Former N&O writer goes to the 'Edge of America'

bcain@newsobserver.comJanuary 21, 2013 

  • Tune In “Edge of America” 9 p.m. Tuesdays Travel Channel

Geoff Edgers, an arts reporter for the Boston Globe, is risking his life -- or at least, the well-being of some vital muscles and ligaments -- to entertain America with a new show debuting Tuesday at 9 on the Travel Channel. Edgers, who wrote about arts for The News & Observer from 1996 to 2002, is the star of “Edge of America,” a travelogue that combines the healthy spirit of American adventure with Edgers’ love of quirky, off-beat people and places.

You may also recognize Edgers from his documentary about his quest to reunite The Kinks rock band called “Do It Again,” which played at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham in 2010.

We talked to Edgers via telephone recently, while he was in the middle of filming an upcoming “Edge of America” episode, for which he climbed a 125-foot wall of ice in Ouray, Colorado. Edgers conducted the interview while following his crew up a steep hill in freezing temps.

Q: So what’s the path from Boston arts reporter to Travel Channel daredevil?

A: I made the Kinks movie and a friend of mine who happens to be a Travel Channel executive liked it and he showed a short clip to some of his colleagues at Travel. They asked me to explore ideas with the production company, and we settled on the idea for this show. We filmed one pilot, which is the Oklahoma episode, in April, and they liked that so they said they’d buy six more. And they liked another one and they bought seven more, so suddenly we became a TV show.

Q: Do you come up with the ideas for the episodes?

A: At this point, I’m the host and the writer. In most situations I’m really just the host, but I really push to be the writer because I believe in writing, I love writing, and I want it to be in my voice. But the reality is, I’ve got researchers in New York who are coming up with places and events to go to and we all pitch ’em around and talk to the folks at the Travel Channel, and we come to a meeting of the minds, as far as what right for us. Q: Has Travel vetoed anything you really wanted to do?

A: Yeah, but veto isn’t the right word. It’s more about the mix. So for example, I was desperate to do a demolition derby and I kept telling them I wanted to do it. I would find one in Maine or New Hampshire and they’d say no, and then we ended up doing one in Pennsylvania. The purpose of the show is to find out about cool and unexpected things people are doing for fun around the country. But it really could be anything. It just has to be outside the mainstream and also be sort of special to that place.

Q: This one is from our guest reviewer, Tom Edwards. After watching the first two episodes, Tom wants to know if there’s anything you wouldn’t do?

A: I was looking at base-jumping off this bridge in Virginia or West Virginia. I looked at that because I do sometimes come up with things -- part of me was like, “That’d be pretty cool!” But then I looked at it and it was just like a death sentence, you know? You need a parachute, it’s maybe a couple thousand feet, and I realized it was a mistake. But then I’m often surprised at the things I am doing that seem crazy to me. I’m flying a seaplane after never flying anything, or I’m smashing up a car or I drag-raced in Texas. These are all totally out-of-body experiences. Even this ice thing: I’m tied in, I’m not gonna die, but it feels pretty scary.

Q: Have you gotten hurt doing anything yet?

A: I have, yeah. My shoulder is kinda wrecked. I wrecked it throwing a bike in Oregon. It hurts. I still do everything but I’ve been going into physical therapy at Mass General Hospital and it’s better. I think it’s just a muscle problem. It hurts but it’s not like a massive tear where I couldn’t lift my arm. Also, from unicycle football, which I did in Texas, my whole body from my waist down was covered in bruises. The show, I think, doesn’t work if I fake it. I don’t know how much faking goes on on TV because I just don’t have enough experience, but I assume some. But I don’t think you can really get the feeling of what it’s like to go bike-jousting unless you actually do it. So it’s important to me to do each thing as genuinely as I can.

Q: Any chance you’ll bring your adventures to North Carolina?

A: Not in the first season, the first season is going to wrap up in California soon. I’ve been pitching North Carolina hard, I’ve gotta say. I really want to go there. I hope that if we get a second season that we will go to North Carolina and I know that we did talk about a few different things going on there. It’s just really become about the mix of 13 episodes.

Q: You and your wife [Carlene Hempel] lived in Raleigh for about six years while you worked at the N&O. List the ways Raleigh is better than Boston.

A: Um, the weather is better, the traffic, the actual cost of living is better. . . . The fact is, we would have lived in Raleigh for the rest of our lives except that we really value our families and they’re all up in Boston. But we were heartbroken to move away from Raleigh. We loved being there. We loved our house, we loved our neighborhood, we loved the diversity, the music, the food, the atmosphere.

Q: Are you at the top of the mountain yet?

A: We didn’t shoot that thing after all. I’ll have to ask the director why. But apparently we’re going to get lunch and then do a bunch of interviews, and then we have a seven-hour drive to the Fruitcake Toss. Is there anyone else on TV who would drive seven hours to participate in a Fruitcake Toss? Other than a bunch of fruitcakes?

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