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WQED TV producer and PITTSBURGH Magazine back-page writer writes about his current work and assorted other things.

Two New PBS Programs Coming Soon

March 26th, 2015 · No Comments

We’re working on A FEW GOOD PIE PLACES and SOME GREAT BAKERIES for PBS. No air dates yet but probably August or early September.

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November 5th, 2012 · 2 Comments

It’s November 5, 2012.  It’s our deadline for delivery of the tape of our new program, BREAKFAST SPECIAL 2: REVENGE OF THE OMELETS, and I think we’ve made it.

I spent most of the morning on the phone with two good-natured and patient folks at PBS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, Sheronne Wilson and Dan O’Melia, trying to complete the computerized “Packaging Forms” that are one of the last steps in the formal program submission process.  When you finish those forms, you get the coveted shipping label and bar-code!  With that in my electronic “hands,” I was able to forward it on to the wonderful folks at Pillar 2 Post, our expert post-production friends (also in Arlington) who actually have evaluated and output the final High Def tape that will be the PBS master tape.

On past projects, we have always sent (or delivered in person if we were really late) a tape from here at WQED.  This time, for the first time, we sent a small external drive (750 GB) with the program and our consolidated project on it.  I think there was some doubt about the new fangled procedure, but all went well.  We did have some problems with non-drop frame time code (How did that happen?) but that wasn’t caused by digital delivery.  We had to cut one sound bite from the show, a 3-second-and-18 frame bite  from one of the last parts of the show, a comment from a guy at the Post Road Diner in Connecticut. Then we had to get some adjustments made to the Closed Captioning file, and we had to replace the video for one shot from Ken’s in Hilo, Hawaii, where the Pillar 2 Post folks found a glitch.  We were lucky.  The glitch was not in the original video and we were able to Dropbox them a new digitization of that scene.  (Is “to dropbox” now a legitimate verb?)

Lots of little detail work.  Not necessarily the coolest and most glamorous parts of the process.

Now there’s just the promo-spots to finish, the press release to write, and some promotional efforts leading up to our big premiere night on December 25 at 8 pm.


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Looking for the Vale of Cashmere!

January 15th, 2012 · 10 Comments

My friend and sometimes editor Matt Conrad sent me an email today and said some folks on reddit.com were posting questions about how to find the ruins of the Vale of Cashmere that we showed in our recent IT’S PITTSBURGH program called NORTH PARK VS. SOUTH PARK.  (You too can read and comment here.)









The Vale doesn’t look like this anymore.  It’s overgrown and somewhat hidden with no signs to point the way in.  If you get the official county map of South Park, I believe the Vale of Cashmere is in quadrant 4D or maybe in 4C (just to the left — or North — of the number 92.)

I walked in there that day, but I’m not sure exactly where we were in that part of the park.  We walked down a slight hill from the road, but we were on a path the whole time.  South Park manager John Stibrik took us in, and we weren’t too far north of the Oliver Miller Homestead if I remember correctly.








If my remembered directions are of no help, I think you can find John Stibrik at the Park Office in the Administration building across from the Fairgrounds.  Everybody there was very helpful.








And I think I have a pamphlet on the Vale that Ron Block, the historian whom we interviewed, shared with me.  I’ll have to see if I can find it in the editing room.

I googled “Allegheny County South Park Vale of Cashmere” just now, and it led me to a Post-Gazette article I’d never seen before.  Written by architect and County Parks Director Henry Hornbostel in 1938, it includes Major Hornbostel’s pertinent opinion:  “…There is one little valley with tiny lakes, a place in South Park which is known as the Vale of Cashmere, and this is the proudest showplace that I know.  It is one of the most sentimental bits of landscaping yet produced.”

It’s sad that the Vale’s stone structures are just ruins now, but they may be worth searching for.  Maybe they are easier to see now in the winter when the park is not so green.

