fun, creative, and held the line on the importance of TV.

For a turbo television geek like me this was heaven. I spent all of my free time there, soaking up as much as I could. Sports were the focus of programming for the channel. We would broadcast live football games every Friday night. Basketball season brought the same schedule. We also covered: volleyball, softball, gymnastics, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey. As I developed my skills behind the scenes, I learned the more you knew the more valuable you were. Jim told me that almost everyday. It was the most important lesson he ever taught me. I took that nugget and ran with it. I would shoot, edit, direct, technical direct, and even call the games.

Certain games were sacred. Only the best could anchor football. I generally ran audio or did camera on those nights. That was fine by me, there was a lot of pressure on football nights. I just wanted to blend in the background. I learned a lot by doing so too. I was usually given the commentary jobs no one wanted. I would handle girls’ basketball, softball, volleyball, gymnastics, and field hockey. I was around the age of 15 when I started doing more commentary. I was a TV geek, not a sports freak. I had no clue what I was doing up there, but it was still fun. I tried to be cool when I was on air, but that got away from me pretty quickly.

I spent about two years doing CVC. Then I moved to New Hampshire. I was sad to leave it behind, but life got in the way. My folks had gotten divorced and I needed to live with my Dad, who had a good job waiting for him in New Hampshire. This was the fork in the road in my life, the tricky “timey wimey” moment that set me on the life I live today.

When I talk about teachers who helped mold me, my dad is number one. He encouraged me to go after the things I wanted. He told me “find something you love doing and make it your career.” The school in New Hampshire had little to no video program. I came in and submerged myself in all that they had. Once again I built my schooling around what I could do with video. It was a smaller school so being “the video guy” made me stand.

The school wasn’t exactly what set me on my path though; it was my chemistry partner. The very first hour, on day one, I walked in to Mrs. Hopkins chemistry class and met my new chemistry partner. The blonde girl in flannel was my entire future, and I was clueless. We became friends quickly. For a while she was my only friend. She introduced me to others and soon I made more friends. She was a senior and I was a junior. At the time, I didn’t really look at her in a romantic way. She thought I was funny and she made me laugh too.

She graduated and enrolled in Lyndon State College in Vermont, under protest. Her mother had fantasies of everyone singing atop the green mountains like the Vonn Trapp family. So off she went, planning on a career in education. She was a brilliant writer with an exceptional command of the English language.

She discovered the education classes didn’t jive with her. She never saw eye to eye with the teachers. While looking for other options, she discovered the schools Emmy-award winning TV. She met with some of the teachers and quickly changed majors.

Back in New Hampshire, I was trying to decide if college was in my future. Boston was only an hour away, and Emerson College was looking good. Sadly, Emerson didn’t want me. Next in line was the University of New Hampshire, who also didn’t want me until I took a math class. So I started a general math class at UNH, while I sold shoes at Red’s Shoe Barn. I was stuck, out of high school, big dreams and nowhere to go. My plan was to keep knocking at Emerson’s door.

My old chemistry partner sent me an email talking about this impressive TV program in Vermont. My dad and I took a trip up to check it out. To both of our amazement, this was it. This program was everything I had been looking. Finally, the clarity I had been hoping for!

Through Lyndon I worked with teachers who held great influence over me. Brilliant minds that knew how to reach me, I had a jumble of knowledge collected over a combined 6 years of jr. and sr. high school, and they put it all right.

Meanwhile, I discovered my chemistry partner was meant to be a life partner. After all these years still giving me the best advice. Where would I be without her? What kind of a life would I be living?

Since graduating, I have worked in TV for 8 years. So now what? TV is becoming a dinosaur. I still love it, but just not as much when I was 15. I am not exactly thrilled with where I see TV going. What does my future hold? Where can I go? My gut tells me its time to give back and become the type of teacher that guided me to where I am today. Do I go to high school, or college? Will I even like teaching? I have always felt, you need to have a plan. So far, I have always had one. I turn 30 this year, and I am ready for a change. I could go back and teach in Vermont, but I don’t want to live there. So it’s up to me to define my voice and figure out what’s next.

Just A Little Aggregating…

I am still in the early stages of learning Twitter. I am enjoying it more than I had before though. I started a twitter account for my newsmagazine show called “207” if you want to follow us it’s @207TV. In the aggregating world I am grabbing mostly other class members blogs. I have our professor’s blog, or rather our class blog. I also have the following: Chuck Q, Old TV News Guy, Dogfish60, and my own. I am also following the “Social Media FTW” feed I mentioned in a previous post. Finally I also have my own Twitter feed too. There is another from class I want to follow but cannot find the feed link on his blog. So if @TheGrimaldi is reading this please let me know where I can find the link to follow your feed in Google reader.

There are other feeds I would like to follow, certain TV shows. I am trying not to. I want to try and keep to things that actually relate to class (not so on twitter).  In my Apples’ Mail program I do have an “Add RSS” feature which I have been using for years. I admit I did try to just add a few to that but many would not work. Oddly enough though my own blog did work. The class blog did not. which i best it is forccing me to use the Google reader and not get lazy.

One more note on the Twitter page. It only dawned upon me tonight to use the # sign before 501dc. I saw someone else do it and realized that was the way to find everyone. I saved the search and I am now in the process of following more folks from class. Does it matter of they are in the acutal classroom versus the “Online Classroom?”