10.22.15 - On How I Came to be a TV Host

A Word on Words

There are things that happen in your life that are, to say the least, unexpected. Back in June, I received an email from a producer at NPT (Nashville Public Television) letting me know they were considering rebooting the Nashville literary classic, A Word on Words. If you’re not familiar with it, for 40 years, it was was a Sunday morning staple on Channel 8, hosted by the amazing John Seigenthaler. I was really excited to hear this, because I did my first EVER interview with John on the show, and since we lost him, there has been a real void in the literary community, as well as all of our hearts

What I wasn’t expecting was an invitation to be the host. "Caught short" is a good term, actually. I mean, y’all know me. I have a serious public speaking fear. I’ve overcome it for the most part, but I still get a wad of butterflies in my stomach before events, and cameras — yeah, right. The idea of voluntarily sitting down in front of a camera multiple times seemed a little masochistic. So my immediate reaction was . . . no.


John Seigenthaler

What John did for the book in Nashville can’t be discounted for a moment. He was the beating heart of literature in this city for a very, very long time. I always loved being on the show (I think I did it six times over the years.) John made me think about my stories in ways I hadn’t before. He could find that kernel in the book, the why behind the story, and make it come alive for the viewers.

The idea of having even a small part in continuing his legacy drove me to the screen test, then to accepting the offer to shoot a couple of pilots, and through the first shoot. I nearly threw up on Patti Callahan Henry, I was so scared.

But I didn’t. And after a while, in the joy of talking story with a fellow writer, I forgot about the cameras. The end result was awesome, and I can’t wait for y’all to see it.

And I decided that maybe, just maybe, I could do this after all. 

Mary Laura Philpott is my co-host — if you’re not familiar with her hilarious book PENGUINS WITH PEOPLE PROBLEMS, you should definitely get it. She’s kind and gracious and gorgeous and one heck of a writer and will be the perfect complement to round out the show. I can't wait to work more with her.

I need to say thanks to a bunch of people who made this happen. Linda Wei, first and foremost, who found a unique way to reboot the series and thought ML and I would be a good fit; our amazing crew, including Matt Emigh and Will Pedigo, for their incredible generosity making me at ease behind the cameras, and making us look so good; Hank Phillippi Ryan, who gave me the bones for how to build a good interview; Andy Levy, who shared all his secrets; Laura Benedict for cheering me on; Ariel Lawhon for helping us get things kickstarted; Patti Henry and David Bell, for agreeing to let me use them as pilot episodes, coming to Nashville and knocking it out of the park; Amy Kerr, who does just about everything; ML, for being the co-hostess with the mostest; NPT, and especially Beth Curley, for having the bravery and vision to let us try this; our lovely sponsors, Judy and Steve Turner, for funding this awesome show; and of course, Randy, who encouraged me when I needed it the most. As he always does.

And John. You are forever in our hearts, kind sir. I hope we do you proud. 

Here’s some shots from the most recent episodes. A Word on Words will begin airing in late October. Specifics to come. Announcement here