→ 10 CommentsTags: "It's Pittsburgh & A Lot Of Other Stuff"


January 6th, 2012 · 1 Comment

Yes, we’re working on a PBS proposal for a sequel of sorts called BREAKFAST SPECIAL 2:  REVENGE OF THE OMELETS.   We’re hoping to get enough funding from our friends in Virginia (that’s where PBS has its headquarters in suburban DC) to edit the remaining stories that we shot in 2010 and put them all in a new hour-long special.

I talked with composer and one-man-band Buddy Nutt yesterday, and he has agreed to score this new production too.  You remember that he and his wife UkuLizzy sang our theme song at the end of BREAKFAST SPECIAL 1:

Back when we were traveling in 2010, our excellent editor Kevin Conrad was creating short video samples of the stories.  He called them “tastes” and we’ve got a nice collection.  These are “tastes” of some of the stories that we hope to include in our new show:

We also included a short stop on the Big Island of Hawaii in our Donuts episode of IT’S PITTSBURGH & A LOT OF OTHER STUFF.   With our blogger-guides Beverly and James Rubio, we stopped at Baker Tom’s roadside bakery for some savory and sweet malasadas.  Fresh and Portuguese, those malasadas were unquestionably some of my favorite donuts ever.  You can see that segment in our donuts show: (go directly to minute 12:15 if you want to watch just the Hawaiian section of the show)

Click on the image to be taken to the It's Pittsburgh episode.

And if you haven’t tasted these other “tastes” of stories that we featured in the original special, you can see them all here:

We hope all these tastes will make you hungry for a new celebration of going out for a morning meal!

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A fan letter from Connecticut.

July 14th, 2011 · 4 Comments

Every summer in recent years, especially around the 4th of July, many PBS stations across the country replay some of my documentaries, like A HOT DOG PROGRAM and GREAT OLD AMUSEMENT PARKS.   And so I get some really nice emails and letters from viewers around the country.

This letter arrived at my home address this past weekend, July 9 or 10, 2011.  (And I think the pen pal in Minneapolis may have helped find my home address.)  The note is written in pencil on three-hole-punched lined paper, and I think Chip’s mom also assisted with the writing and some of the sentiments.  Still it’s a fun letter.

Dear Mr. Sebak      My name is Chip.   I am 9 years old.  With help from my pen pal in Minneapolis he has a computer.  I have wanted to tell you how much I like your programs.   My mom has a farmers almanac that lets her know when Summer starts.  For me Summer starts when WGBY shows my 3 favorite programs.  Sandwiches That You Will Like — Hotdog Program — Ice Cream Show…  In that order.  I do not know exactly which thing I enjoy more.  (your narration, the places picked to film, background music, people interviewed, or the graphics like in Sandwiches… the old business card in start of Show.)

2 years ago I had a used VCR from a tag sale.  I recorded my 3 favorite programs, watch them over and over…  I wore out the tape & VCR.

You are the reason why I stopped watching Nickelodeon and Cartoon network.  PBS is my favorite station.  P.O.V.’s Kokoyaku is very good.  When your show is not onI watch Nature and Nova.  What American Experience is your favorite mine is the Birth of Radio.

After watching Pennsylvania Diners I think I was born in the wrong state.  Your state must be a great place to live.

Now Olive my other cat sleeps on me as I watch Lincoln Highway on TV and I am trying to write this letter.  (CPTV shows programs too.)

Can I make a suggestion?  I hope your next show will be about snacks.  Like Hotdogs, the best places for cake or candy, soda, chips, fudge cookies or other stuff.  (Maybe call it Sweets, Treats and good things to eat)  Around here Avery’s makes a great soda!   

So thanks you so much, to you and for your awesome shows.

Your fan,  Chip

Well, we’re not sure yet what we’ll be doing next for PBS, but I always appreciate good ideas.  And young attentive fans.  Thanks, Chip.  And Chip’s mom.



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Useful in Brazil? “Legal!”

