My Top Five: Celebrity Encounters

As you might imagine, working at a TV station like UNC-TV allows a person to meet any number of celebrities, big and small. Some have appeared as guests on original programming we produce, others have assisted with on-air fund drives to promote their own shows. Some have stopped by to take part in events and others were just passing through. Regardless of how they got here, an encounter with someone whose name recognition far exceeds my own can range from run-of-the-mill to downright thrilling.

So I thought I’d put together My Top Five Public Television Celebrity Encounters. These only include folks I met in person – someone I talked with face to face, rather than just stood with in the same room (otherwise Julia Child and Bill Nye would be on the list). Also, the list does not include people with public broadcasting connections whom I met outside of work at, say, a Doctor Who convention (Elisabeth Sladen and Jon Pertwee, for example). And I obviously do not include celebrities that stopped by UNC-TV if I did not meet them in person (oh so close, James Taylor and Nathan Lane!).

Regardless, it’s a fun list. All these lovely people I did get to say hello to at least once. So enjoy MY TOP FIVE: PUBLIC TELEVISION CELEBRITY ENCOUNTERS.

5) Schemer. Brian O’Connor is the actor who played the Shining Time Station rogue and he appeared at the sole PBS conference I attended. He was doing the meet and greet in a hospitality suite and I got a photo with him – in character, I might add. Pretty cool guy.

4) Roy Underhill. Okay, this feels like cheating since UNC-TV produces The Woodwright’s Shop but I’ve never worked on that show so I’ll count it. For years, I’d see Roy during our Festival pledge drive and I have to say he was the consummate entertainer. The volunteers loved him and his energy was infectious. It was always an exciting night when Roy Underhill came to town!

3) Ken Burns. Again, PBS conference, another hospitality suite. The documentarian was promoting his Baseball series and signing autographs – specifically autographing baseballs. He signed dozens, perhaps hundreds so I don’t labor under any illusion that he was doing anything beyond perfunctorily pressing the flesh. But I still have the valued souvenir in my office and it was an honor to meet a filmmaker of his caliber.

2) James Burke. You may remember the British television presenter from series like The Day The Universe Changed and Connections. Burke communicated with erudition and wit and seemed, for several years there, a staple of UNC-TV’s airwaves. We hosted an event with him surrounding his After The Warming special but he earlier stopped by the studio to record some spots for us and I got to meet him when I ran camera. As a television presenter, he was a personal favorite, so I’m glad I got the chance.

1) Jean Marsh. Marsh may be best known for playing Rose Buck on Upstairs Downstairs. That’s why UNC-TV asked her to host A Masterpiece Evening in 1988. The event was a high-ticket item with the North Carolina Symphony and I personally could not afford to attend. I was only working part time at the station then. However, I did also have a job at a bookstore on Franklin Street and it was into that bookstore that a co-worker brought Ms. Marsh in the hours leading up to the symphonic gala. I was introduced to the actress and she shook my hand. I was so taken that I honestly felt my knees go a little weak. I helped her find the book she was looking for and she went on her way. She was merely passing the time until a performance engagement yet it was a very memorable moment for me, as you can tell.