Small Town Flavor – The Story of the Little TV Show that Could

 Small Town Flavor is “a heart-warming, dawn-to-dusk day trip into the living nostalgia, lives, perspectives, traditions and food culture of small towns in America.”

It was November 2nd, 2010 and after months of development and production planning, I had made the long journey to South Alabama in my tiny hatchback car crammed to the gills with a modest setup of production equipment.  Though I had driven 17 hours straight through the day before, I was awake and getting into gear at 6:00 AM preparing to head to the first location for the first day of shooting the first episode of a show I had already watched many times in my mind… now all I needed to do was bring it to life.

Rewind briefly to July 2009, when I took the plunge in the middle of the economic downturn to start my own new media company, Social Frequency Media Communications.  Life has taught me that money is merely a measure of survival, not of purpose and it was time to focus my life full-time on my relentless creative spirit.  People often ask me about the business story behind Social Frequency and I must say I never get tired of saying that I basically built a company around everything I love to do.  On the good days, it’s beyond rewarding… on those marginally less inspiring days, it’s still a rush to know that I’m now in year 3 and still building this dream one little piece at a time.

Back to 2010,  in full Ed Wood fashion I made the decision to invest my time and expense to write, direct, shoot, edit and even compose/perform the theme music for a full-length, fully produced one-hour pilot episode.  The concept had danced in my mind for a while and it had fulfilled the three creative decision-making criteria.  First, it was going to be allot of fun capturing the spirit, warmth, traditions and food culture of small town America… a way of life that comprised my childhood in Kentucky.  Second, this is a show I wanted to watch.  Third, I truly believe this show can help people through the many life lessons and stories shared.  As often is the case, my mind was set and there was no turning back.

While the clock told me it was 6:30 AM on that November morning in Alabama, it didn’t feel much like the deep south.  The hotel room was still very dark and as I slowly walked toward the window shades I was beginning to think that either the clock was wrong or perhaps someone had meticulously boarded up the windows during the night.  As I swung open the heavy shades, those thick heavy-duty solar-deflector shields closest to the window, all I could see were sheets of heavy rain against skies what were only slightly lighter than the dark of night.  Here I was, ready for the triumphant start of going out to do what I’d been talking about and planning for many months, ready to give birth to Small Town Flavor and there was Mother Nature laughing so hard that her tears made it rain even harder.  Of course, the real reason she laughed was the simple fact the first location of the day was out on an exceedingly long pier stretching into Mobile Bay where we were to film the morning cast net fishing regulars.

Rewind to May 2010.  I was at the Farmer’s Market in Naperville shooting a segment for another show concept with the Executive Chef of the White Chocolate Grill all about how foodies and cooking enthusiast can source ocean-fresh seafood in the Chicagoland area.  Prior to the shoot, Robert had given me a call and told me Panini Pete, his former roommate from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), was in town for the National Restaurant Show and asked if it was okay to bring him along.  I told Robert it would be no problem whatsoever.  After all, we were shooting the segment with the Fabian Seafood truck out based in Galveston, TX and Pete lived near the Alabama side of the Gulf.  Within the first few minutes of meeting him, I suggested that we put him in our segment and Pete was more than happy to help out.  During the shoot, the wheels in my mind started turning as I visualized Pete hosting this show I had envisioned for a while about a day-in-the-life of small towns.  Not only did Pete fit the ideal personality but he also had the added experience of having appeared on a couple of well-known Food Network shows.  That next week, I gave him a call and pitched the show concept along with the idea of him being the host and I quickly realized this little show about small towns was as much in his heart and soul as it was in mine.

The next question was location, location, location.  At that point, the idea was to shoot two full-length shows in which we narrowed the list down to places we both knew quite well.  For me, it was the country ham, bourbon and Americana quality of Bardstown, KY which was a short 15 miles from were I grew up.  As for Pete, his nomination was a no-brainer as he suggested everything we could hope to find in a small town could be found in Fairhope, Alabama… which also happens to be the home of Panini Pete’s Cafe.  Soon thereafter, I concluded it would be best to focus on one pilot episode and the next thing you know it was July and I was sweating my way through Fairhope scouting locations with Pete in thick South Alabama Summer air.

Fast-forward again to that first day of shooting on that dreary rainy Alabama morning in November 2010.  My phone buzzed with the illumination of a text message from Roland, the ring-leader for our group of cast net fishermen:

ROLAND:   “Good morning from paradise.  I have everyone lined up for 7:00 AM.  Weather is at the best very iffy.  Rain then cold and wind.”

ME:  “What are our chances of rescheduling for perhaps Thursday or Friday morning?”

ROLAND:  “Weather for thurs and fri is for cold and windy.  Not conducive to throwing a net… However, the weather can turn on a dime here.”

I scraped together the best optimism I could and drove down the hill to the pier where I was to meet up with Pete.  Roland gleaned optimism that the weather was preparing to “turn” on that dime he mentioned.  I pulled up to discover an ample supply of available parking spaces facing the Pier and the Bay.  Pete scrambled over and contorted his taller-than-average frame into the passenger seat of my tiny hatchback car, and there we sat.  He, too, evangelized tiny rays of optimism that it was going to clear up and sure enough, around 7:30 AM the rain trickled to a stop and, one-by-one, cars began to arrive full of cast net fishing gear and humor.  I scrambled hurriedly to assemble the camera, complete with it’s small network of mounted and wireless microphones atop a stabilizer system I had recently purchased.  Pete grabbed the tripod and we headed out onto the pier.  Roland arrived full of that signature Southern warmth and humor encouraging us to move fast as another band of rain was approaching.

