The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Kevin Michael Connolly (“Armed & Ready”)

Kevin Michael Connolly first came to prominence as a result of winning a silver medal at the X Games, an impressive achievement in and of itself, but one which was deemed decidedly more media-worthy as a result of Connolly having been born without legs. Using his X Games winnings to fund a trip across 15 countries in 2007, Connolly took photos along the way, publishing the results on a website called The Rolling Exhibition, and he subsequently wrote a memoir entitled “Double Take,” which has been optioned for a possible film. Now, as if the writing-photography combo isn’t enough in and of itself to keep most people busy, the guy’s gonna be hosting his own series on Travel Channel called – wait for it – “Armed & Ready.” Somehow, Connolly found the time in his schedule to chat with Bullz-Eye about what viewers can expect from his show, also filling us in as best he could about the status of the movie adaptation of his book, the wealth of limb-related puns in his repertoire, and how the words “all over the map” in no way come close to clarifying the depth of his tastes in music.

KMC

Bullz-Eye: I feel like we’re practically best friends now that we’ve Tweeted back and forth.

Kevin Michael Connolly: I know! Exactly! It’s, like, one step away from exchanging bodily fluids! [Hesitates.] Okay, maybe not that close. But it’s in the ballpark. Six degrees from…

BE: Yeah, we can probably just agree that we’re very close.

KMC: Got it. [Laughs.]

BE: Thanks to the Travel Channel, I’ve been able to check out the advance screeners of the first two episodes of “Armed and Ready.”

KMC: Oh, cool!

BE: I would say the same. So you’re a guy who’s gone from winning a medal in the X Games to being recognized for your photography to writing a book to now hosting a show for Travel Channel. That’d be a pretty amazing road to travel for anybody, let alone somebody who’s had to tackle these things from, shall we say, a different vantage point.

KMC: And to do it all by the time I’m 27! [Laughs.] It’s pretty crazy, man.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Todd Carmichael (“Dangerous Grounds”)

If you’re a regular viewer of the National Geographic Channel, then you might be familiar with Todd Carmichael for his Antarctic travelogue, “Race to the Bottom of the Earth,” but if you’re a connoisseur of all things caffeinated, then it’s more likely that you’ll know him for La Colombe, a business endeavor which has allowed the entrepreneur to dedicate his life to finding, selling, and – in a few select cities around the world – serving up some of the world’s best coffees. Now, Travel Channel is giving Carmichael the opportunity to show their viewers just how hard he’s willing to work to provide people with the beans to make the finest possible cup o’ joe.

Carmichael chatted with Bullz-Eye about the origins of his series – the cleverly-titled “Dangerous Grounds,” which debuts on November 5 at 10 PM – and how his coffee-hunting adventures have changed since he’s had to start traveling with a cameraman by his side, also offering up a few suggestions of where casual coffee fans can start the process of expanding their palate to more unique tastes. By the way, for the record, Carmichael admitted to being “a little juiced up on caffeine” during our conversation, having just come off a lengthy coffee-tasting session, but as someone who’s perpetually hopped up on caffeine myself, he sounded perfectly normal to me.

Bullz-Eye: First of all, I was able to check out the first episode of “Dangerous Grounds” before our chat, and I really enjoyed it.

Todd Carmichael: Oh, great! That was Haiti, right?

BE: Yep, sure was.

TC: Oh, excellent. Yeah, that was a great adventure.

BE: Well, to jump way back to the very beginning, when did your love of / addiction to caffeine first begin?

TC: [Laughs.] Oh, you know, it’s just like any other addiction: it’s hard to tell the actual moment. But I definitely really remember the first time I said, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do.” But I did it for a different purpose. I was 15 years old, and I was just one of these obsessed little distance runners. It was really distance running that got me to college, to the University of Washington. And I read this article in Runner’s World Magazine at the time, and there was a guy named Bill Rogers, he was kind of like the reigning champion of the Boston Marathon, and he wrote an article about his use of caffeine and coffee and how it affected his running. And, you know, at that time, everyone kind of thought of coffee as a dangerous thing, as if it was like cigarettes or something like that. Needless to say, the next morning I brewed my very first pot…and drank the whole thing. [Laughs.] And I haven’t really stopped doing that since.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Jordan Hembrough (Travel Channel’s “Toy Hunter”)

In my experience, you can generally gauge how legitimately excited a person is about the impending premiere of their TV series when they take the time to thank you for your interest. By this I mean that, while it’s certainly nice of them to respond to an opening salvo of “it’s nice to talk to you” with an equally polite “my pleasure,” it’s taking it to the next level and beyond to both open and close the conversation by telling you how thrilled they are that you A) actually want to talk to them, and B) have shown legitimate interest in their project.

