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Almost Live!: Still Alive
101 minutes | 19 days ago
It was probably inevitable, but as a weekly sketch comedy show, Almost Live! was often compared to network television's Saturday Night Live. Why not? Almost Live! aired on Seattle's KING TV every Saturday night, immediately adjacent to the venerated SNL. Both shows had 'live' in their title. Both traded in sketch comedy. Both featured regular ensemble casts of performers and writers satirizing the world around them - the national SNL show more broadly; the local Almost Live, more... locally.But while Saturday Night Live featured a different guest host every week - Almost Live! - from 1988 to 1999 - had the same guest host every time... John Keister. Yes, Keister. Insert your joke here. He’s heard them all.John and Seattle grew up together. His neck of the woods is the Seward Park neighborhood. Abraham Lincoln, who had quite a neck himself, had a secretary of state named William Seward. He's the guy who came up with the idea of buying Alaska in 1867. It was so cheap, he bought it with cash on hand. And some coupons.John Keister grew up in a time when "kids spent more time on bicycles than on their damn phones!" [The preceding sentence was written by a grouchy old man from Covington.] Seward Park is not far from Lake Washington... very near the spot where summertime's Seafair Hydroplane races took place. And John, like lot of other Seattle kids of the time, were so enamored with the sport of hydroplane racing that they would fashion toy versions of the big boats... tie them onto their bikes with long strings... and then drag them behind as they pedaled at top speed down the neighborhood streets. Today, they'd be arrested.John attended Sharples Junior High (now called Casper W. Sharples Alternative Secondary School) which is too much for any kid to remember or spell. Franklin High School was John's next stop - he being just one of many famous Franklin alumni including Fred Hutchinson, baseball star and namesake of Seattle's preeminent cancer research center...There was a student named Ron Santo - who became a Hall of Fame baseball star - another alum was Keye Luke, an actor famous as number one son in the Charlie Chan movies. Cartoonist, Lynda Barry went to Franklin - as did international dancer and choreographer, Mark Morris. Also a Franklin graduate: one-time governor, Gary Locke - Seattle's legendary sports writer, Royal Brougham was a Frankliner. And some of the Nordstroms went there. and Kenny G. - and Johnny K. - John Keister. Everybody went to Franklin. Except, of course, Franklin.John Keister official sitesAlmostJohnKeister.com John Keister | YouTube John Keister | FacebookNext, the U-Dub - working with the student newspaper, The Daily. After graduating, he got hired at a Seattle music magazine, The Rocket - which lead to a gig called 'The Rocket Report' on a KING TV show. Not long after, a new show called 'Almost Live!' came along - and through an unlikely happenstance - John began doing stuff for it.When Almost Live! took a dirt nap in 1999, Keister tried a new show across town on KIRO TV along with another Almost Live guy, Bob Nelson - The John Report with Bob.Then John was a writer on 'The Eyes of Nye' - a national show featuring another 'Almost Live' alum, Bill Nye. And his eyes.Today, John Keister is sort of a Seattle icon as much as the Space Needle - although not as tall; as much as grunge music - although without the distorted guitar and angst; and even as native as the geoduck - although Keister himself is not a bivalve mollusk with a shell. Unless he's been holding out on me.He's the dad of three adult kids - Elroy, Riley and Arlo.And just like William Faulkner, Warren Buffet and Eminem - who all stayed in the places they grew up - so has John Keister.Here he is, from the Seattle home he shares with his wife, Mary - still living within blocks of the old neighborhood.
