Episode 17: Finger Les

It was a moment in the history of the show that will probably never be matched.

“A terrible time when man and machine met in the most malicious and untimely of manners,” Vic Shell would reveal.

“I demanded we change the end of my Ballast Act to Allen Kew pleading with the crowd to “give him a hand, no really… give him a hand“, blue comedian/stage manager Les Tremaine would later joke.

Usually we lead with an American Log recap of events and follow it up with a video. But in this case, it makes no sense to bury the lead.

Here’s how the American Log called it….


Bizarre accident on MTalk set
Bizarre accident on MTalk set

MILWAUKEE, December 10 – A tragic accident on the set of Milwaukee Talk yesterday morning has our local broadcast industry buzzing.

As longtime TV spiel man Vic Shell was getting ready to come back from a commercial break he accidently turned on a plugged-in blade saw while his stage manager and fellow ‘Chat Pack’ member, Les Tremaine, was adjusting the saw on set.  The blade seared part of the palm and 5 fingers off Mr. Tremaine’s right hand, throwing Shell’s planned woodworking segment into chaos.

The perky Milwaukee Talk theme song sounded up with its iconic logo on screen and then faded to black almost as quickly as a blood splattered Shell threw to a new block of commercials.

On this morning’s edition of Milwaukee Talk Vic Shell was still devastated by the previous day’s event and delivered a seven minute apology.  “I want, need and have to personally apologize on air for yesterday’s show.  Firstly, apologize to our viewers but more importantly directly to Les Tremaine. As long as I’ve been on the show he’s been the man who makes this show sing and dance, whether it’s for his unparalleled stage direction or his witty remarks to keep the crew cool. And if you’ve seen our Ballast show you know it’s no secret the Man Upstairs gave Les that extra gift of endowment that made my TV job that much easier,” Shell said, referring to the extra finger Tremaine had on his countdown hand.

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The incident calls into question Vic Shell’s drinking habits.  The brash, alcohol quaffing persona on stage at the Ballast ‘Chat Pack’ shows appear to be more than just an act.  By crew accounts Shell smells of “very fine whiskey” every morning.

And by other accounts, Tremaine doesn’t appear to hold any animosity against his ‘Chat Pack’ partner Vic Shell.  When asked if he did in fact hold a grudge, Tremaine was philosophical.  “I grew up on the wrong side of tracks.  My life has been hard.  I ended up quitting school at 15 when my dad died so I could put my brothers through school.  Vic has given me more opportunities than I’ve had my whole life.   I am a celebrity in my own right because of him.  There is an old saying, ‘Vic giveth and Vic taketh away’.  I’m paraphrasing of course.  Besides, it was so fast, it happened just like that,” joked Tremaine as he attempted to snap his remaining right hand finger against his palm.


Analysts of all ilks rubbernecked on Tremaine’s nubbing, always interrogating it from their respective vocational angle.  Police, doctors, forensic experts, and the heavy equipment industry all took their run at it.  Even politicians weighed in on this event as you recall the forced state legislature to change rules about home improvement segments on live TV.

That evening on every local TV news outlet the same clip was running at slo-mo, tearing apart every little bit of detail.   If you like, you can see it one more time at that very slowest of mo’s right here.  Note first the area between Shell and Tremaine and then take note around Shell’s equator as you follow Tremaine’s hand exiting orbit.

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