When I reached Geoff Edgers on the phone last week, he was on his way in to the Boston Globe to write about a tax credit for an arts organization, a slightly less adrenalized pursuit than when he ate a beating snake’s heart on TV the night before.
Edgers hosts a new Travel Channel show called “Edge of America,” which debuted last Tuesday. I’d called him to inquire how an arts reporter managed to conjure up enough screen presence to anchor a show that finds him road-tripping around the States, visiting offbeat events and eating weird meat. But as we talked about his approach to reporting, it made a little more sense that he has a second job that requires him to compete in a fried-calf-testicle-eating contest.
“The reason I’m an arts reporter is I love newspapers,” he said. “I love reporting but the one thing I hate is doing what everybody else is doing.” An arts reporter who’s not primarily a critic is “kind of on your own when it comes to digging up entertaining stories,” he said. “You’re trying to get front page stories in a genre that doesn’t normally get it.” Edgers views “Edge of America,” he said, as “almost like a news magazine.”
But the big difference between Edgers’ two jobs is that on TV, he must participate in anything he covers. Hence the snake’s heart, which he consumes not with the brio Bear Grylls or Anthony Bourdain might bring to such a meal, but with something audience members might more easily identify with: panic. (“Oh my God, what am I doing,” he cries as he tries to catch the snake. “Kerry, I think I’m gonna die!”)
Edgers said he imagined Bourdain confronting the same situation. “I’m like, ‘Should I eat it? What would Bourdain do?’ But I’m not Bourdain!” When I suggested his unease might help take viewers along, he said, “That’s not really what the point of this show is. The point is to find cool entertainment.”
“Edge of America” is produced by the same company that makes “Swamp People,” “Long Island Medium” and “Bayou Billionaires.” Edgers doesn’t watch a lot of TV and said he’d learned to appreciate not only the editing that makes such reality shows (the preferred term is non-fiction) flow, but people who can act naturally in front of cameras.
Edgers has been in front of the lens before. He and director Robert Patton-Spruill made the 2010 film “Do It Again” about Edgers’ long-shot plan to convince the Kinks to reunite; a friend of Edgers who worked at Travel Channel saw it and things moved from there. Attention newsroom hams: “They’re always looking for new talent,” Edgers said.
He got no special training for his new job, he said, and by his second episode, which is scheduled to air tonight, “I could feel like I was hitting my points better.” TV requires some different approaches from print. Take ethics, for instance. “I wouldn’t take a cup of coffee from somebody I was writing a story about,” Edgers said, but when he was cold and climbing an ice wall, he accepted a shirt from someone who was climbing with him. “The beauty of this job is that the two jobs don’t cross.”
That said, “There are many things about the journalism that I do for the paper and that I’m doing for this TV show. There’s a lot of research involved.” The show doesn’t pick events simply because they’re quirky, he said. Future episodes require him to learn to make haggis (“A big fat greasy, wet, nasty, stinky meat balloon”), go bike jousting and wrestle an alligator. All those events happen because they connect to a theme the show wants to explore. “The big difference now is the ‘me’ part,” he said. “In newspapers, you don’t want to alter reality. In my TV show, I am the reality.”
Related: How I went from newspaper reporter to host of a TV show (The Boston Globe)