My lifelong obsession with roller coasters got me on television. A few times!
Most of my television experience is documentary/reality-based and centers around roller coasters. While I managed to stumble into a few paying on-camera gigs (including some Industrial Videos), the majority of my on-air appearances were due to my involvement with coasters and my late friend David Escalante.
30 Roller Coasters in 24 Hours
I grew up obsessed with roller coasters. In the ’70s I spent many hours thumbing endlessly through a paperback copy of The Guinness Book of World Records, reading about the achievements (especially those involving coasters), and dreaming of accomplishing something like that myself one day. In August 1972, when I was 9-years old, an Ohio radio personality named Mike Kelly broke an endurance record on a giant Ferris wheel at Cedar Point. I visited the park during his 17-day attempt and was fascinated and impressed with the goal.
A few years later I picked up the phone, got through to the Cedar Point offices and asked a very patient park rep if they would let me break a roller coaster record. I was 12-years old. They politely declined, saying the PR value of such an attempt didn’t rise above the cost to the park.
“Since I was a kid I’ve wanted to be a Guinness World Record holder. And now, here it is. Well, OK … I’m done!”
Flash forward to 1999. After a long long coaster drought (and the advent of the World Wide Intertubes) I reactivated my coaster lust by following news of the new coaster-building boom. Major attractions were going up everywhere, including the Bay Area.
I found a local chapter of American Coaster Enthusiasts, joined the club and became very active in that community. I found a great friend in the regional rep, David Escalante, who lived a couple blocks from me in San Francisco. We had many grand early morning and late night outings with the group.
Then one afternoon, I received an email from him which read:
Ummmm… I thought he was crazy.
But, instead of saying so, I started asking questions. In addition to being one of the ACE regional reps, David was also the national group’s PR Director, so he had contacts in the amusement park industry. We brought those to bear, along with an insane amount of planning. Not only did we make arrangements to do the record attempt, but David also had a contact at a Los Angeles production company, who decided to shoot the entire attempt, and create a TV show for Discovery Channel. We gave the project the code name”GRP” (Guinness Record Project) so we could plan openly without worrying our idea might be usurped ahead of our attempt window.
I can’t adequately describe in these few sentences how complex and stressful it was. I had never taken part in the planning of something so intricate. Travel times, press releases, Guinness rules, pre-production, t-shirts, signage, meetings. But we were determined, and on October 14 & 15, 2000, we loaded 14 people into 2 vans and started the clock. 23.5 hours later we rounded the last banking curve on the 40th roller coaster.
We actually broke the record a bit earlier, on our 30th ride (the record in England was 29), and then broke our own record again and again for the next 9 rides. We cheered and sprayed each other with bottle of sparkling cider. I cried with joy and relief.
The TV special, called “30 Roller Coasters in 24 Hours” premiered on Memorial Day 2001 on Discovery Channel. It was surreal watching us from that perspective (and time separation).
The following is the official record:
Our record was broken the next year by 4 people in the Ohio area using helicopters to travel between parks. There is no video of that attempt, but I hear they raised lots of money for charity and besides, records are meant to be broken.
We achieved what we set out to do … received an official certificate … appeared in the Guinness Book … and get to relive the experience with a vacation video in the form of an hour-long TV show on Discovery Channel. What more could I ask? It would be vulgar to expect more. It was a spectacular experience!
At the same time David Escalante and I were planning the Guinness Record Project, he was in touch with various production companies who were shooting roller coaster TV shows. When asked if he could suggest any “characters” to the producers of an upcoming show called “Extreme Rides”, David thought I fit the bill and made the introduction. They liked me, and cast me, and invited me to join them in Sandusky, Ohio for a 3-day shoot at Cedar Point. I grew up in Metro Detroit, so Cedar Point was my home park, which I visited every summer my entire childhood. This was a very big deal for me.
Cedar Point had just opened the world’s first “Giga Coaster” (a coaster with a drop of more than 300′) called Millennium Force. For the show, I would ride this monster for the first time and the camera would capture my reaction. I would also spend time on 2 other thrill rides, one each day.
I was a good candidate for the show since I cut my teeth at Cedar Point. My very first roller coaster was Cedar Creek Mine Ride as soon as I was old enough to get on it. My first major coaster was Blue Streak. Now I would return to Cedar Point and ride the tallest and fastest coaster in the world* (*at that time).
At the end of the 3-day journey I was sunburned, hoarse, exhausted and ready to return home. A number of months later the show premiered on The Learning Channel. My segment was the final 4 minutes of the hour-long special and centered only on my rides on Millennium Force.
In the video, my fear is absolutely real. In fact I was holding back. A lot.
Miscellaneous Television Appearances
“TechTV’s Top 20 Gifts” | Commercial (2003)
I managed to book one TV commercial during my time with my San Francisco agent. It was fun, but musical theatre was blasting out its siren song, so I didn’t put enough energy into on-camera work to make any headway. I was also busy with voiceover auditions at the same time.
Roller Coasters at the State Fair | News 10 (2004)
When I was still a member of American Coaster Enthusiasts, I was interviewed at a club event at the California State Fair.
“Gold Striker” | Commercial (2013)
This is a bit of nothingness, but I’m including it because it’s my only appearance on television post-transition. I attended a preview for the Gold Striker roller coaster and ended up appearing briefly in red at the 15 second mark.
“3rd Row Center” | Public Access (1987)
Back in the ’80s we finally had access to some of the tools necessary to produce our own shows. Public-access television gave us the opportunity to play. In 1986, shortly before my move to California, Dave Davies and I created a movie review show. In addition to co-hosting, I created the theme song. We only finished one episode before I moved across the country, but in the build-up to the first episode we managed to join a film reviewers group. We received film clips (on fancy U-matic 3/4″ videocassette) along with free passes to new movies. I have no doubt we would have continued this project if I had stayed in Michigan, but alas…
The theater that appears in the opening titles has an historic and sentimental place in my life. The Eastwood Theater was a local second-run movie house, and I practically lived there during my teens. I saw my first PG-rated movie there (The Poseidon Adventure). I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey there the first time. Dave and I asked the manager if we could change the marquee to reflect our show name and also do some shooting inside. He was a very nice man who was always friendly (I’m sure he recognized me as a regular patron) and he agreed to our request. Dave and I got on a tall ladder and changed the big plastic letters ourselves. He also ran the projector for us so we could get those shots. I hope we thanked him sufficiently. He did not have to put himself out like that and I’m still grateful for the kindness.
“Miss Liberty” Interview | KPIX (2005)
By 2005 I was employed regularly as a musical theatre actor. I was cast in a fairly high-profile show at 42nd Street Moon called Irving Berlin’s Miss Liberty, a rarely performed musical. A local news organization did a short piece.