83 minutes | a month ago
Someone once asked me what a TV producer does. That someone was me. I asked me what a TV producer does. Maybe I should ask Bill Stainton instead. Because he WAS a TV producer - specifically, the TV producer of "Almost Live!" If that show could be compared to a farm operation, then Bill Stainton was the cruel overseer... the guy making sure the crops got in each week. Keeping the farm analogy going here, he was the guy who did the hiring and firing, supervised the operation, sometimes drove the tractor, put together the budgets - and, when necessary, went to the whip. I still have the old scars - and you should see the ones on Steve Wilson's back. You can hardly see his tattoos anymore.Bill Stainton official sitesBillStainton.com Bill Stainton | YouTube Bill Stainton | Facebook Bill Stainton | TwitterBill Stainton, as the show producer, had to deal with the various staff sharecroppers, malcontents, agitators, drifters, hard-workers, soft-workers, non-workers - while also nurturing the creativity, while also being a comforter, motivator and prodder. He was technically the boss... without being bossy. And for most of the life of 'Almost Live!', Bill Stainton served as the show's protector. So whenever station management, advertisers, politicians or viewers got pissed off, he was the one who attempted to be the conflict counselor, negotiator and calming front man, walking the line between compromise and defense. In addition to all that, he also did the other stuff: Running the meetings, performing, writing, hiring interns, budgeting and deciding what was going to be in the show each week - and what wasn't. That's all.Since the production of 'Almost Live!' ended abruptly over two decades ago, Bill, like all the rest of us, has moved on to new things. For the last several years, he has found considerable success as a keynote speaker. In fact, in 2019, he was inducted into the National Speaker Hall of Fame. Me? I was recently inducted into the National Listener Hall of Fame. But I'm not gonna brag about that right now. Because we're about to visit with Bill Stainton.Here he is, speaking from his Seattle area house... which is located immediately adjacent to his Seattle area garage.
110 minutes | 2 months ago
One of the reasons we decided on the podcast name, "Almost Live!: Still Alive" is because, happily, everybody from that show is still with us. Not necessarily still with IT... me most notably... but everyone otherwise is still breathing and reasonably coherent.However, there's one person who narrowly escaped being the exception - because not only did we nearly lose Tracey Conway some years ago when her heart suddenly decided to stop ticking, it happened in front of a live audience who were still revved up from watching a show taping just moments earlier. I'll just bet that story is gonna come up in the minutes ahead.Tracey Conway official sitesTraceyConway.com Tracey Conway | IMDb Tracey Conway | Facebook Tracey Conway | TwitterFrom the beginning in 1984, Almost Live! was never a television show with money to burn. Its budget required the hiring of writers - and only writers. It never had the luxury of hiring both writers and actors. Take me for example: When I graduated from high school, I thought about studying acting, but I had a decision to make... should I move to New York City and attend the Juilliard School with an emphasis on drama, music and dance?... or instead, stay in my hometown and go to Community College with an emphasis on puppetry, cartooning and pottery? I decided to skip Juilliard.But on one occasion, Almost Live! hired a person who was both a trained actor AND a writer. She owns a Master of Fine Arts from USC. She was - and is - the whole package. Tracey Conway.To prepare for this episode, I Googled Tracey's name for more information. On her wikipedia page - and I'm not making this up - I read that she is married to cast member, Bob Nelson, and that they have three kids: Alexander, Miriam and Maia. This was news to me - and to Tracey Conway. In fact, the 'Worst Girlfriend in the World' has never been married, and never had kids. Meanwhile, her fictional husband, Bob Nelson, says that because they have never been married, he refuses to pay child support. That figures.Meanwhile, if anyone ever decides to fix that erroneous Tracey Conway page, they should also add this: She is the warmest, most genuine person you'll ever meet; eternally upbeat, sunny and ready to laugh. She is also one of the finest performers this side of Juilliard.I found her at her Seattle home, where she lives with Ella, her beloved Siberian husky, to whom the deadbeat, Bob Nelson, also pays no monthly support.
