Ed Asner LICKED My Wife and Other Tales of Ten Years on ‘Triad Today’
These past ten years have been replete with significant events:
- We barely averted another Great Depression;
- We watched the body counts rise at schools, movie theatres, and other venues, but refused to ban the sale of assault weapons;
- We turned a blind eye to the human and financial costs of juggling military actions in multiple countries;
- We kept electing the same politicians who allowed our health insurance premiums to double, while they doled out corporate welfare and rewarded companies for taking our jobs overseas;and We were appalled when North Carolina’s Republican controlled legislature treated teachers, women, gays, and the unemployed like enemy combatants.
All of these serious topics and many more were covered on Triad Today, but we also had our weird and wacky moments as well. Like when a Congressman cursed at me; or when a county commissioner with a racist t-shirt told me he wasn’t a racist; or when a woman performed a belly dance in front of me with her mother watching; or when a Mayor threatened to walk off the show if we didn’t turn up the heat in the studio; or when Ed Asner licked my wife during a commercial break. Remind me to tell you about that later.
Mostly, though, Triad Today has saluted and recognized community professionals and volunteers, who work at area hospitals, schools, and non profit agencies, to help improve our quality of life, day in and day out. These include folks at Senior Services, Greensboro Urban Ministry, the Urban League, the Red Cross, Mountain Valley Hospice, Big Brothers/ Big Sisters, Crisis Control, Second Harvest Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill Industries, Cancer Services Inc., The YMCA , Carolina Organ Donor Services, the Girl Scouts, and hundreds more.
This week, Triad Today celebrates its 10th anniversary, so YESWeekly editor Brian Clarey asked me to reflect back on some of the show’s highlights and lowlights, and I was honored to do so. First, a bit of history before we get to the tall tales of 10 years on Triad Today.
In the not so distant past, TV stations were locally owned, and the owners met the needs of the community by producing various kinds of public service and public affairs programs. There were talk shows, cooking shows, coaches shows, kids shows, and even talent shows (decades before American Idol). But as the twentieth century came to a close, those kinds of local programs had all but disappeared from the television landscape. That’s why in the Fall of 2003, I decided to bring back the old fashioned public service program, and launched "Triad Today". At the time, a newspaper reporter asked me to describe the show, and I replied, "It’s so old, it’s new".
Then as now, "Triad Today" is still the only locally produced public affairs program on commercial television in the Piedmont. And we’re proud to have been recognized by Congress for our commitment to community service. Triad Today was also presented with the Spectrum of Democracy award for our commitment to voter education, and for giving large blocks of air time to candidates for statewide and federal office.
"Triad Today" now airs twice per week, Saturdays at 7:30am on abc45, and Sundays at 11am on My48. But this weekend we’re adding a third broadcast on Sunday at 3pm in order to showcase our 10th Anniversary special to a wider audience. The half hour special features interview clips from about 40 of the approximately 5,000 guests we’ve had on Triad Today since October 3, 2003. I hope the other 4,960 guests will understand not being included due to time constraints. Speaking of guests, let’s begin our trip down memory lane with a look at some of the political candidates who have appeared on Triad Today.
Over the past ten years, candidates for Congress, US Senate, Governor, and Lt. Governor have traveled from every corner of the state to appear on Triad Today. Well, except for Brad Miller. You may recall that while serving in the NC General Assembly, Democrat Miller helped design his own personal gerrymandered district so that he could step down from the State Senate and waltz into the US Congress. When it came time for his first re-election bid, Miller’s handlers agreed to let him appear on Triad Today, but then cancelled when they learned that I had been critical of his role in re-districting. I called Brad and asked him why he was afraid to be interviewed, and he used some curse words. Later when I recounted our conversation in YESWeekly, Miller told reporters that he decided not to appear on Triad Today because I was just a "jack leg journalist". Eventually Republicans took over the world and Miller decided not to run for another term if it meant facing an actual opponent on even ground. So much for the jack-leg Congressman.
In 2004, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue showed up on Triad Today as a solo act, then promised to return to face her opponent for a Gubernatorial debate. But a few months later when Pat McCrory arrived at our studio, Bev was nowhere to be found. So we placed an empty chair next to Pat, which he referred to during our one on one discussion. It was tacky, but fun. Pat lost to Perdue that Fall, but got his revenge four years later when Bev’s various scandals and weak job performance led her to sit out a bid for re-election.
