Nothing against Lawrence Welk, but flipping through the channels and finding the cheesy waltz-and-bubbles routine on public television doesn't exactly inspire me to dig out the checkbook and renew my membership. At its best, public t.v. can be so good, and our own local affiliate, KETC, has taken it upon itself to make a concerted effort to extend its reach into St. Louis. Their new undertaking, "Living St. Louis," is part new and part re-branding of some existing shows, with the end result of a dedicated half-hour, from 7 to 7:30 p.m. each weeknight, focused on local stories and personalities.
"Living St. Louis," the new content (i.e. the half hour shows which aren't Donnybrook or Stl Biz), cuts a wide swath, with packages on everything from the remarkable caves under the Lemp Brewery to the art of Brother Mel Meyer, a local Marianist priest. It's all a part of the station's push to live up to its role as the region's storyteller, a spot it has already filled admirably with the Decades series, the interstitial Etc. segments and various local documentaries including the award-winning "Home Front St. Louis" and "American Tower" shows, and the soon-to-be-released "Rebuilding St. Louis".
By any standard, the end results are generally excellent. The optimistic, this-town-is-a-great-place-full-of-interesting-stuff approach will go a long way to win over the most self-loathing St. Louisans among us, and is a breath of fresh air for the prematurely jaded who think they know all the cool there is to know here.
One recent show focused on "three structures in our community" that proved just too interesting to tear down. The first, the Aerotrain at the Museum of Transportation, was originally built as a GM concept train from a bus chassis, ending up "not so much like a train as a very large Buick," in the words of segment producer Jim Kirchherr. Though it was a commercial failure (seems it got kinda noisy and uncomfortable after a few minutes at high speeds), it continues to hold a fascination for train lovers. From there, the show moves to Soulard's Mad Art Gallery, built in 1937 as a WPA project to provide employment on the home front. It served most of its life as a police station, shuttered in 1990 and dormant until Ron Buechele saw the potential to convert it to a gallery and special events space. Producer Ann-Marie Berger tours the old cells and garage with him, and then settles in on the outdoor "grass couch" to find out more about the building's history. The final part of the show provided a slightly jarring moment, as it was clearly a repurposed piece of Patrick Murphy's "American Tower" documentary, about Grand Center's Continental Building. Though the descriptions of "23 stories of sunshine in the pure air zone" are captivating, careful viewers will notice differences between the production elements of this segment and the other two: different kinds of titles identify who's onscreen, there's a bit of a different look, and the producer is never seen on-camera, which usually happens in other stories on the show.
Some episodes are more thematically arranged than others. Another recent show that included segments on St. Louis' chapter of CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality), sit-ins at Jefferson Bank in 1963 and the St. Louis American newspaper had a profile of violinist Anne Akiko Meyers oddly placed in the middle. As the production team increases and refines its output, little "hunh?" moments like that will probably disappear.
"Living St. Louis" airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 1 and 1:30 p.m.