I’ll have to say, my spirits began to lift and my mind calibrated itself on the production plan, host script, camera settings, microphone volume adjustments and our cast of warm-hearted characters who had assembled to breathe life into this little show about small towns.  I was walking tall with a confident purpose… and walking… and walking… and walking as this is one long pier we’re talking about.  About half way out on the pier, with thousands of dollars of camera/sound equipment in my hands, the skies again opened up and the wind raced in to greet us.  Pete and I scrambled to a tiny area with a sheet metal roof and restrooms at the mid-point of the pier to seek refuge for the equipment.  While the roof overhead helped a little, it still couldn’t stop the constant spray of rain which proudly rode atop the chilled wind making a b-line for my camera with precision accuracy.

As for the fishermen, with smiling grins on their faces and undoubtedly the sight of me and Pete as their source of suppressed laughter, they marched on… after all, they were here to cast their nets in hopes of a breakfast catch.  Suffice it to say, if there was a time that one might characterize as a low point for me in this show’s journey I believe I probably brushed up rather cozily near the “rocks” which rested narrowly between me and the “bottom” at that point.  I was here to make a TV show and this was a moment of truth.  It was time for the camera to roll and that is exactly what happened.  We regrouped and headed back out toward the sprawling nets being cast into the water.  All in all, we were able to capture a number of shots, dialogue and some great B-roll of a small variety of fish being caught, my favorite of which was Sheep Heads which have tiny rows of perfectly symmetric human-like teeth.  Pete never appeared to lose his optimism and if he did on that first morning, he did an exemplary job of concealing any doubt.

Finally, the rain was back to stay and we decided on a re-shoot which ended up taking place under beautifully clear and sunny skies the last day of production.  However, this first shoot was to fuel plenty of continuous gut-wrenching laughter and epic tales that offered us numerous welcome reprieves from the intense focus of the production process.

This particular start to Small Town Flavor always brings a laughing smile to my face for a couple of reasons.  First, the show’s premise is a chronological dawn-to-dusk day trip through these extraordinary towns.  As such, the cast net fishing segment is the very first segment of the first episode, yet the bulk of it was shot on the very last day of production.  If you watch closely, you will see some b-roll close-ups which were salvaged from the first day of shooting, namely a nice haul of fish caught by our Army Special Forces Veteran, Tony, the man with the mad cast net skills.  As for Pete’s attempt with the cast net, the story is best told by simply watching the first episode (Part 1).  Finally, my special memories from the first day of shooting is further memorialized in the outtakes at the end of episode 1 where you can actually see Pete walking toward me on the pier in the rain carrying the tripod offering some self-affirming optimism.

So, there began the little TV show that could and it certainly has not proven to be the last of the adversity we have faced.  Once the first episode of Small Town Flavor was finished and “in the can”, we moved into pitch mode and successfully connected the show with programming executives and producers at four well-known cable TV networks.  The conversations and feedback were encouraging and plenty of suggestions were offered as I listened carefully with a mind as wide open as a parachute.  Given the low overhead of my Ed Wood approach to production,  my hope was for it to be good enough to provide a glimpse into the potential of this show.  However, at the end of the day we ended up o-4 with a batting average of .000 because it just wasn’t compatible with the current mix and formula out there.  Of course, I’m sure that once upon a time there were network executives who passed the first time around on the idea of shows about pawn shops, junk hunters, lumberjacks and the mere thought of 8 seasons of audiences tuning in to watch crustacean pots being pulled from the ocean.

Despite these early setbacks, there has never been a single wavering moment where I thought to myself, “maybe it’s just not a good concept”.  As a matter of fact, the only thought that traveled through my mind and continues to this day is, “Why don’t they get it?”  My belief in this show has never been stronger and both mine and Pete’s conviction is unwavering, which is why we’ve gone grassroots with Small Town Flavor as an original web TV series to win over our audience family one “local” at a time.

This show is perfect for the social media age as it is entirely within reach in terms of not only bringing the audience, which we call “Small Town Locals”, together to share experiences but also as a movement of road trippers who get out there to retrace the steps of each episode in exploring these one-of-a-kind small towns.

One of my dreams for this show is to ignite a small town tourism movement, which not only celebrates the existence, preservation and revitalization small towns as well as the small town way of life.  I like to think of it as our little “Save Main Street” movement.

In the end, I believe everyone needs a little small town flavor in their life as there is a little bit of “small town” in all of us.  It’s about slowing down and being present and accountable in each moment of our lives.  It’s about the quality of our connection and accountability to each other.  It’s about how food culture brings us together.  It’s about taking pride in our communities.  It’s about finding ways to simplify and streamline happiness.  It’s about living a daily life of gratitude and appreciation realizing how “less” can be so much more.  It’s about never feeling like your alone.  It’s about learning how to tune into your life.  It’s about connecting with the truths and wisdom of life.  It’s about being inspired by the small things.  It’s about the true meaning of “home”.  It’s about traditions.  It’s about satisfying our soul’s appetite for peace and comfort.  It’s about escaping the rat race of life.  It’s about the stories you’ll hear… the people you’ll meet… the traditions you’ll experience… the food culture you’ll learn about… it’s about getting a regular helping of Small Town Flavor.

Pete and I want to welcome you to town and invite you to join us on this journey and spread the word by becoming a Small Town Local on Facebook and watching Small Town Flavor.  Save Main Street, watch Small Town Flavor!

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