67 minutes | 2 months ago
Stanford University is one of the most prestigious colleges in the nation. Some of its alumni include a guy named Larry Page, who’s the founding CEO of Google. It’s true. You can look it up on Bing if you don’t believe me. Other famous graduates are Sigourney Weaver, Reese Witherspoon, Tiger Woods, Rachel Maddow, John Steinbeck, Ken Kesey, Senator Henry Jackson - and the people who founded PayPal and Netflix. But of all Stanford’s distinguished elite, only one of them climbed the lofty ladder to achieve a place of immortality on “Almost Live!” His name? Ed Wyatt.He grew up in Portland (Oregon) and got his Stanford degree in English... which is his first language. He taught that subject at Bellarmine Prep, a Jesuit school in Tacoma, while also doing a bit of coaching in football and basketball for the Bellarmine Lions. As you’ll hear, along the way, Ed started nosing around a fledgling local TV show called ‘Almost Live!’ Perhaps that topic will come up in the coming interview.Ed Wyatt official sitesEd Wyatt | IMDb Ed Wyatt | Twitter Ed Wyatt | Money In Sport How to College in the 90s: Wyatt, Ed, Jeakle, BillAfter his time at Almost Live!, for a while, Ed was the host of a Portland TV Magazine show. Then he moved to L.A. helping to start a new sports network: Fox Sports World, which brought him to eventually living in Australia. He’s been there for twenty years since, enjoying the down-under culture, food, people... and music. Australian. AC/DC... INXS (In Excess)... Bee Gees... Olivia Newton-John... and, of course, the immortal Rolf Harris... OK, maybe not that guy so much. Especially since Rolf Harris got into big career-ending trouble a few years ago. You can look it up for yourself on Google. Or Bing.But back to Ed Wyatt - who is one of the finest people you’d ever meet. Today, he does everything - from sports reporting on basketball, soccer to baseball... and more. He is one of the best-known, most-celebrated sports media figures in all of Australia - one of the big deals there... on TV, radio, streaming, and print. He’s married to a native Australian named Michelle, and they have a son named Sam.Living in a place for two decades, Ed long-ago lost his Pacific Northwest accent... if there is one. So note his Aussie brogue, as we catch up with him from his home in the coastal city of five million called Melbourne.
95 minutes | 2 months ago
Perhaps one of the reasons ‘Almost Live!’ found a place on TV for so many years was because - at its core - it was a distinctly local show. The jokes were almost entirely focused on Puget Sound towns, neighborhoods and places - and none of those places was a more frequent target than a suburb called Kent. And no member of the ‘Almost Live!’ writing and performing group was more informed about that town than Bob Nelson - the only one of us with an actual Kent pedigree.To be clear, this is not the Bob Nelson who’s a retired NFL linebacker. Nor is it the one who’s a stand-up comedian - that Bob Nelson used to use profanity in his act, but now works clean. And it’s not the Bob Nelson who’s a public accountant in Tigard, Oregon. THAT Bob Nelson, by the way, is certified. And sometimes uses profanity.Bob Nelson official sitesThe Confirmation (2016) Nebraska (2013) Bob Nelson | IMDbNo, THIS is the Bob Nelson from Kent. Grew up there - on the rugged East Hill - went to school there - he is Kent’s native son. Legally.After graduating from the U-Dub - THIS Bob Nelson eventually took work at the Seattle Times, with the dream job of selling classified ads. Because he had a working TV set in the mid-1980’s - he occasionally tuned into the fledgling “Almost Live!” program. To him, that looked like more fun than trying to sell a used Chevy Nova in a two-inch newspaper ad - so, Bob Nelson - THAT one - wrote a bunch of sketches and then trotted them over to KING TV even though he figured nothing would happen. Sure enough. Nothing did. At first. But then, in the summer of ‘89, he got a call from producer Bill Stainton - impressed with Bob’s scripts - and like the computer hackers always say in the movies: “He was in.”In the next ten years, Bob never left the show - except for a while to write for the Magic Johnson talk show in Hollywood. Yea. Magic Johnson had a talk show. But before long, Bob came back home - and stayed with “Almost Live!” until it came to an end in 1999. But the writing career of Bob Nelson was not at an end. Not even close. There were more TV shows, video projects - and along the way, he fashioned a screenplay that became a major motion picture in 2013. It was called “Nebraska” - and it brought the first-time screenwriter Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations.As you’d guess, much more has followed, including writing and directing the 2016 film, “The Confirmation.” It’s a good one. Turn the subtitles off - and watch it. As well as anything that has the name Bob Nelson on it. Just as long as it’s THAT Bob Nelson. I talked to him via Zoom, from the Seattle area home he shares with his wife, Valerie. They live on an island, that has electricity and - at least on this day - pretty good internet.
