By Debbie Adams
“Now and Then” is a new series produced by Blue Ridge PBS which “attempts to bridge the generations by taking an entertaining look at the past with collaborative hopes for the future.” The cast includes Vinton’s own Bootie Chewning, Sam Lionberger Jr., Sadie Hartzog, and Tyler Garner.
The concept is simple. Two 20-something Millenials (Hartzog and Garner) sit down with two members of the Greatest Generation (Chewning and Lionberger) and compare thoughts on a variety of topics (both controversial and not-so-controversial) sent in by viewers.
The topics are written on cards and drawn one at a time by the cast member serving as moderator for the particular program. The ideas trigger the conversations between the “Nows” and the “Thens.”
The group does not rehearse; they have no indication beforehand of what topics might come up.
Each of them spontaneously speaks their piece on the topic at hand. Discussions last three to five minutes until a bell is sounded. Then they move on to a fresh topic.
It is reminiscent of talk around the dinner table between grandparents and grandchildren with lots of laughter, and little rancor.
Some of the subjects they have compared between the generations so far include: obscene language, punctuality, body piercings, first job, first date, tattoos, store self-checkouts, grammar, favorite beverages, reality TV shows, speeding, climate change, respect for teachers, acceptance of those with special needs, childhood candy, and drive-in movies. Politics is taboo.
At the end of the program, a Mystery Object is unveiled and the four discuss what it might be. So far, the “Thens” have been explaining most of the objects as they have been obtained from local antique shops, including comic books, vintage ice tongs, an ice crusher, a BB gun, and a juke box.
“Now and Then” is the first Blue Ridge PBS program produced in the local studio since 2012. In a 13-episode season, 11 episodes have already been filmed. The first broadcast was in early December.
The panel of four was assembled by PBS CEO Will Anderson and Executive Producer Lisa Fenderson. Chewning and Lionberger had been acquainted for years through civic organizations and community projects. They met Hartzog and Garner when the program began.
Chewning has a long history with Blue Ridge PBS since it started up in the mid ’60s. In the early days, she was an auctioneer on the “Great TV Auctions” which raised funds for PBS programming, getting involved through her work with the Junior Woman’s Club. Her auction slogan was “Bootie is my name, and selling is my game.” She is currently the chair of the Blue Ridge PBS Community Advisory Board.
Chewning has suffered from health issues in the past two years, but the producers were anxious to have her on the program and promised to transport her to and from the station to film the episodes. She says they usually film three episodes in one day, requiring a change in costume between takes.
Lionberger also has a long history with Blue Ridge PBS, although not quite as long as Chewning’s. He was serving overseas in the military when the station got its start in 1967. He recalls being a “gopher” for the “Auction” broadcasts. Many local businesses would provide items for the auction programs, which he describes as “extended pandemonium.”
Lionberger retired from his position as president and CEO of Lionberger Construction in 2010. He has served on the Blue Ridge PBS Board of Directors for many years and is now vice president.
He says he is honored to be a part of “Now and Then,” and was surprised when he was invited to join the “Thens” on the panel. “It has been pure enjoyment.”
Hartzog works at Blue Ridge PBS as the Creative Services/Traffic assistant, a position she has held for about a year and a half. She is also a wedding photographer with her own business, “Sadie Lynn Photography,” now in its fourth year.
“This is my first experience being in a TV show!” Hartzog said. “It has been a really fun experience so far. Bootie is hilarious! I love hearing her stories of growing up. Some of the stuff she says makes everyone in the studio burst out laughing.”
Garner is an IT/Broadcast engineer at Blue Ridge PBS.
When the show was in its planning stages, Anderson and Fenderson reached out and “asked if I would be willing to be in front of the camera for a change and encouraged me to take up one of the spots on the show for its first season. First seasons of any show are always the trickiest and there was an added ease of using current staff for the show, which is where Sadie and I came in due to our ages and other factors.
“Working with the cast is a blast!” Garner says. “Many times, our director will have to tell us to stop discussing things because we will accidently start up on a conversation that they had planned for the show.
“What makes this show satisfying is the people that surround the show,” Garner added. “The employees at Blue Ridge PBS are one big family as we strive to be more involved in the community. I couldn’t think of any others I would want to do the first season with.”
As to whether the program is fulfilling its goal, Hartzog says, “I believe ‘Now and Then’ is accomplishing ‘bridging the generation gap.’ I am finding that there is a good amount of common ground with Bootie and Sam. Of course, there are some topics we might disagree about or have opposing views on, but when it comes down to it, we all respect each other and hear each other out. I find myself relating to Bootie and Sam more than I am with disagreeing with them.”
“I believe the show has started to take down a mentality of indifference toward different generations,” Garner stated. “Many people like to lump everyone together into a group and what we have found is that more often we have many of the same ideas and points of view.”
Lionberger says the goal of the program has been to improve relationships and “not build walls. The younger generation can learn a lot from those who are older and experienced– and their mistakes. The older generation can learn as well from the younger generation that has the advantage of advances in education. There are pluses both ways. Sometimes we agree to disagree.”
During the amicable discussion on obscene language, the “Thens” were strongly opposed. Garner thought that at times it helps make a point.
As for body piercings and tattoos, Hartzog noted, “It’s your body,” while Chewning commented that, in her generation, “tattoos were for sailors and naughty girls.” Lionberger said he probably would not have hired an employee with piercings in the interest of safety. Garner described them as “an expression of art.”
All bemoaned the lack of respect for teachers nowadays. Chewning, a frequent substitute teacher at William Byrd High School, said she had the advantage of knowing most everyone in the community and could say to unruly students, “I’m going to tell your grandma.” She and Lionberger recalled that if they were disciplined at school, they could expect the same when they got home.
The program has received very positive feedback from viewers– many requesting another season of programs.
The program broadcasts on Blue Ridge PBS in January on Wednesdays at 1:30 and 7 p.m., and on Sundays at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., adding Friday and Saturday time slots in February.
For a detailed schedule go to http://www.blueridgepbs.org/. Visit the Blue Ridge PBS Facebook page to send in suggestions for topics to be discussed.