October 6th, 2010 · 6 Comments

You produce a documentary.   You put it out on DVD.   You post promo clips on YouTube.  There’s no telling where it will go. 
A while ago, we had a request from a teacher in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who was using A HOT DOG PROGRAM in his classes.  He wondered if he could get a transcript of the program.  We emailed one to him immediately.  He sent another request last week for a transcript for INVENTED, ENGINEERED & PIONEERED IN PITTSBURGH!  We’re useful!
Dear Rick
Firstly I would like to thank you very much for your attention and for sending me the transcripts from your program. To tell you the truth it is really hard to find something very informative, cultural and interesting like the programs from WQED.
Many Brazilians travel to the USA. Mostly go for shopping, Disney parks and Manhattan, but few of them go for the cultural aspects. Last September I went to NYC but I went to Coney Island (Nathan’s) to try some hot dogs and learn about the history and stuff.
I’ve got one student who got so amazed by the Lincoln highway and went down last summer.   Other went to the 127 flea market.
When I got your video and transcript about the hot dog program and showed that the interesting thing is  that in the US hot dogs have  not become standardized and franchised across the country everybody didn’t know. So we watched the video and the following day everybody brought to the class some mustard, catchup, relishes, bacon, mayo, buns soft drinks and enjoyed all night long.. it was the best class we ever had…
Congratulations for your program…
Well if you send some posters from the program to the school will help us
a lot. It will keep the interest in your program even more and narrow the
distance between the two countries. 

Thanks Rick .. If you need something from Brazil, Sao Paulo .. do not
hesitate to contact me … I will send some photos from our hot dog meeting for you as well..
All the best
Daniel Navarro
Stigma – School of English
Travessa Itauna, 199
Campestre Santo Andre – Sao Paulo
Brazil – 09080-210

Because I was a foreign exchange student to Rio for three months in the summer of 1970, I have much fondness for things Brazilian.  The word “legal” in my title for this post is Portuguese slang for “cool” or “great.”  You pronounce it sort of like “lay-GOL.”

→ 6 CommentsTags: A Lot of Other Stuff · Blog Along The Lincoln Highway · Pittsburgh History Series

A new weekly program? Yowza.

September 10th, 2010 · 12 Comments

Yes.  WQED has decided I will try my hand at producing a weekly program.   I’m calling it IT’S PITTSBURGH & A LOT OF OTHER STUFF, and I’m still trying to figure out what it is and how we’ll get it done.

My friend and in-house designer Paula Zetter created the logo and an animated title for us to play with.  Having a logo makes it feel like a real project.   The Post-Gazette has mentioned the show already, and the always perceptive Rob Owen wrote about it in his blog, and he and I have similar hopes and worries about my new programs.

It’ll be on Wednesday nights at 7:30 with various repeats after that.  It premieres November 3.  We’re planning for 13 half-hours in the first “season.”  A lot of work.  It will be a sort of magazine format (which basically means we can include unrelated stories in each program) and I’ve already started gathering material for new stories.

First I took cameraman Frank Caloiero with me to the Cheeseburger In Paradise competition over at the Waterfront in Homestead.  It’s an annual event put  together by my buddies Theresa Colaizzi and Jim Merkel over at radio station WWSW (they act modern and say “3WS”) and they have graciously invited me to be one of the judges for many years (I’m not sure how many: 7? 8?  Could we be doing this for 10 years?) and I can’t say no when they ask.

The competition is open to all listeners, and it’s simple to enter:  you sign up, you come and make some of your best cheeseburgers, a panel of excellent judges (including our beloved WQED COOKS’ cook Chris Fennimore, as well as KDKA-TV2’s Jim Lokay and Clear Channel’s Greg McAtee and myself) determines which burger is Best (based on various criteria) and the best burger-maker wins tickets to the upcoming Jimmy Buffet concert as well as assorted other goodies.

Judging a hamburger competition is harder than one might expect.  (I don’t want anyone trying to take my job.)   And we want to really pick the best while having a really good time too.