In 2008, both Kay Hagen and incumbent US Senator Elizabeth Dole stopped by to be interviewed, but neither agreed to appear jointly. I think it had to do with my pressing them on their refusal to repeal bad trade agreements which were sucking jobs out of our State. Separately both women told me that they would "study the issue". Meanwhile, 11% of our neighbors didn’t need a study, they needed a job.
Then there were the candidates who showed up to be interviewed, but probably shouldn’t have. Case in point, Winston Salem City councilman Vernon Robinson. In 2004, 5th district Congressman Richard Burr decided he would make a run for the Senate, and that opened up the field for eight GOP candidates who hoped to replace Burr. When the primary results were in, former city councilman Vernon Robinson led the field, but did not garner 40% of the vote, so he and second place finisher Virginia Foxx (then a State Senator) were poised for a run-off. A few days before the special election, Vernon and Virginia arrived at the Triad Today studio where I moderated a conversation between the two combatants. At the outset Vernon was in the driver’s seat. He was smooth, articulate, had already finished first in a crowded primary field, and had great name recognition from his off the wall proclamations. Vernon often referred to himself as the Black Jesse Helms, and 5th district Republicans seemed amused. But during the debate with Foxx, Vernon kept referring to his experience as a "missile combat crew commander", thinking that would appeal to his base and, at the same time, point to Foxx’s lack of military experience. So I finally asked the now fateful question, "Vernon exactly what war did you serve in?" After a long pause, he replied, "Uh, the Cold war". I pressed him by asking, "But was there an actual engagement with an enemy in combat?" Again Vernon stumbled and said, "Veteran means you serve the country". The fact is he had no combat experience. He never recovered from that debate. Foxx went on to defeat Robinson, and today she is an entrenched incumbent. Some say that my questioning of Vernon propelled Virginia into Congress. Others speculate that 5th district White Republicans just couldn’t bring themselves to elect a Black man to federal office. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.
Scores of Hollywood legends have appeared on Triad Today over the last ten years including Dick Van Dyke, "Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, Shirley Jones,Cloris Leachman, the late great Rue McClanahan ("Golden Girls"), James Best from "Dukes of Hazzard", Dawn Wells (Mary Ann from "Gilligan’s Island") "Hart to Hart’s Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers, and Ed Asner, who licked my wife.Remind me to tell you about that later.
In a salute to TV Dads which we taped in Hollywood, I interviewed nine iconic television fathers. Seated immediately next to me were Van Dyke, Cranston and Dick Van Patten, with Bryan in the middle. I asked each man how they first learned about the birds and the bees. When it came Bryan’s turn to answer he quipped "What a provocative question, and how ironic that I find myself seated between a couple of Dicks". I had to bleep out the word dicks for Triad Today audiences, but I thought YESWeekly readers would appreciate the humor.
During my interview with Cloris Leachman, the multiple EMMY and Oscar winning actress asked me to disrobe. "Cloris", I said, "My wife is sitting right there" Cloris was not phased and simply waved to Pam, saying "Hi wife".
Long before the release of her sexually charged autobiography, "Partridge Family" mom Shirley Jones told me about the time she posed for Playboy magazine at age 70. "I told Hugh Hefner that I would show some leg and a little bosom, but I would not pose totally nude, and he said OK". The photo shoot went well, and afterward, Hefner decided he wanted to see more of Shirley. "He said he wanted to see more body, and I said ‘that’s all the body you’re going to get!". No one knows where those photos are today, but I wouldn’t mind seeing them. Shirley is now 80 years old and still beautiful inside and out.
Speaking of nudity, RJ Wagner talked about his sex scenes with Stefanie Powers, and how the mood was always broken by sounds of Freeway the dog’s handler barking out commands. "There was a lot of panting going on", remarked Wagner."From you or from the dog?" I asked. "From the dog, and a little from me too", RJ said slyly.
I had fun talking with Rue McClanahan. Among other things, she said that she had known George Clooney for a long time and that he would never marry."Why?" I asked naively. "Because he’s just precious", she said, with a smile on her face, knowing that she had sort of outed Clooney. But we also talked about the first time she discovered she had breast cancer. It was rare for the raucous Rue to be serious on camera, but she didn’t hold back. Then fully recovered, I thought she would live forever. We lost her a couple of years later.
