The Watcher - ATL on TV
A day at Stone Mountain with Atlanta Tonight
A woman in sleek sunglasses slowly approaches me. "Excuse me, but are you Noni?" she asks. "Uh, no."
"I'm sorry. I'm waiting to meet some people, but I don't know what they look like. And they're running a little late."
"You wouldn't happen to be waiting for 'Atlanta Tonight,' would you?" I ask.
"Yes, actually. Are you with the show?"
"No, I'm writing about it for Creative Loafing."
"Oh, I wish they had told me that." She introduces herself as Christine Parker, public relations manager for Stone Mountain Park, where we are both waiting for the crew of the local television show to film some of the park's attractions.
"Atlanta Tonight" (10:35 p.m.) is a city-centric entertainment show that made its debut on UPN last April. Each weekday night, the city provides the show's sets as co-hosts Shannon Wiseman and Tamara Gilliam explore restaurants, shops and other landmarks in area neighborhoods. The 25-minute show features three to five segments. Topics range from getting basketball tips from newly acquired Atlanta Hawk Jason Terry or trading used shoes for new ones at a charity event at Decatur shoe store Sole.
In its first month, the show seemed geared for tourists or newcomers because it focused on some of the city's more obvious attractions. But as the show matures, it has begun to dig deeper into Atlanta's offerings, highlighting things even locals may not be familiar with or never made time to check out.
The plan today is for the crew to film the hosts riding on the Duck, an amphibious World War II vehicle that provides tours of Stone Mountain Park. That is, if the crew shows up. They're an hour late, and a Duck full of park visitors are waiting.
"We'll have to catch the next one. I can't keep these guests waiting anymore," says Parker as she sends them on their way. Just then my cell phone rings, and I'm told Shannon and the cameraman are running late from an earlier shoot. Moments later, Christine's cell phone rings, and she gives directions to where we're waiting.
Gilliam shows up first. Her charming, easygoing nature alleviates the irritation of waiting around outside in the heat. Gilliam may be familiar to listeners of 790 the Zone's "2 Live Stews" show, where she was "Flygirl," the entertainment reporter. Wiseman, who worked as an on-air talent at a North Carolina Fox affiliate, and field producer/photographer Chris Braz arrive shortly after. Wiseman makes a quick wardrobe change in the bathroom, and then it's down to business.
We finally board the Duck, and the three-person crew immediately becomes the main attraction as the passengers excitedly point to the camera. A few ladies flip open compacts and pat their hair. For the most part, the tour proceeds as normal, with a few unscheduled stops to film the hosts' chatty exchanges, which provide transitions between the show's segments.
"We're here at Stone Mountain National Park ...," says Wiseman.
"Wrong!" laughs Gilliam.
"All right," says Braz. "Not national park, just park." Wiseman laughs it off, does a couple more takes, makes a couple more flubs, but then nails it.
Originally the hosts worked from a script, but Wiseman says they got so caught up in remembering the exact wording, they made more mistakes than they do now.
"Now we have the freedom to try to be funny and work off the cuff," she says.
Whether it's on-air patter or showing up for scheduled shoots, flexibility appears to be the operative word for "Atlanta Tonight."
This week's episodes feature a wine tasting at Buckhead's Kyma and a special one-hour pre-season look at some Atlanta Falcons' extracurricular activities.