The making of a successful local talk show has many ingredients, and Chicago‘s Windy City Live, which airs locally at 1 PM on ABC 7, measures up to every one. Recently, I had the chance to go backstage and spent the day on the set of the show to find out why the show is successful and the reason that people keep tuning in.
Entering its sixth season, the set expresses “Chicago” with various landmark pictures drawn on the walls. A big huge oval desk anchors the main set and when the cameras are ready to roll, the TV and studio audience is greeted by two charming and vibrant hosts, Ryan Chiaverini and Val Warner.
Windy City Live was the replacement show when Oprah decided to call it quits. Now how do you fill those shoes? Everyone at the show, namely the staff and crew, agrees that it was not an easy task, but Chicago has long been home to local television productions, and we can stay a pioneer in paving the way for local productions. Let’s not forget…Oprah started local in Chicago with a show called “AM Chicago."
Windy City Live Executive Producer, Matt Knutson, said it is all about making and keeping the show local. “I believe it’s the great staff and talent that we have. The same people you see on camera are the same people you see off camera,” Knutson said. “I believe in telling a story, and that is what the segments on our show do. An example, a lady put up $50,000 of her own money to hold a peace rally. That is remarkable! These are the stories I look for that tell Chicago and it’s surrounding areas what is out there and talk about people’s lives.”
Knutson added that Windy City Live produces 290 shows a year and agrees that not every segment or the show itself will be a hit, but said that everything they do to make the show shine is done with passion, and he believes it shines through for the audience.
“I want to tell a story that no one has told. I like to take a chance on a piece and see where we can go with it. I want every segment to have meaning and tell something,” Knutson explains.
Knutson has been producer of the show for the last fifteen months. Prior he was a food contributor on the show. His former bosses knew of his love for food and put him on the air. He worked his way up to Executive Producer and finds his position challenging and a lot of fun.
“Without a doubt, I love what I do!,” he jubilantly said. “Putting together a show like Windy City Live is invigorating and I work with the best people in the industry, making it fun to come to work.”
Chiaverini and Warner feel the same. Chiaverini comes from a sports background. Prior he was a sports anchor at ABC 7, but said this is the job for him. “I really believe I’m doing what I want to do. I love this. To be honest, I don’t miss sports all that much,” he said. “I also love the fact of the whole atmosphere of the show and the live studio audience that we have every day.”
Warner comes from a news background (previously WGN) and said it is a joy doing a show like Windy City Live. “I love this! In news…I am a journalist. I keep my opinions to myself. I only report the story,” she said. "Here I get to make comments. I get to show my personality. We take time with a story and best of all, we get to be a part of the story.”
Warner jokingly said that a highlight for her was to learn how to boil an egg and peel it by giving the egg an ice bath, or how to eat a cupcake without making a mess.
“I like informative stuff, and we do inform the public,” Warner explains. “I believe Ryan and I learn something new every day and I hope that our viewers do as well.”
Virginia Thomas of Northbrook, an audience member, agrees and loves the show. “I have to admit. I’m a pro here. This is my third time and I love it!” Thomas said. “I get to see the two people (Ryan and Val) I watch every day. I’m floored. They are so personable and they make the show and my day. I’m always learning something new through them.”
Ouida Davis of Chicago visited for the first time and was in awe. “Oh my God…the host shook my hand,” Davis laughs. “I’m telling you this is something all should see. This is Chicago. Politics aside, this is the place to be. I feel like I visited old friends. Every day they are my lunch time buddies.”
Windy City Live likes to do special shows, like the popular Halloween Show, or for Mother’s Day they flew Ryan’s mother in from the West Coast. Famous guests have included Mike Tyson, Jimmy Kimmel, and Rosie O’Donnell, to name a few.
“I really liked Tyson. He has grown and you get to see the other side of him. He was a terrific guest,” Chiaverini added.
Chiaverini created a segment called “Two Minute Warning,” where he throws questions to personalities, guests, and athletes. They usually end up giving a funny response. The audience loves this part of the show.
Chiaverini and Warner both admitted that someday they would like to see Windy City Live expand to perhaps being a national show. “Hey why not? It happened to Kathie Lee and Regis,” Warner said. Chiaverini reiterated that with a show like Windy City Live you never know where the path can go.
Secretly they both admitted that one day they would love for Windy City Live to go on location with the audience for a week.
BACK ON THE SET:
Much preparation goes into the making of a show like Windy City Live. Lets just say there is a lot of backstage collaborating.
For the hosts, the day begins early. Both Ryan and Val are early risers. Warner of course is a hands on mom to her children. “I’m up and the day begins early,” Warner said. “It’s breakfast, getting ready and then driving them to school.”
For Chiaverini the morning is less hectic. He admits that being single, he does not have that problem, but there are calls to make and prepare for the day.
Chiaverini and Warner arrive early at the ABC studios. Both go to their offices to get the rundown. There are calls to producers and last minute notes. Then, it is off to wardrobe and make-up. This is an everyday ritual. Both hosts (not that they need to be) get ready to look their best for the program, even though they already look like they stepped of the cover of a fashion magazine.
The audience arrives at the studio about an hour to hour and a half before the show. After going through security, the audience sits on chairs formed in rows before entering the studio. About a half hour before airtime, the audience is taken to the set. Many members are seeing a TV studio for the first time and are all bright eyed.
Floor manager, Carl Alaimo, gives the audience the lowdown on what will take place and what to expect. He does a fantastic job at making everyone feel at home and welcomes them to the show.
Alaimo does a warm up. He asks the audience questions and gives a basic rundown of the show on what to expect and what to do. Windy City Live audience members should be prepared to be on camera as there are many audience shots throughout the show.
At the top of the hour the show begins. The announcer tells what and who will be on the show and then Chiaverini and Warner make their entrance, sometimes dancing and grooving their way in. The audience goes wild and both hosts take their seats at the large oval desk.
Keeping with the local theme, the hosts chit chat about what is going on in the Windy City. Contributor Ji Suk Yi ,joins in and keeps the hosts and viewers informed on what is trending. Each can be very opinionated on a topic, which sometimes gives the audience a chance to reply.
THE CONTROL ROOM:
The audience does not see the control room, but in there much action takes place in bringing the show to the air.
Executive Producer Matt Knutson controls the show telling his staff what camera shots to do, what segments to cut, and what may be added. If there is a live remote story, he is in touch with the person doing the segment on what to do. Lets just say…Windy City Live is a well oiled machine.
ALL IS SAID AND DONE:
The audience is thanked for coming. They remain seated and watch as Chiaverini and Warner shoot some promos, which are inserted later in the day on ABC 7. The promos are about future shows. They are fun to watch. Yes, there are bloopers (not too many), but it gives the audience a chance to see something you normally don’t see on the air. Sometimes, when the hosts do a retake, they may shout something to the audience that usually gets a laugh.
The promos take about ten to fifteen minutes and then the lights dim and the audience begins to file out of the studio, but each audience member is left with great memories of a day they will long remember.
THE STAFF MEETING:
Chiaverini and Warner head upstairs after the show for a meeting to discuss with the staff the show that was just shot and to talk about upcoming shows. They all go over plans and discuss who will do what. The meeting is very informal.
It is a meeting where every one participates and puts in their opinion. Executive Producer, Matt Knutson, takes notes and also adds comments as to what he would like see done, or he makes suggestions. The meeting lasts about 20 minutes. Every one returns to their offices, and “It’s A Wrap."
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