73 minutes | 3 months ago
If Almost Live! could be compared to a baseball team, Steve Wilson might have been the groundskeeper. At least on game day. He was the guy in charge of grooming the diamond; preparing the field, cutting the grass, drawing the foul-lines, and raking the infield. He got the field ready - but then, taking managerial duties, he positioned the players and coached them up. He was the show's studio director.Like most of the show's regulars, Steve is a native North Westerner - in his case, Lakewood, Washington -or- Tacoma, if you will. He grew up in a house on the banks of Lake Steilacoom.At the age of six, after seeing his first live TV broadcast at the World's Fair, Steve knew what he wanted to do... be the elevator operator for the Space Needle. No. That's not it. He wanted to get into TV - in any capacity. Performing TV, producing, directing - even repairing them. So he went to Pullman and attended Wazzu, deciding to forgo any thought of being the Coug football team's left tackle - and instead majored in communications. During the summer months, he worked at Disneyland, wearing sweaty costumes as various Disney characters like Pluto and Winnie the Pooh. Indeed, his Disneyland colleagues still say Wilson was the best Poo they ever had.Steve Wilson official sitesSteve Wilson | IMDb Steve Wilson | LinkedInAfter a six month internship at KING TV, he went to work for the company full-time, becoming a staff director and producer. Talk shows, newscasts, sporting events, concerts and more.And then, in 1985, a different kind of show to direct: Almost Live!. Wilson leapt onto the back of that horse and rode it for 15 years, until it finally keeled over - ready for the glue factory - in 1999.He moved on to other jobs, like directing KOMO TV's 'Northwest Afternoon', which was like 'Almost Live!', but funnier. He even spent 8 months in Hollywood's world of bells and buzzers, directing programs at the Game Show Network in Hollywood. Many years ago, he attended Lakes High School - home of the Lancers. Suitably, Steve has been a free-lancer for some time - and today, he's the go-to director for Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon - you name it. Because if you don't, he will.But it was 'Almost Live!' that he remembers most fondly. And why not? He was, after all, one of the original "High Fivin' White Guys." Well-qualified because he's white, he's a guy… and he's high.Owner of 23 Emmys - both earned and from eBay - I caught up with Steve Wilson from the Magnolia home he shares with his wife, Julie.So here we go. Please forgive the sketchy Zoom internet audio quality. We had fewer than two bars that day.
62 minutes | 3 months ago
In the earliest days of the show, Almost Live! was heavily influenced by a male viewpoint. A few actresses were introduced in those first years - Andy Stein and Lynne McManus - among them. But the show's first more regular female member got aboard largely because she happened to be the girlfriend of one the show's regular cast members - Joe Guppy. We’ll spend some time with him in a future podcast. But this one is about Nancy - and whether she came in the backdoor, the front window or the skylight, once she arrived at ‘Almost Live!’, the show was never the same.She was Nancy Harris when she grew up in Magnolia. She went to the U-Dub majoring in speech and communications. After meeting and marrying Joe Guppy, the two performed and wrote for "Almost Live!" for a couple of years before deciding in 1989 to move on to the bigger stages of Los Angeles. In 1992, they came back home, where Nancy eventually picked up again on "Almost Live" - this time without Joe. And this time, as not the only female on the show. She stayed with 'Almost Live!' for the remaining seven years of its run, riding it to the ground like a drunken rodeo performer.Nancy Guppy official sitesArt Zone with Nancy Guppy | Facebook Nancy Guppy | IMDb Art Zone with Nancy Guppy | SeattleChannel.org Nancy Guppy (@nancyguppyART) | TwitterSince then, Nancy has been hanging out at the Seattle Channel, which is a channel in Seattle. She hosts a weekly culture show called 'Art Zone', which is like the old 'Twilight Zone' without the black and white and the twist endings.Today, she and Joe live in a tasteful condo, as quintessential Seattleites. They drive a hybrid - eat organic - work out - and recycle like crazy. The always busy, on-the-go Nancy happened to be at home the other day, when I took the opportunity to chat with her about those increasingly distant days of 'Almost Live!'
