Western New York is camera ready for Internet audiences [Buffalo News]

Huge article in Buffalo News on our show and website truebluebuffalo.com

Bill Wippert / Buffalo News

03/08/09 10:13 AM

Western New York is camera ready for Internet audiences

By Andrew Z. Galarneau
News Staff Reporter

Tim Tielman is used to being ignored. He’s spent 20 years preaching the virtues of saving empty old buildings in a city with more than its share. “It’s been difficult all these years to convey why a given building is beautiful, or why it should be saved,” said Tielman. “These are concepts that make people’s eyes glaze over.”

The answer, strangely enough, might be Internet television, said Tielman, of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo.

On Tielman’s show “Adventures in Buffaloland,” hosted on the Web site truebluebuffalo.com, the preservationist explains subjects like what the Guaranty Building and St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral can teach you about American architecture.

Showing the viewers archways and other details while Tielman talks, the shows deliver a five-minute dose of insight and banter that avoids information coma, he said. “Infotainment is a derogatory term, but if you don’t convey information in a stimulating or entertaining way, people will not retain it,” he said. “Video can do that.”

Lambasted as an anti-intellectual medium that turns children’s minds to porridge, television’s power to captivate has been reclaimed by Western New Yorkers in home-grown shows for Internet and public access cable audiences. Videos on local newspaper and other media Web sites, as well as talented amateurs and moonlighting professionals, are drawing national attention to Buffalo, helping citizens understand its architectural gems, and to fostering the region’s sense of neighborliness.

In January, television star Anthony Bourdain became the latest to be lured to Buffalo by the power of home-grown television.

With Kenmore musician Nelson Starr in front of the lens, Buffalo documentary filmmaker John Paget crafted a Queen City take on Bourdain’s “No Reservations” franchise. Sardonic asides from Starr, sizzling plates of scrumptious-looking food, and slick editing made an impact in a Travel Channel contest to lure Bourdain and his camera crew.

Starr and Paget’s entry drew more viewers than other contestants, before losing to a Saudi Arabian entry.

But Bourdain still came, as part of a three-city Rust Belt show, landing at Ulrich’s Tavern amid a sea of gawkers.

The momentum led Paget to create truebluebuffalo.com, an online channel featuring video podcasts and episodic documentaries for and about Buffalo. His site hosts the food videos made with Starr, Tielman’s preservation primers and other shows to come.

All of which hasn’t made Starr and Paget any money, exactly, unless you count free drinks. Still, when fans are calling for you to be awarded the keys to the city, that couldn’t hurt.

It’s certainly given Starr instant credibility for his online food show, “All-Access Pass,” which dedicated its second, pre-Valentine’s Day episode to the glories of chocolate.

On a frigid February morning, Paget, director of “Alcatraz Reunion” and commercial filmmaker, had arrived at Chow Chocolat early. The Main Street “chocolaterie” had two men playing chess and a handful of chocolate sippers.

“Our point is to try to entertain people,” Paget said. “Beyond that, we want to push people in Buffalo to explore some new, cutting-edge stuff, and sort of reward the people that are doing cool stuff with the publicity our show can give them.”

It’s not a “food critic show,” Paget said. “We’re never going to feature a place that we might end up criticizing. We wouldn’t bother with a restaurant if we didn’t think they were doing cool stuff.”

Starr swept in, in his leather jacket and bangs. “Did you get Zen like shots?” he asked the filmmaker. “Was it an oasis?”

Challenging owner Scott Wisz to produce some chocolate to treat his cold, Starr was handed a demitasse, and sipped as Paget homed in with his hand-held camera.

And again. And again. It’s hard to get it right when you’re trying to convey the sensation of the city’s most luxurious chocolate massaging your palate.

“It’s super, hyper rich,” Starr said of the third cup. “Tastes like you melted down a high quality chocolate bar and made a drink of it.”

He made appropriate noises of appreciation. “This liquid is pouring directly into my bloodstream.”

Later, Starr and Paget headed to the Chocolate Bar on Chippewa Street.

“The whole angle there is we’re going to get drunk on sweets and try to pick up chicks,” said Starr, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. “It’s a chick bar, and chicks love that place.”

Posted Feb. 13, the resulting Valentine’s Day episode, “A Buffalo Love Story,” is laced with slinky tango, decadent chocolate, and shots of Starr swigging a martini as big as his head.

“It looks like I’m going to be alone again on V-day,” Starr says mournfully, offering himself the motivation for chugging the “chocolate megatini.”

“It’s extending my chocolate bender,” Starr offers.

Earlier, Starr headed for Fowler’s Chocolate, to explore the hidden workings of a candy factory, and ogle at sofa-cushion-sized loafs of candy sponge.

Plus, that little swirl on top of chocolates? Ever wonder how they do that?

Well, you’ll just have to watch the show.

Even old-fashioned ink-and-paper devotees must admit the power of the medium, Tielman said. When it came down to it, he needed to take on the camera to stay relevant.

“The challenge for someone like me to do what I do, and advance the notion of historic preservation, is: How do we make this come to the top of the mind?” Tielman asked. “How can we make this a viral thing?”

The five-minute video has turned out to offer advantages not obvious to the less-than-technologically savvy.

“The potential audience is a lot greater than for an hourlong documentary on, say, Frank Lloyd Wright,” said Tielman. “People can download them, e-mail them, send the link.”

It’s simply less intimidating than a book –but it can provide a glimpse into book-length subjects for the casual viewer.

“I’ve learned to be very careful about buying books for people,” Tielman said ruefully. “They’re looking at it and saying, ‘That’s a week’s commitment.’ ”

What helped clinch it for him was how people listened to the videos, Tielman said. “If people don’t retain it, I’m not doing my job,” said. “I’m just blathering away. … With movies, with images, you can convey information in a glance it’ll take an author a page and a half to write about.”

Anyone who doubts the power of television would do well to track down an episode of “Lori & Friends,” found on public access channels in Niagara and Erie counties. (Channel 20 on Time Warner.)

Its lively host, Lori Caso, has only her Lewiston kitchen, a single camera, and a homey lineup of guests with fundraisers to pitch while they put together a few dishes.

But after 14 years on public access cable, Caso has achieved media stardom, Niagara County scale.

“I can’t walk into Tops without somebody stopping me,” Caso said of her favorite Lewiston supermarket. “Everybody has a story, and everybody has a recipe.”

The show started as a radio program, for Niagara Falls’ WJJL, Caso said. Later, while working for Adelphia Cable, she convinced the company to shoot the program. The company sent a camera operator, director and assistant, Caso said, and edited the show for broadcast on its public access channel.

Public access channels, an oft-skipped band of the cable spectrum, carry the broadest variety of content because they’re designed to help deliver citizens’ vision to their neighbors’ televisions. Public access channels are the result of federal law ordering cable companies to provide access, airtime and even training, to virtually all comers.

Now shot and edited by a single staffer, “Lori & Friends” has cultivated its audience with a simple, straightforward approach.

“It’s no frills,” Caso said. “It’s not professional cooks, just real people doing real recipes.” She pitched the show to the Food Network, but hasn’t heard back.

The cable customers of Niagara and Erie counties need no introduction. “As you know, I’ve been wanting to be on your show for what seems like decades,” Grand Island Dispatch editor Larry Austin told Caso during a recent show.

After years of pleas, Caso finally relented and allowed Austin to appear on “Lori & Friends” despite offering little but moral support to the manufacture of the episode’s pineapple cake.

“It’s a thrill to finally be invited,” Austin said.

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