So I did what I usually do, schmoozed and walked around, talked to the contestants, then sat down with my fellow judges, and we tasted the burgers.  Some were amazing.  All four judges picked the same winner.  A unanimous decision.

Then, several days later and still thinking about the new show, I got a call from a young woman (Michelle) who’s re-doing an old bar down on Butler Street in Lawrenceville, and she and her husband (Kevin) wanted me to see this big old “beer cooler” that came with the place.  It’s a big old refrigerator in the shape of an old beer bottle.  And they thought I might be interested.

I had to go and check it out.  I loved it.  I arranged to go back and took Frank the cameraman with me.  We did some interviews.  We took pictures of the beautiful old thing.  It’s called a Bevador.

People love it.  Made in Buffalo in the 1950s, maybe earlier.   A refrigerator’s refrigerator!  Worth going down to check out.  The bar used to be Bill’s Tavern, now it’s called Eclipse (but the Bill’s sign may still be up outside!)  3705 Butler Steet.

That same day, we drove into Garfield and started to shoot a story about A New Design for Martini Glasses in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Glass Center and Boyd and Blair Vodka.

Again I was a judge, and we looked over design drawings and proposals from various groups and individuals around the world.  We had vodka martinis too.

And all along the way, as we were shooting all these other stories, cameraman Frank Caloiero and I decided to make something out of our ongoing personal battle of one-upsmanship in a good natured battle to determine which is better:  North Park or South Park.  Frank lives in McCandless and loves the northern option.  I grew up about a half mile from the main entrance to South Park and I think it’s pretty great. North Park does have a cool old Observation Tower that’s closed to the public now, but  South Park still has buffalo.  ‘Nuff  said?

And I’ve also shot a story with Bob Lubomski about the terra cotta statues that are in the Pittsburgh Parking Authority Garage Building on the Boulevard of the Allies downtown across from Point Park University.  I saw them in a Post-Gazette story back in July, and I really liked them.  They were made and installed in 1985 by Pittsburgh sculptor Jerry Caplan (1922-2004) who called them “Pittsburgh People.”

They are treasures in a passageway between the Boulevard and First Avenue.   And they will be a story too in the new show.

And we’re looking for underwriting to cover the costs of all this.  If you have any ideas for stories or potential underwriters, that’s what the Comments b0x below is for.   This could be fun.

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Lots of breakfasts still to come.

September 5th, 2010 · 12 Comments

We have many breakfast stories still to tell.

We loved our many morning meals (and interviews) at all 17 of the spots that we visited.  We edited and squeezed only 8 restaurants into the first show, so there are 9 (or maybe 10) more stories that we’re working on to assemble into BREAKFAST SPECIAL PART 2:

1. The first place where we shot:  Square Cafe in the Pittsburgh neighborhood called Regent Square.

Great food, cool and colorful atmosphere, lots of regulars and big crowds on weekends.  I realized here how important it is to have the owner/operator around.  Customers like to know there’s an immediate connection with the management.  And owner Sherree Goldstein here is like a celebrity.  Here she is cooperating with the paparazzi.

2.  The second place we visited was the sizzling Hot Metal Diner where owner Wendy Betten has built a loyal clientele that loves her big, beautiful and tasty breakfasts as well as the saucy attitude of the servers.

Wendy and her staff put on a rough and tough attitude here, with a set of posted rules for the diner, but the atmosphere stays homey and fun, knowing that we’re all in on the jokes.

3.  In late January 2010, we drove to Philadelphia to Carman’s Country Kitchen where you sit in unusual surroundings, the food is extraordinary and often surprising, and where the banter among Carman Luntzel in the kitchen, her staff and her customers is lively and fun.

I knew about this amazing breakfast spot because I’d been there once before with Holly Moore, the fabled master of hollyeats.com and a “star” of our program called SANDWICHES THAT YOU WILL LIKE.  He met us at Carman’s again.