These comments, as you may have guessed, are the way Jordan Hembrough, host and star of the new Travel Channel series “Toy Hunter,” bookended our phone conversation a few days ago. Like myself, he’s both a father and an unabashed sci-fi geek, so it should be no surprise that I enjoyed watching the initial installment of his show, which finds him traveling the country in search of various toys and action figures, including just about everything that was part of my pop culture diet growing up, including “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and even relative obscurities like “Space 1999” and Disney’s “The Black Hole.”

“Toy Hunter” premieres tonight at 10 PM (9 PM CST) on Travel Channel. If it isn’t already programmed into your TiVo – and if you’ve ever been called a geek or a nerd in your time, it really should be – then perhaps this chat will inspire you to fix that situation post-haste.

Bullz-Eye: First of all, I’ve got to tell you that not only did I enjoy watching the screener, but I’ve got a seven-year-old daughter, and she was digging it right along with me.

Jordan Hembrough: You know, Will, I’ve got to tell you: you just hit something that’s…it’s a real special chord with me. I’m really hoping that families will watch this show together, because when I watched it with my kids, they were enjoying it and asking me about old toys as well.

BE: One of the funniest things – and you may have experienced this, too – was that one of the most frequent comments I heard from my daughter was, “You really played with that?”

JH: [Laughs.] You know, that’s exactly what my son said to me. He goes, “So did you get this with an iPhone application?” “No.” “So does it hook up to a computer?” “No, it doesn’t hook up to a computer!”

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The Light from the TV Shows: Exploring “Hidden City with Marcus Sakey”

If Marcus Sakey’s name doesn’t mean anything to you…well, first of all, maybe don’t tell him. He’s a nice guy. I wouldn’t want you to hurt his feelings. But beyond that, it probably means that you need to pick up the pace when it comes to reading top-notch crime thrillers. His debut novel, 2007′s The Blade Itself, was featured as a New York Times Editor’s Pick was named by Esquire as one of the 5 Best Reads of the year, and he’s since enjoyed continued success with subsequent novels Good People, The Amateurs, and The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes.

But we’re not here to talk about Sakey’s books. We’re here to talk about his TV show.

On December 6, the Travel Channel will debut “Hidden City with Marcus Sakey,” a series that will, over the course of its 12 episodes, explore 12 different cities around the United States – caveat: for these purposes, we’re treating the Florida Keys as one big city – by investigating some of the more sordid (or at least less than cheery) parts of their pasts. For example, in Boston, Sakey explores the history of the Boston Strangler. In Chicago, he looks into the infamous protest riot of 1968. Neither is the sort of thing that’d pop up on the cover of a tourism brochure, but it is the sort of thing that fascinates Sakey. I’ve had a chance to screen the first two episodes of the series, which, not coincidentally, find Sakey working his way through Chicago and Boston, and I found it to be highly enthralling viewing.

Okay, so maybe Sakey doesn’t have the eccentric intensity of, say, James Ellroy. (If you haven’t seen Ellroy’s series “L.A.: City of Demons,” I highly recommend it.) But you can sense Sakey’s fascination with the material he’s discussing and the people with whom he’s conversing, which goes a long way. Plus, c’mon, it’s the guy’s first time playing host. Give him a chance to grow into the role, huh? And, anyway, the end of his adventures in Chicago, one thing’s for sure: he’s up for anything if it’ll help him get a better handle on the discussion at hand…even if it involves being temporarily blinded.

Bullz-Eye: So I checked out both of the episodes on the screener yesterday…

Marcus Sakey: Oh, cool! What did you think?

BE: A lot of fun, to say the least.

MS: Beautiful! Thanks, man, I appreciate it.

BE: In fact, I went on Facebook right after I watched it and said that my eyes were burning just watching the Chicago episode.

MS: [Laughs.] Yeah, I think part of the reason I ended up hosting this was that my friend and producer felt that I was dumb enough to get pepper-sprayed.

BE: It’s a good selling point.

MS: [Laughs.] Yeah. Sometimes not being that smart has its advantages.

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