Thursday, August 14, 2008

Savannah Nights

In the latest thrill-packed installment of Making News: Savannah Style, entertainment reporter Jennifer Beale plunges directly into danger when she attempts to cover a blackout taking place during the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day bacchanal (horrors!). (Also, military reporter Wendy McNew embeds herself for the attentions of a handsome National Guard officer, and sportscaster Frank Sulkowski “wings it” at a banquet dinner honoring the athletes at Calvary Baptist High School.)

I’m still keeping up with Savannah Style—even though most of the content is (if you’ll pardon the pun) old news and the show doesn’t offer a great deal of depth. (Then again, it is on The TV Guide Channel, which is sort of the Hostess Twinkies of documentary programming.) I generally mosey over to Hulu if I want to see the newest episode; the show itself runs 35 minutes or less and if you watch it on the Guide channel you’ll have to sit through 25 minutes of interruptions. (No can do.) Episode 10, which I glanced at earlier today, reminded me that although I enjoyed living in the State of Chatham off-and-on for a little over fifteen years there are reasons why I can’t see myself anxiously wanting to get back there anytime soon. Reason Numero Uno is the aforementioned St. Pat’s drunkenness. (Followed closely by humidity, sand gnats, palmetto bugs, proud-to-be-ignorant right-wingers with southern drawls, etc., etc., etc.)

Episode 10 is really the conclusion of a two-parter; in Episode 9, things kick off with underdog WJCL/WTGS’ Sulkowski and reporter Stephanie Simoni’s valiant challenge to cover the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade despite the fact that, once again, the station’s equipment refuses to cooperate and they are left with only one working microphone—which they pass back-and-forth in tag-team fashion as they interview participants along the parade route. There’s one very funny moment where two individuals dressed as a hot dog and order of French fries receive an endless series of embraces and hugs from Sulkowski, a man who by appearance alone doesn’t seem to have missed too many meals in his lifetime.

Of all of the “characters” on Savannah Style, I like sportscaster Frank the best. I identify with him in a lot of ways: Episode 10 finds him invited to speak at a banquet (held at Carey Hilliard’s, one of my favorite eateries) and not only is he pressed for time (he’s scheduled to appear on the 10pm newscast to do sports) but he hasn’t even bothered to write his speech, figuring he’ll call upon the Improvisation Gods to help him sail through. (Been there, done that, bought the soundtrack.) He’s an easy-going, gregarious sort who, though he complains frequently about the slipshod equipment at the station (he memorably describes WJCL/WTGS’ backup live truck as “a turd in a tuxedo”), possesses an incredibly good roll-with-the-punches humor about it all. He also has a demeanor and manner of speech (rhythms, cadences, etc.) that reminds me of my very good paisan Jeff Lane. During Episode 10, Frank ponders as to whether he should “re-up” with the station by signing a new contract and muses that as a new father (his little girl is only four-and-a-half months old) he has new responsibilities that shouldn’t involve chasing down another job…so he decides to opt for stability and stay on.

Sulkowski also plays a prominent role in Episode 7, which is probably my favorite of the Savannah Style installments so far. The WJCL/WTGS news team are stymied by the fact that one of the biggest news stories in Savannah (the fire/explosion at the Dixie Crystals sugar plant in Port Wentworth) is underway and they have no live coverage (unlike competitors WSAV and WTOC) for the story. The decision is made to interrupt programming and cover the news (without video); finally, a frustrated Sulkowski and McNew decide to take the backup live truck and chase after the story despite a lack of experience (and know-how) operating the vehicle. (What really made my jaw drop during this episode was that the station keeps getting phone calls about the crisis…but the callers are unconcerned about the situation at Dixie Crystals, they’re just pissed because the station interrupted Lost.)

Wendy McNew faces the same contract negotiations as Frank in Episode 10, only the outcome is a bit different (this will no doubt be addressed in the future, but she ends up getting a job at WNEP-TV in Scranton, PA—where her best bud/former roommate Trish Hartman ended up in the series’ early episodes); I like McNew but I have to admit the business with her “flirting” with the military guy came off a bit shallow—and I can see why she was the most vocal about being reluctant to participate in the Savannah Style docu-series in the first place. I’m also warming up to Stephanie Simoni—someone who doesn’t come off as too likable in the beginning but begins to wear down any resistance with her ebullience and pixyish demeanor; the Dixie Crystals events are preceded by her successful attempt to cover a South Carolina story (at a strip club) about a bill introduced by the state legislature to ban lap-dancing. One individual with the cojones to call himself a legislator remarked at the time: “There is no Constitutional right to a lap-dance.” (I’m guessing he’s with the Federalist Society.)

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