A: In 2005, after the loss of my father and then a dear friend of ours to breast cancer, my wife and I decided that we would sell our house and U.K. business and take a family gap year to travel with our children. We chose right there and then that our leaving party would be July 4, 2008 – Independence Day!
Much to the amazement of many, we did just that! In the process, I had the notion that it would be great to document our adventure on a quality video camera. That led me to think of TV, and I made one phone call to a prestigious TV production company in the U.K. Amazingly, they said yes! Just like that – yes! So began our interest and fast-track training in “video.” We called the show “My Family’s Gap Year.” With training from the production company and furnished with their camera, we were off!
The show did air, but as the world economy was imploding, the production company and concept went through several changes. Over the course of the next 18 months, and after the completion of our travels, they eventually pulled together footage of six families who had spectacular misadventures in their travels, and the name became “My Family’s CRAZY Gap Year!”
Fast forward – Rome, December 2008. We asked our children, “Where shall we go next?” We had travelled from the U.K. through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Italy; we had previously spent considerable time in Spain (my second home from the age of 12); and we had visited the USA often, as my wife was born and raised in Connecticut. With excitement, they chose Christmas in Connecticut, dreaming of a white Christmas, and boy, did it snow!
We enjoyed the break from being “on the road” and decided to rent a house in Woodbury and continue our adventure from there. Bitten by the bug of TV production, we immersed ourselves in learning the business. We kicked off Hi5netTV’s “First Thursday,” a live-filmed, curated showcase of original performing artists. As a music scholar, a Paul Simon-inspired singer-songwriter and a new Connecticut resident, I hankered to meet other original musicians.
My wife Douglas, a corporate entrepreneur, launched full-throttle into bringing all the elements together well beyond that original vision. I hosted the show and occasionally performed, but we were treated to such stunning performances that I often didn’t make the cut!
It just took off, selling out within days of releasing the tickets. Original performing artists were calling up from all over Connecticut and beyond. We opened each show with a hilarious arrival video of me trying to get there on time, overcoming all sorts of obstacles. It became part of the culture of the evening. People would race to be there at curtain-up to watch it.
It turns out First Thursdays were perfect training for my hosting and our media production work. It was “baptism by fire,” requiring us to create, produce, direct, film and edit the shows.
After knocking on a lot of doors, and I mean many, many doors, someone said, Hey, I like what you are doing. That led to a series of broadcast pieces on CPTV’s “Connecticut’s Cultural Treasures” in 2013, and now to my hosting and involvement in “All Things Connecticut.”
Q: As a Brit, what drew you to Connecticut, the Nutmeg State?
A: Before living here, I had no idea it was known as “the Nutmeg State,” so that was not a deal-breaker.
I love the diversity of Connecticut – its distinct seasons, great summers, crisp, bright snowscape winters, rolling forested vistas, charming towns, sprawling lakes and meandering rivers.
In Britain, forested areas are so rare that if we have a bundle of trees grouped together, we name them! It’s like taking the stretch of trees along I-84 between Danbury and Waterbury and saying, “Hey! Here are some trees, let’s call this the Nutmeg Forest.”
Connecticut is a true treasure trove, a microcosm of so many wonderful aspects of life, all in one tiny state. From industry to arts and culture to diverse ethnicities, it’s all right here!
I also enjoy the historic connection of Connecticut to England. The opportunity to produce pieces for broadcast on CPTV on subjects like the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven and historic landmarks was precious – a bit like revisiting an old jigsaw puzzle with new pieces to put in place.
Q: Since arriving in the States, what landmarks are you particularly fond of in Connecticut?
A: What is interesting about this question is the phrase “what landmarks.” Despite having travelled a great deal, I have never found myself reminiscing over a landmark. I am always left with memories of my experiences and conversations with people.
I love the outdoors of Connecticut, the rocky outcrops, whether caught in the summer sun or draped with ice in the winter. The lakes – I love swimming in fresh water. The shoreline – I love boats! The historic houses and the friendly people. Hey, you know what? I love all things Connecticut!
Q: What do you hope viewers learn to appreciate about Connecticut by watching “ATC”?
A: An outsider’s delight and perspective! Having grown up in Britain, and having spent much of my time with my father in Spain, I bring a new context to “seeing” Connecticut. To borrow an analogy, if you asked a fish, “How’s the water?,” the fish might reply, “What water?” If you live somewhere since day one, the beauty and charm of what is around you can become invisible.
Connecticut is my new home, so my eyes and ears are still wide open, and as a result, I find myself charmed, enthralled and sometimes bemused. People naturally enjoy sharing something they care about, and in the process, it often reinvigorates their own passion.
Q: So now that you’ve lived, worked and “played” in Connecticut, what do you REALLY think about us Yankees?
A: Should I take the Fifth on this one?
I truly find people to be people the world over – meaning, how people ARE is very much a function of how YOU are. I love the continuance of the pioneering spirit of the people I have met throughout Connecticut.
People have been welcoming, interested, up-to-life, curious! And they are engaged in a diverse array of passions and interests. That has made hosting “All Things Connecticut” such a blast.
Q: What do you want people to take away from each episode of “ATC”? What makes it important?
A: “ATC” is about celebrating the wonder that is all around us in Connecticut.
Through “Spotlight on the Arts,” Ed Wierzbicki, with stunning visuals and masterful guidance, opens a portal to the arts first-hand. His longstanding relationship with performing artists and venues adds immeasurably to one’s appreciation of the diversity and quality of the arts in Connecticut.
Then, Christina DeFranco deftly delivers the goods… goods that are “Made in Connecticut!” Things may have shifted in manufacturing, but Christina reveals just how much innovation and fabrication is out there.
The final segment in each episode is new, called “Breaking Bread.” It features ethnic communities via ethnic restaurants. These restaurants often have unassuming facades. You’ve got to know where to go, they’re hidden, yet many provide pivotal support and nurturing to many varied communities that enrich Connecticut with cultural diversity.
I have a personal passion for mutual respect through understanding the cultures of others. Over food, I meet the ethnic communities of Connecticut, “break bread” with them. I laugh and eat – tough work, but someone has to do it!
Last but not least, fun. Everyone wants to have fun; laughter is important. So here’s what I really want: I want viewers to be moved, touched, inspired, learn a thing or two and occasionally pee their pants laughing! How’s that for coffee table literature?