|Where Cable Watchers Meet Chesapeake Countrys Utterly Talented Lesser-Knowns
by M.L. Faunce
photo by Lynn Abercrombie
This past holiday season, Teal took Just Off Main Street to the White House for a tour of Presidential Christmas decorations presented by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Marylands winningest horse trainer, King Leatherbury, gives Leigh Anne Teal a lesson in tractoring as cameraman Bruce Abercrombie looks on, opposite.
Retired National Geographic photojournalist Tom Abercrombie shares the helm with Teal at right. His son, Bruce, is Teals cameraman.
Leigh Anne Teal wears a lot of hats, literally. As host and executive producer of the local cable television program Just Off Main Street she wears her hats - including those she designs herself - on camera as well as off. Adding funky rhinestone eyeglasses and quirky style, Teal cuts a figure that borrows from the '60s. She's got the energy of that era, too, for she's a one-woman band, independently producing and trumpeting a program that's entertaining, provocative, funny - and right in our own back yard.
Teal, who moved to Annapolis four years ago, says she started working on the concept for her show "the minute I finished unpacking." In New York City, where her husband was a Coast Guardsman, she had been a college professor teaching advertising, communications and multimedia.
With Just Off Main Street, she practices what she taught. At Comcast, Anne Arundel County's franchised cable television network, she pitched her show as a bright, professional approach to local programming. "Of the wide array of users of Comcast's public access hours, few have the professional quality of Leigh Anne's," says Comcast's program coordinator Jonathan Brown.
Now in its fourth season, the half-hour, twice-weekly show evolved from a home-and-garden format to "true lifestyle," according to its host - who is also script writer, fashion coordinator, designer and critic of all she surveys. Her kingdom includes food and wine, books and authors, theater and art. The occasional Moroccan belly dancer, psychic, foreign ambassador, and Abe Lincoln character actor fill out the programming schedule.
Just Off Main Street was named by retired National Geographic exploring journalist Tom Abercrombie, of Shady Side. Trying to find just the right words to capture Teal's style, her friend seized on the crux of her personality: "the stuff you do is a little off Main Street," he declared. The apt name stuck.
Topics on the show run the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime. For spice, you learn to make a poultice out of oregano. For sugar, you get the recipe for making dirt cake (from Oreo cookies). Whether offering tips for weddings or entertaining at home, Teal says she enjoys "putting a spin on her subjects."
Little spin is needed with guests whose fame is secure and whose works or faces are well known. Teal says she enjoys interviewing celebrities because "they don't take themselves seriously." In conversations with the illustrious, she sprinkles kudos and compliments, calling her guests "incredible scholar" or "incredible writer." One such guest, Robin Moore (of French Connection and Green Beret fame), filled in her audience on his latest, The Accidental Pope.
Teal found another "warm and welcoming host" in a Marylander whose fame trots far beyond this state's borders. King Leatherbury, Maryland's number-one thoroughbred horse trainer, showed Teal the reins at Laurel Park Race Track's paddock. Interviewed at the track's private Jockey Club, Maryland's "winningest" trainer shared a "hot tip he received on a special phone." Teal later toured Leatherbury's estate, his "sprawling house" and breeding farm in Mitchellville in Southern Anne Arundel county, noting the yearlings were "all pitching a fit" as they nibbled their visitors' shirts.
The producer says her passion is to seek out Chesapeake Country citizens who are "utterly talented, though lesser known." Her goal, she says, is sharing the "human stories" of her guests so viewers can get to know them and feel their powers of inspiration. Like the woman reduced to living out of her car who ended up selling lavender soap that she now makes on her Eastern Shore farm, earning "several thousand dollars a day," according to Teal.
Last fall, a segment of the recurring theme "Grumpy Old Men" was filmed at Shannon's Restaurant in Shady Side. The grumpy old men there were the lunch bunch of Abercrombie; former presidential press secretary Marlin Fitzwater; artist John Douglass and retired physician Frank Wenger. Teal caught them reminiscing over professional past times and travels in politics, photography and the arts.
To instruct Teal and viewers how to pick and eat crabs, Crab guru Whitey Schmidt came on her show. When the host referred to the shell as a carapace, she giggled to her guest, "I'd get thrown out of a crab joint if I used a word like that."
Teal says that Just off Main Street talent is inexhaustible. Many hopefuls call her nowadays, and - with an hour of air time each week to fill - many must be chosen. So there's no telling just where her viewers might catch the exuberant host when next they tune in. It was lately the White House, where Senator-elect Hillary Clinton showed off Christmas decorations.
Nowadays, Teal and viedographer and editor Bruce Abercrombie are whisked away on road trips by Better Limousine of Annapolis to zoom in on the kitchens of hill-top hotels and/or the vineyards of valley wineries. But Teal didn't always travel by limo. In its first year, Just off Main Street was filmed in her own living room and dining room. Her program proves, Teal says, you can feature "world-class talent on a shoestring budget."
James Getty as Lincoln returns to Just Off Main Street in February.
Teal is paid nothing for her efforts. "It's the nature of the business, she says. "My plan is to develop the program to where a network would want to pick it up. First, I had to gain respect and developed a following and loyalty."
She knows she's done that when the guys behind the meat counter at Giant give her ideas for her show. Or a shopper in the parking lot calls out, "Aren't you the lady on TV?" or "I love your dirt cake."
Leigh Anne Teal isn't a household word yet, and so far no store carries products under her name. But the 46-year-old law school dropout, teacher, traveler, decorator and designer, mother, wife and host extraordinaire has made herself a niche Just Off Main Street in Chesapeake Country.
In January, Comcast reduced Just Off Main Street's audience. In earlier days, the program extended from Maryland to Washington, D.C., Virginia and Delaware over Broadcast UHF Channel 58. Comcast now covers that viewing area - including Chesapeake Country north of Route 50 - with programming originating in its home office in Philadelphia.
Looking ahead, Teal says she hopes she's earned her place on Comcast for what she calls the "many stories of wonderful people I have in the wings ready to roll."
Just off Main Street airs Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30pm on Comcast Cable Channel CN 8 in Anne Arundel County south of Route 50. King Leatherbury returns for the last week of January. President Lincoln, impersonated by James Getty, returns for the first two weeks of February.