Dan Truhitte has appeared on Triad Today twice. Truhitte starred as young Nazi Rolf in the blockbuster film "The Sound of Music". Today he and his wife live near Charlotte and he still has a great voice. One one of his visits, I surprised Dan with an email message from his "Sound of Music" co-star Charmian Carr (Liesel) who signed the email, "Love Charmy". The on-screen couple hadn’t seen each other in decades and Truhitte was touched by her gesture. Speaking of Rolf and Liesel, Dan told me that she was not "Sixteen Going on Seventeen", and that he was not 17 going on 18. Carr was actually 21 in real life and Dan was 20. I asked why Rolf and Liesel never had sex in the movie, and Dan replied, "because they were good Catholics. Or maybe they were Lutheran".
Speaking of sex, Dawn Wells told me she wished that Mary Ann and the Professor could have hooked up, but that it just wasn’t possible on 1960’s TV. Wells did say that if Gilligan’s Island were filmed today, all of the characters would have been sleeping in the same hut, if you know what I mean.
And then there was Ed Asner who licked my wife. Remind me to explain that later.
Celebrities don’t always have to be from Hollywood, and over the years, I have had a number of Piedmont personalities appear on Triad Today. As with most celeb interviews, there’s plenty of fun to be had, but I also enjoyed hearing local notables talk about things that are very serious and personal to them.
Racing legend Richard Petty spoke from the heart about his Victory Junction Gang camp for terminally ill and disabled children. The camp was built in honor of Richard’s grandson Adam, who was killed in a crash while working as a fourth generation NASCAR driver. Petty told me about the various activities available to the kids, saying, "It’s like a Disneyland deal".
Woody Durham, longtime sportscaster and voice of the Carolina Tarheels, stopped by to plug his new book and we reminisced about our time together at WFMY back in the mid 1970’s. But Woody also wanted to make sure he talked about the audio CDs he had recorded containing memorable moments from UNC sports. Proceeds from the CD sales are going to support Ronald McDonald House.
FOX 8’s Brad Jones and Cindy Farmer appeared together on Triad Today’s 200th program back in 2007. The pair had been together for so long that they said viewers thought they were married to each other (they’re not). They also spoke of the numerous charities they support, and why. Said Cindy, "Our viewers do so much for us, and we like to be able to give back. There’s no better feeling than the one you get when you truly are helping someone and making a difference in someone’s life. Our paycheck comes from people who watch us, and we realize that". Broadcasters everywhere would do well to keep that in mind.
WXII anchor Wanda Starke certainly does. So do her co-workers Kimberly Van Scoy and Margaret Johnson. Starke told me about her commitment to see that every orphan who needs a home, gets one. Starke herself was adopted as a child. Van Scoy has led many different community campaigns, including a toy drive.Her interest in that stems from having delivered toys to underprivileged kids when she was a little girl. And Margaret Johnson continues to lead by example, having beaten cancer, and now serves as an inspiration to Mothers and wives who are battling the disease.
Wake Forest head football coach Jim Grobe came on Triad Today and we talked very little about football. Instead we discussed his role as an educator. He also said that when it comes to recruiting players, he would choose a man with good character over a man with great talent.
Speaking of college coaches, the legendary Clarence "Big House" Gaines made several appearances on Triad Today, and always had something thought provoking to say. Like the time I asked him if big time universities were still stealing African American athletes from HBCUs as much as they used to. "It’s even worse today…as you know the athletes go to where the spoils are".
And then there was the late Rich Brenner. Rich had been a sportscaster nearly all his adult life, and during his tenure at FOX8, he was known for his professionalism, and for his biting sports commentaries. As soon as I heard Rich announced he was retiring from the TV station, I invited him to be a regular member of our Triad Today Roundtable panel. Rich didn’t hesitate and I soon found out why. For decades he had been limited to opining about sports, but this guy possessed a wealth of knowledge about a myriad of topics. He loved coming on Triad Today and debating public policy and social issues with the rest of us. We all miss Rich a lot.
On a typical week, Triad Today consists of four interview segments and the aforementioned Roundtable discussion with regulars Ogi Overman, and Keith Grandberry (CEO of the WS Urban League), along with rotating panelists Guilford Sheriff BJ Barnes, WMAG’s Lora Songster, YESWeekly editor Brian Clarey, and Forsyth Commissioner Dave Plyler.
From time to time, though, we devote an entire half hour to one topic. Over the years, our special edition programs have included periodic reports on the state of public education, a salute to entrepreneurs, promotion of the National Black Theatre Festival, celebration of the Winston Salem Centennial, a focus on diversity, and many more.