The #4 special that day was duck breast with eggs, and it was scrumptious.  This is Carman.  With an omelette.

4.  On our Southern trip in mid-February, we stopped in Columbia, South Carolina, at Anson Mills where they make some well respected grits, using heirloom corn varieties and some ancient production techniques.  Their facilities are in a nondescript metal building behind a car wash on Gervais Street.

We could have spent more time there.  Lots of interesting processes going on all the time.

5.  We also shot and interviewed our way through a delicious morning in Raleigh, North Carolina, at Big Ed’s City Market.

It’s an anchor of sorts for a historic little 1914 neighborhood called City Market in downtown Raleigh, and owners Sam Hobgood and Clay Culpepper treated us well, letting us wander from kitchen to restaurant and back and forth a hundred times.   The grill cook here, Spencer, was one of the fastest and best short order cooks we saw anywhere.

Betty Sue made the biscuits, and they’re basically perfect with whatever you put on ’em.

6.  Eventually, in mid-March, we headed west.   After Portland and San Francisco, we found ourselves in Hawaii where James and Beverly Rubio had agreed to be our guides on the Big Island.

Our first morning there we all went to Ken’s House Of Pancakes, a Hilo landmark, not far from the airport.

We had the local specialty called loco moco, a breakfast bowl of rice with hamburger, gravy and eggs.

We interviewed Ric Maiava, the owner, several waitresses and waiters, and we learned some of the place’s traditions, including the banging of the Sumo gong!

7.  On our second morning in Hawaii, a typically rainy day on the eastern coast of the Big Island, James and Beverly wanted to take us north from Hilo about 60 miles to the town of Waimea (sometimes called Kamuela.)

Before we started our drive, they confessed that they usually stopped on this journey to get “malasadas” or Portuguese fried donuts at a roadside bakery run by a guy named Baker Tom.

We had to stop.  The idea of a roadside bakery was so seductive.  There should be more!  And Baker Tom let us shoot him and his wares for a brief extra story.

8.  In Waimea, we followed James and Beverly into the parking lot for a small line of shops where we found the Hawaiian Style Cafe.

It’s an amazing place with a big U-shaped counter where people sit and chat and catch up on the local news.

We did our usual mix of interviews:  owner, cooks, eaters, all the usual suspects.

But we  were truly knocked out by the food here and some of the unexpected breakfasts.  They also make elaborate and huge variations on loco moco.  Enough food for all day!

9.  In April 2010, we headed for the Northeast, for New England, where we went first to a grand old hotel that’s been restored and updated and turned into a jewel of a Marriott.  It’s called Wentworth By The Sea.  It’s in New Hampshire.

And it’s here that I had lobster hash with poached eggs back in 2006, and I always think of it as one of the great breakfasts of my life.

We gathered interviews, footage of the kitchen and the restaurant in operation.

We were surprised by a group of Red Hat Ladies who had come to the hotel for an annual great breakfast.  It’s a spectacular setting for a great breakfast.

10.  While in New England we also shot footage for a story about the Post Road Diner in Norwalk, Connecticut.  It’s right off I-95 at exit 14.  It’s a beauty of a lovingly restored old diner with location, location, location and gleaming chrome detailing, even in the early morning rain.

We met our old friend Gary Zemola, the Super Duper Weenie Man from A HOT DOG PROGRAM, there.  He had suggested this place as a beauty of a diner with wonderful breakfast fare.  And he was right.

We interviewed him, as well as the owner, the woman at the register, lots of customers, and a guy named Mark Kotlinski who had e-mailed me because he was making a new documentary about Connecticut diners.  We had a blast.

And some amazing French toast, made with bread baked on the premises!

So now we’re working on getting all these stories edited.  And we hope we’ll have a BREAKFAST SPECIAL 2 ready by the Winter of 2011.  So much great stuff to share.

→ 12 CommentsTags: "Breakfast Special"

Too much good stuff.

