Episode 39: Talk: The House

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MILWAUKEE, January 27 – In a time when money is scarce in the TV business, the industry is rubber-necking at Milwaukee Talk’s new $1.4 million dollar, two-tiered, plumbing-accurate, morning show set.

Designed by renowned German TV architect, Brian Kahle, the set is years ahead…or years behind the times depending on who you ask.

To station manager Honus Knox III, the massive expense is a calculated gamble and one he concedes may not wind up paying off.  “I did it partly as an allegiance to the show. Milwaukee Talk is the second longest-running continuous TV program next to Meet the Press. Local affiliates rarely get the opportunity to talk directly to their viewing audience in a casual way and Milwaukee Talk is our most viable method to reach out in a special way to our audience. Mary is our most recognizable icon. When she is out driving her car people are always honking at her.  The revenue may be down but as a percentage, it’s still a big winner.”

Detractors say the new set would have been more appropriate if it were built during the peak of television’s heyday in the 1970’s. “In the six channel universe when even local talk shows like this were targeting housewives and drawing a 25 share on a daily basis, the money could’ve been justified,” former TV Guide technology columnist Dave Thomas said. “But now, when that same show and concept draws a 5 share and commercial revenue is dropping like a baking soufflé at a dance party, it’s a recipe rich for disaster.”

Tater Beutler, the show’s executive producer and inspiration behind the concept, explains that this is the best thing to ever happen to Milwaukee Talk.  “People see the fragmenting of the TV audience at the hands of the multi-channel universe and the internet as something that is detrimental to our show. I see the internet as an opportunity to expand our audience, not diminish it.  People from literally all over the world are curious to see this set. Once they download a clip or two they will be amazed at how much they didn’t know about how to unplug their sink drain or how many different ways you can fold a napkin for your next dinner party.”

Honus Knox III is a bit more visionary about the whole project.  “I’m not getting any younger.  This set is something that will get me remembered for a long time after I’m gone from the business. I know it’s a lot of money but Tater came up with a clever way to finance the project and even personally assumed a small part of the costs. And the extra space we needed for this bigger set was possible once we demolished Vic Shell’s old dressing room.”

Here are 6 things you need to know about the new Milwaukee Talk two-tiered set:

THE SET HAS ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME

Because of the nature of the show, Beutler wanted to develop a set that had all the comforts of home and made the audience feel like guests instead of viewers. To that end, she insisted on plumbing-accurate bathrooms and a gourmet kitchen with a working sink and functioning gas stove and microwave. Even the bedroom had to have the highest quality mattress and sheets, as she said in future episodes “we will be revealing test results that we are doing on the products.”

THE FRIDGE IS STOCKED WEEKLY WITH GROCERIES

One of Beutler’s demands on her crew is that the fridge be fully stocked each Monday morning. Beutler admits she is a perfectionist and would cringe if they were ever doing a cooking segment and the high definition cameras caught a glimpse of an under-stocked fridge. “The concept of a perfect home would be destroyed and the audience wouldn’t buy into the illusion. It’s all about making lemonade with fresh lemons. With the crisp picture HDTV gives, we need to have real higher-end products with the labels facing out. Because now we can also earn revenue through product placement fees,” Beutler reasons.

THE FOOD IN THE FRIDGE DOESN’T GO TO WASTE

Beutler is very concerned about the optics of this point. All of her viewers have to know that Milwaukee Talk is a good corporate citizen and the food in the fridge won’t be going to waste.   She takes this so seriously she personally ensures it goes to a good charity every week. “Charity does begin at home” an arms-outstretched Beutler admits.

THE SET HAS A REGISTERED ADDRESS WITH THE CITY

Beutler maintains that this was a critical point in realizing the concept of the set. Beutler personally paid to have the city officially have Studio 2 assigned a notarized city address. “Not only to receive fan mail,” she concedes, “but also as a symbolic gesture for the audience and crew to perceive the set as if it were someone’s house.”

HONUS KNOX NIXED PLANS FOR A BASEMENT

The original floor plans called for a sub-floor which would have included a laundry room, rec room with wet bar/fish tank and an 80-inch TV. Beutler still has regrets about Honus Knox III not approving that aspect of what Beutler lovingly refers to as “my home”. The argument was that digging out 12 feet below the studio floor would have been an exorbitant cost with very little benefit. Beutler begs to differ. “We already had two jibs brought in so we could get some different camera angles on the second floor so swinging the jib into the sub-floor wouldn’t have been an issue. How much money does Honus think he saved by building a laundry nook off the master bedroom instead? We still went ahead with the 80-inch TV but had to affix it to the master bedroom wall instead.”

BEUTLER PERSONALLY PAYS THE HOUSE BILLS

According to Beutler: “When Honus first helped me develop this dream home, he was very concerned about the extra costs to the station’s water, gas and electricity bills. Part of the deal was as long as I am associated with the show, and believe me, I don’t intend to go anywhere any time soon, I would personally be paying the utility bills. That’s how stubborn and obsessive I am about this.”

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“It was a crazy time at the station.  Behind the scenes there were these massive plans to expand studios but there were these low budget public service announcements making their way on air,” Milwaukee Talk and Aunt Mary’s Great Trip host  Mary Margaret would later explain.

If nothing else, the Tater Beutler era at WLKE-TV3 ushered in a new era of low budget local programming, even for WLKE.  As it turns out, it was later learned that it was Beutler herself who was laptop editing the public service announcements. And on top of that, she was billing the station as a private company for the service under the name of TBTV Productions.

Here’s another instalment of one of those public service announcements that ran on Aunt Mary’s Great Trip….

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