79 minutes | 4 months ago
In George Orwell’s famous novel, 1984, he foresaw a time where Big Brother scrutinizes human actions, and stifles freedom and non-conformity. But while Orwell was busy focusing on Big Brother, he completely overlooked the arrival of Little Brother in 1984. It was a brand-new Seattle TV comedy show named “Almost Live!” And it's very first host was a local guy named Ross Shafer. He was a graduate of Federal Way High School, and then the University of Puget Sound, where he played some football and majored in business. For a while, he owned and managed the country’s only Stereo and Pet Shop in Puyallup. It seemed like a perfect idea - because when people think of stereos, they naturally think of cockatoos.But after three years of that, Ross took a daytime advertising job for the Squire Shop clothing chain, which had 28 stores. But when nighttime came along, he showed up at local comedy clubs, trying out jokes and putting together an act. After some hard years of blood, sweat, tears, and heckling, he won Seattle’s International Comedy competition and hit the road as an opening act for people like Crystal Gayle, Dionne Warwick, and Neil Sedaka.Ross Shafer official sitesRossShafer.com Ross Shafer | IMDb Ross Shafer | Facebook Ross Shafer | YouTube Ross Shafer | TwitterThen the chance to host a new local TV comedy show called “Almost Live!” came along. He took the gig for five years, but then jumped at a chance to host The Late Show on the Fox network. He did that for a year, and then moved on to other network programs. He hosted game shows, wrote a best-selling book, produced a comedy album, and headlined night clubs and casinos across the country.Then - as they say - he reinvented himself. And today, he's a top business keynote speaker and seminar leader, producing loads of human resource training films and has authored several books including “Nobody Moved Your Cheese”, “The Customer Shouts Back” and “Are You Relevant?”And later, Ross was inducted into the National Speakers Hall of Fame.When he’s not living in that Hall, he can be found at his home in Denver, CO - That’s where I caught up with him.
4 minutes | 4 months ago
Almost Live!: Still Alive is an audio podcast mini-series, featuring the creators, cast and writers of one of Seattle's most iconic TV shows, Almost Live! (1984-1999) It was a show so popular, that it also found a home on Comedy Central - and in worldwide syndication. Pat Cashman hosts this retrospective podcast series - spending time with every key player - through long and intimate conversations. Cashman's a more than appropriate host - himself a former cast member. He worked with everyone for much of the show's fifteen years - and was individually responsible for bits like The Adventures of Sluggy, Roscoe's Rug Emporium, Unsolved Mysteries of Seattle and others. His contributions were just part of the show's memorable menu of favorite sketches and characters: Mind Your Manners with Billy Quan; The Lame List; The Worst Girlfriend in the World; Uncle Fran; Cops (in Mercer Island, Kent, Redmond, Leavenworth, etc.), Green River Dance, The High-Fivin' White Guys and many more.Almost Live!: Still Alive official sitesAlmost Live!: Still Alive | Facebook Almost Live!: Still Alive | YouTube Almost Live!: Still Alive | Twitter Almost Live!: Still Alive | Instagram Almost Live!: Still Alive | SubscribeAnd after it was all over, the show had produced a remarkable group of considerable accomplishments and talents - including one of the of the world's best-loved science personalities; an Oscar-nominated screenwriter; a big-time Hollywood star; several top national keynote speakers; one of Australia's best-known TV sports personalities - and a top television director. Not to mention a clinical psychotherapist, emcees, auctioneers - and a stand-up comic or two. Not a bad lineup.Almost Live!: Still Alive features one-on-one discussions with the show's best-remembered players - from Ross Shafer to John Keister; Nancy Guppy to Joel McHale; Tracey Conway to Bill Nye - plus Bob Nelson, Bill Stainton, and all the rest. They'll be sharing the stories of how they got on the show - their best-remembered experiences (including favorite and/or least favorite bits,) tales about other people they worked with through the years - and what they're all up to now.The show's long-running popularity may well have come from its distinctive focus on the very place it was broadcast: Seattle and its neighborhoods. It reflected a remarkable time when the growing city, its surrounding communities, citizens, businesses, music and culture were changing. Newcomers to the region invariably confessed that they learned more about their new home from Almost Live! - than from any travel guide or chamber of commerce pamphlet. Since the show ended production in 1999, Seattle has exploded with the arrival of a massive tech industry, bringing with it thousands of new residents from around the country, and the world - likely blurring the old lines between Redmond and Bellevue, Federal Way and Auburn, Renton and Mercer Island. That's why watching rebroadcasts of Almost Live! today - or on YouTube - offers a witty, funny, and insightful window into how Seattle used to be - while simultaneously previewing where it was headed.We think you'll enjoy the special conversations you'll hear on "Almost Live!: Still Alive" - in hopes they'll bring back fond memories of a remarkable place and time, from some of the people who comically chronicled them. Please share these episodes with anyone and everyone who lived in the Northwest during the original airings of Almost Live! - and through its long, continuing afterlife in reruns.Because as long as people remember it, Almost Live! really IS still alive."Almost Live!: Still Alive" The podcast.
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