You may remember the mustache. TV talk hosts rarely sport fuzzy lips (potentially distracting to viewers, consultants tell 'em), but Jeffrey Miller's whiskers were tight, dashing and distinctive — just like the newsmaker interviews he conducted for a dozen years on the locally produced series Transition.
From 1990-2002, on three different Detroit stations and numerous cable systems, Miller captured multiple local Emmys for his public affairs series that dove headlong into issues facing urban Detroit, gave voice to the African-American contribution and attempted to balance mainstream media's depiction of the black experience. How wonderful would it be to see those compelling Transition interviews one more time, like the last in-depth video conversation with former Mayor Coleman Young before his death, or Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the Tuskegee Airmen or TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson?
Now, we can. Striking a deal with WADL/Channel 38, "Detroit's Urban TV Station," Miller is culling through 380 episodes of the show he hosted, wrote and produced — shows "that cover everything from abortion to xenophobia," he claims — and repackaging them with new footage for 15 weeks of Classic Transition, airing at 2 p.m. Saturdays. When those shows run their course in January, Miller says he'll premiere a new hour-long series called Jeffrey Miller Presents: Then and Now that combines his vintage segments with Internet and interactive technologies.
"We're kind of reinventing ourselves in an effort to call attention to the fact that, 'Hey, in 20 years nothing has changed here except for the worse,'" Miller says. "The same stuff we were talking about in '93, the violence, the crime, the lack of, is still the stuff that's eating us up here. And not just here, it's in urban America across the country."
Miller says he ceased producing Transition episodes in 2001 to make a documentary about one of his favorite getaways, Jamaica. "When I was in the pressure cooker of the weekly show, whenever I got time I'd jump over there to replenish my battery," Miller recalls. "I fell in love with the place. I couldn't figure out why everybody there was trying to get out of paradise." He completed the doc, found sponsors, secured national distribution – then planes slammed into the Twin Towers. Suddenly nobody felt like traveling. "I've got an $80,000 white elephant still sitting on my shelf," he says.
So he turned to media consulting. He wrote a book, Up From the Under: What We Should Do Next, releasing it as an audiobook so illiteracy wouldn't impede those who needed it most (see upfromtheunder.com).
"While I was doing that, people who knew me from being on the air [would say], 'Hey, you're the guy who did that show! What are we going to do about all these problems? What are we going to do about 50 percent of our folks being illiterate, babies having babies, the education system? What are we going to do about all this shit, man?' And I was like, 'Hey, why you asking me? What makes you think I've got the answers?'
"Quite frankly, after I thought about it, I realized I did have a lot of the answers," Miller continues. "Not because they were mine, but because for 12 years doing that news and information show, I talked to everybody. The leaders, the led, the politicians, the people, the fools. And I'd had to do a lot of research and reading and writing. The answers I have were given to me by the people, the experts. All of that together is where my answers come from, not because I sat in my chair thinking it up."
Saturday's Classic Transition will feature the first of a two-part exploration of "Criminal Justice in America: Pipeline to the Abyss" and a segment on "Casino Gambling: Fool's Gold." And, of course, that mustache.
"It's still black, too," Miller says, laughing.
Fright Invite: Lee Martin's The Midnight Hour, the ambitious original half-hour horror series produced in metro Detroit and seen on Comcast and WOW! cable systems, has been burning through local talent at a scary rate. "Since our debut over a year ago, we've shot and aired the equivalent of five dramatic feature films, a first for Michigan," beams Martin, the show's creator, director and host.
Thus, a region-wide casting call is going out for fresh Midnight Hour faces from 9:30 a.m.-noon Saturday, Nov. 7, at Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts on Nine Mile in Southfield. Producers hope to identify enough talent to stock the entire second half of season two, but they're focused on one episode shooting in March entitled "Daddy's Little Girl." It's described as "the tale of a young girl terrorized by a sadistic nanny while her necrophiliac father elopes with another woman." Just your everyday TV fare. Actors wishing to apply should contact [email protected] for additional information.