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When you’re a public-access TV show, you can’t be too proud to scavenge.
Last July, after a volunteer for local telezine The Coffee House found out that the Washington Opera was discarding some of its old sets, the monthly hourlong show inherited a fabrication formerly used for Paquito’s Christmas.
The set is now in the hands of the Montgomery Blair High School stage crew, who expect to have it ready in time for the show’s February taping. “We will end up with an outdoor façade,” explains Mark Cohen, the show’s producer, “a sort of A-frame that will have a door and a window and…a living-room space.”
In developing the The Coffee House, which aired first on Takoma Park cable television in 1996 and moved to Montgomery Community Television in 1997, Cohena former news director at Antioch College’s WYSO radio and a lawyer who now edits legal journals at homepretty much knocked on neighbors’ doors. Folk-music maven David Eisner, of the House of Musical Traditions, became the music host; the people at Chuck & Dave’s Books, in the same Takoma Park shopping district, recommended journalist Lisa Page to host the “Writers’ Bloc” segment. The show has since grown to eight regular hosts and contributors and 10 distinct segments that cover everything from public policy to film to dance.
“Takoma Park is home to a lot of people with histories in journalism and TV and the arts,” says Howard Kohn, former bureau chief at the Center for Investigative Reporting, whose book The Last Farmer was a nominated finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1989. Kohn’s interview with Sam Smith, editor of the D.C.-based Progressive Review, is featured in the show’s January installment.
“A lot of our guestsmost of our guestsare from the regional metropolitan area,” Kohn says. “We distribute shows all the way from Baltimore to Northern Virginia, so there’s a much wider audience and an attempt to talk about issues of regional interest.” According to The Coffee House’s Web site, the show airs on 12 cable channels across the area, with a “potential viewership” of 5 million.
In the program’s earliest days, when it was broadcast live from the Takoma Park council chamber, the set once collapsed midinterviewwhen Kohn was interviewing a lacrosse coach. “He was demonstrating some of the tactics,” Kohn says. “We were trying to do all of this as a pantomime. Then the set started falling. I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept going.”
“I’m not sure which was more dismaying at the time,” says Cohen, “the fact that the set collapsed on us or that our audience was so infinitesimal that I heard not a peep about this episode from a single viewer.”
Asked who saw the fateful show, Kohn doesn’t hesitate. “Probably Mark’s wife and my wife,” he says. “And the lacrosse player’s wife.” Pamela Murray Winters
For more information, visit coffeehousetv.org.