July 18th, 2010 · 2 Comments

OK.  I’ve been ignoring this blog too long.  When you get involved in the final phases of putting a program together, there are too many things to take care of, and on-line communications may suffer.  Lots of news.  And we’re not finished with breakfast yet.

Our program called BREAKFAST SPECIAL aired on most PBS stations on Wednesday evening July 14 at 8 PM.  The reactions have been very kind.  TV critic Robert Bianco in USATODAY made my day.   Bianco’s remarks inspired Pittsburgh Post-Gazette blogger Chad Herman to post an introduction he wrote several years ago when I gave one of those “Last Lectures” at Carnegie Mellon University, years before Randy Pausch made his, and Chad’s posting was an unexpected honor.  Tons of other very nice notes on my Facebook page (friend me) and on Facebook’s Official Inside Scoop On Rick Sebak (like that.)  I’ve also set up a Facebook “page” for Breakfast Special.  And who knows what you might find on Twitter (follow me @rickaroundhere)?

All of the positive reactions are gratifying, but this isn’t a completed project yet.   In the middle of the editing process, we realized we had a problem:  too much good material.  Bob and Glenn and I had been to 17 places around the country, but when Kevin and I finished editing 8 stories, we realized we were already at our time limit.  Do we cut the stories in half to make room for 8 or 9 more?  (Oh, that hurts!)  Or do we cut the material in two and go for a 2-part-er?  (Eek, we’ve never tried that before!)  We decided on the latter course of action.

I talk to my boss at WQED.  I call PBS.  I confer with Kevin and Matt and Frank in the editing room.  We talked with Buddy Nutt about the music.  We finished the show on June 5, and I drove it to Virginia on Sunday June 6 so we could meet all our PBS deadlines.

So, if you’ve seen BREAKFAST SPECIAL, you know we’ve been to Cartwright’s Maple Tree Inn in rural New York state, to The Breakfast Club on Tybee Island in Georgia,  and to two places in Columbus Ohio:  Skillet and The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches, both of which were suggested by Nick Dekker who writes the blog called “Breakfast With Nick.” We also stopped in the Cuban spot called La Herencia Cafe in Saint Augustine, Florida, and then learned a little about “jook” or congee at Hing Lung Restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, thanks to Sandy Wada, her friend Kent Liu and her blog called “Foodhoe’s Foragings.” We capped off the program with visits to Tin Shed and Helser’s On Alberta, both in Portland, Oregon, both suggested by Paul Gerald who writes the blog called “Breakfast In Bridgetown” and a guidebook with the same name (and now apparently a collector’s item until the 2nd Edition comes out.)

If you’ve followed us on this blog and out website (where there are “tastes” of several stories), you know there are lots of places still to come.

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Wow. I’m sort of a cartoon character!

July 13th, 2010 · 6 Comments

A wonderful and funny surprise! I’m animated! I’m like a puppet! I like it!

So I was a little wary at first, but recently we’ve been partnering with KINGS restaurants around Pittsburgh here to promote my PBS program and to advertise some new breakfast items at their restaurants.  And there’s this new, superbly silly animated spot airing on our local commercial TV stations that lets me push my show and then lets Hartley King introduce some of the new dishes.   It’s a work of art.

Actually a lot of people have worked on this new partnership, and I think it could be a model for future linkings of local businesses with public TV.

WQED Account Executive Lance Jones in our Broadcasting Sales & Underwriting Department worked with Tracey Roman at Smith Brothers Agency on the North Shore, and they pulled in the rest of us as needed.  All I did was go and get my picture taken and then record my voice in our tiny announcer’s booth booth here on the ground floor of WQED.

Craig Seder was the Associate Creative Director at Smith Brothers, and bravo to him! I’m not sure who first came up with the “bounciful” style of the cut-out animation since it has been used in KINGS commercials for a while now, but I’m just laughing at finding myself in that world.

Thanks to everybody involved.

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