Episode 26: Milwaukee Flop


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MILWAUKEE, Tuesday, August 7 – Once seemingly unbeatable, WLKE’s long running morning chit-chat program, Milwaukee Talk has fallen to sixth in the ratings.  Things are so abysmal these days, longtime third place finisher, WIBS-TV’s Art of Conversation has risen to number two, Judge Mathis on channel 58 is outdrawing M-Talk and now even Morning Grind on community cable 10 is running neck and neck with the Milwaukee current affairs icon.

The downfall began when co-host Mary Margaret left for maternity leave last summer.  The morning phone calls updating the pregnancy progress from Mary seemed to hold viewers, but rating trends showed the numbers dramatically dropped as much as 70% at the 15 minute mark, usually around the time the Mary Margaret updates ended.

The original replacement for Mary, Gary Albendensen, was a complete and utter disaster.  The morning coffee talk segment between Albendensen and longtime Milwaukee Talk stalwart, Vic Shell, was forced and Aldendensen continuously booted segments. For example, non-sports fan Aldendensen would refer to touchdowns as “goals” during their weekly Green Bay Packers segment.

The last straw came during a memorable cooking segment featuring Albendensen burning his apron in protest after Shell joked about Albendensen’s “questionable handling of his brautwurst in the kitchen”.

That paved the way for an extra week of the so-called “Mary Christmas” repeats WLKE promoted last December.

Milwaukee Talk co-host Vic Shell and executive producer Allen Kew strike familiar poses as the venerable show struggles to hang on

Next up to co-host was perfume sales rep, Harley Anne Maybry. While there is no confirmation as to how Shell and Mabry originally crossed paths, it is known that a visibly drunk Shell stormed into station manager Honus Knox’s office on Christmas Eve and threatened to walk if they didn’t bring Harley Anne on board.  Shell demanded, Knox agreed and it was a mistake neither of them will probably ever fully recover from.

A couple of weeks into Harley Anne’s tenure, she introduced an unscheduled segment on the broadcast that showed a barely FCC-legal demonstration of a new fitness regimen she referred to as “sexercising”.  The phone lines lit up as Harley Anne manhandled a seemingly spaced-out Shell over various ends of the Milwaukee Talk set.

The next day it was reported Shell had been drugged by Maybry during the preceding cooking segment.  WLKE execs were livid.  The matter was never resolved as 48 hours later a dairy farmer and a Wisconsin assemblyman from opposite corners of the state stepped forward claiming to be married to Maybry.

This time Honus Knox III didn’t have to threaten termination, as Ms. Maybry quietly slid out of Milwaukee on her own recognizance in the middle of the night.  The next morning the only evidence she was gone was a missing “Milwaukee Talk” handbag and her entire production wardrobe.

That paved the way for weeks of the so-called “JanuMary”, “FebruMary” repeats WLKE promoted at the start of the year.

The promo campaign for the third Milwaukee Talk replacement, Megan Travalerez, was aggressive to say the least.  With no less than 50 billboards boasting “New Meg-innings” across the greater Milwaukee area, execs figured the premiere would be “can’t miss television”.

The attempt missed spectacularly.

Vic Shell had spent weeks combing broadcast college campuses across Wisconsin looking for the perfect new, unknown candidate with that special “it” factor. Eventually he lucked into meeting Travelerez at a college watering hole.  As an  intoxicated and foulmouthed waitress, Travalerez had an edgy charm to her that Shell found entertaining. At first Travalerez resisted but Shell threw in some free commercial time for the bar and convinced her boss to put her on evening shifts.  Megan Travalerez was good to go.  As all of Milwaukee tuned in with wild anticipation during May sweeps, the show went horribly wrong.  Five minutes into the opening segment she began spewing out obscenities that would make a Milwaukee brewery worker blush.

You may recall the “Mary Month of May” repeats WLKE execs unveiled after that debacle.  At a loss of what to do next, execs had Shell bingo-call live news reports at the top of the show and then throw to segments with catchy monikers like “Off The Shell-f” and “Mary Gold Moments” which were re-packaged old Shell/Margaret segments that originally ran as long as eight years ago.  Some of the segments actually worked well when they were repeated, such as the seasonal gardening segments, Vic Shell’s interview with Al-Anon reps and, oddly enough, the “Alzheimers Awareness Month” segment.

Needless to say WLKE execs are relieved that Mary Margaret is due back this month. Shell has been conspicuously absent from the Milwaukee limelight these days, even disappearing from usual haunts like neighboring “Kauffman Deli” which gives Shell front-of-the-line service when he comes in to order his namesake sandwich, the “Deli-Shell-ish All-Cheese Hoagie”.  While the summer ratings slide continues, WLKE execs sweat it out until Mary Margaret returns after the Olympics, banking on the fact that only she can bring the show back to its former gold medal ratings.     


It was a dark time in the history of Milwaukee Talk.

“With Mary gone on maternity leave and the injuries to Les, it was like there were only two and a half members of the The Chat Pack left”, Vic Shell would explain on-air one morning around that time to the dwindling viewers.

How monotonous and banal were some of those episodes when Vic Shell didn’t have a co-host sitting next to him on that famous, iconic blue couch?

All this week we’ll show you clips of introductions to some of those Mary Gold Memories.  And we’re going to show you one right now to show you just exactly how bad things got…..

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