In one special segment I brought together Novant CEO Jeff Lindsay and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center CEO John McConnell for a discussion aboutthe quality of healthcare in our region, and how they were setting about to make improvements in the face of changing laws. Lindsay mentioned that his nurses (who work a 12 hour shift) had only been spending on average about 2 hours per day with their patients, and that he was working to increase that to 8 or 9 hours per day. McConnell talked about how the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina could actually create about 20,000 additional jobs in our area.Aside from the information they imparted, it was wonderful to see two competitors sit down together and discuss solutions for keeping us all healthier.
Then there was the time I sat down with Darryl Hunt right after he had been released from 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. I noticed that Darryl had a genuine calm about him, and seemed totally at peace with himself and the world who wronged him. So I asked him, "Are you telling me you didn’t harbor any ill feelings to anyone while you were locked up?" His reply? "I have relied on my faith, and I truly believe if you believe in God, then you let God handle the difficult problems".
But the most memorable Triad Today program was the one in which Elaine Riddick was the sole guest. Elaine, now almost 60 years old, was raped at age 13 and became pregnant as a result of that rape. Unbeknownst to her, after her baby was delivered, doctors sterilized her under orders from the state Eugenics Board. As it turns out, Elaine was one of 7,000 victims who were sterilized against their will in North Carolina, most of which occurred between 1946 and 1970. I invited her on Triad Today to talk about her experience, and to share her thoughts about proposed legislation (championed by former State representative Larry Womble) that would award surviving victims cash compensation. Elaine told me that she had been raped twice. Once by the rapist and once by the State. I asked her which rape was worse, and she replied without hesitation "The second rape was worse".
ORGASMS and THE LOST JEWELER
As I mentioned earlier, we’ve had our share of weird and wacky things to happen on Triad Today, like Ed Asner licking my wife. Remind me to tell you about that later. Anyway, Dr. Stuart Meloy, an anesthesiologist and pain consultant, came on the show one day to talk about a device called the spinal cord stimulator, which he had invented to help relieve back pain in women. But he proceeded to tell me that using the device also made his patients have orgasms. I never asked him what the co-pay was for those office visits, but I keep waiting for him to make the home version of his Orgasmatron available at CVS.
And then there was the missing jewelry lady. I had invited a spokesperson from a jewelry store in Hanes Mall to come on Triad Today and educate our viewers about the different types of diamonds. The guest, an elderly lady, was scheduled to arrive at the studio in Winton Salem shortly before 2pm (it’s about a 10 minute drive from Hanes Mall to the studio). But 2pm came and went. Then 2:15pm, 2:20pm, 2:30pm, and 2:45pm and still no jewelry lady. 3pm, 3:15pm. Finally we called the store manager to see what had happened to the lady, and he freaked out. He didn’t ask us to call the hospital emergency rooms, nor did he seem worried about what might have happened to the woman. He was panicked about having hundreds of thousands of dollars of diamonds missing, and probably thought the elderly employee had caught a plane to Rio. She finally showed up around 4pm and explained that she thought the TV station was in Greensboro, but then found herself in Reidsville. We went ahead and taped her segment and she did a great job despite her ordeal. I always wondered if she made it back to the store, and if the manager ever asked her if she was alright.
Well that’s all the space I have for this cover story, so please watch the Triad Today 10th Anniversary Special this Saturday and Sunday. Also visit my websites www.triadtoday.com and www.jimlongworth.net.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot to explain about Ed Asner licking my wife. Well get your mind out of the gutter. During a commercial break, my wife Pam came over to see if Ed wanted anything, and he said yes, for her to come see him in Los Angeles, and he would "show her a really good time". Ed then leaned over as if he wanted to peck Pam on the cheek, and when she leaned in, he licked the side of her face. A bit kinky perhaps, but not totally unexpected that something on Asner would be "Up". Now aren’t you ashamed for having your mind in the gutter all this time?
Speaking of my lovely wife, we met and started dating just as I was launching Triad Today, so this is sort of a double anniversary for me. I also want to say how supportive Pam has always been. For example, immediately after I had taped an interview with a big celebrity, I walked over to her and tried to fish for a compliment. "Honey I really think I could have done a better job on that interview", I said. "Don’t worry", said Pam. "Nobody was even looking at you. A monkey could have done your job". That sentiment keeps me grounded. And it should because Triad Today isn’t about me, and never has been. It’s about the guests who share their knowledge and expertise, and the viewers who take time to watch and listen. It’s also about the sponsors who have stuck with me over the years, and made it possible for Triad Today to be a conduit for community information.
Who knows, maybe a monkey CAN do my job, but I have ten years experience over any jack-leg primate who might try to replace me, and that has to count for something.