Name: Karen Elliott
Occupation: Former producer and host of "Southern Accents"
Hometown: Spartanburg, S.C.
Forget about travel websites and put away all brochures. If you're searching for a weekend getaway, few guides will acquaint you with your destination as intimately as WTCI-TV's award-winning gem "Southern Accents."
Produced by the local PBS affiliate for 24 years, the show gives viewers a chance to tour a handful of the resorts, restaurants and historic sites that make the South unique — from the lavish halls of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, to the scenic streets of Bardstown, Kentucky, known as the Bourbon Capital of the World.
Though the show has been out of production for the last two years, its content is no less relevant, says Karen Elliott, who traveled around the region as the program's host for 18 years.
Even today, the former News Channel 3 anchor is still stopped by viewers eager to visit the locales previewed in each of her episodes, which are now re-run by the network and available online.
» There's little television of that sort anymore. [Today] it's bizarre foods. And I'm probably not going to eat fried scorpion. [laughs] But I would like to know what a resort would look like if I were to visit. What does it have to offer me if I've got time alone with my husband? Or if the girls are with us, how can I turn this trip into a special time for the family?
» A subject would say, "Would you like to see behind the scenes?" And unless it was a behind-the-scenes tour that the viewer could take [on their own], I didn't want special treatment. I wanted the viewer to see what their experiences would be like if they visited a site.
» What you didn't realize was [that we would be] in Mobile, Alabama, in the heat of summer for 12 hours. [laughs] So we'd be trying to look fresh in the Southern heat.
» What else was tough was the food in front of us and having to wait to eat it as we shot it. We had to shoot it first. So remember, when you see me eating on the show, we spent a half-hour shooting it first. [laughs]
» What would be funny would be doing an interview outside, and you'd get everything set up and then a weed-eater would start, or something of that sort. That would be difficult. Happened a lot.
» I can't think of a story I worked on that when I was looking at the video [afterward] I wasn't smiling. Thinking back on a special experience, a special meal, a lot of laughter, a sweet story from an innkeeper — I'd be sitting at home looking at the video and just realize I was smiling, thinking of the experience. So really whatever the story was at the time would be among the favorites.
» My favorite doesn't really matter! There was such a diverse viewership that everyone needed to be represented regardless of whether I would go there on my own or not.
» I still don't like to recommend places, because my experience might have been wonderful but yours might not. So my goal was to show "This is what it would look like if you went. This is what your experience would probably be and your options there."
» Everyone's taste is different. Some love a historic inn with very simple amenities. Some love to be out of cellphone service for the weekend. I don't! [laughs] But it's important to offer that to different people.
» I think regardless of what you enjoy, whether it is a luxurious getaway or something more rustic, or you like a meat-and-three more than a fine-dining, James Beard Award-winning experience, you'd find it in those past episodes. So I would suggest looking at them and seeing what appeals to you.
» In addition to offering it as an experience for grandparents and families, it was an important outreach to folks who could not travel anymore. It would bring back memories. "Oh, yes! We visited there and loved it!" Or, "It's so neat to see this historic site persevered in such a way." So for folks who couldn't get out, it was enjoyable for them to see, as well.
» The best part is [when people say], "We saw your episode, we went, and loved it." That still today, in repeats, touches my heart. And I love sharing it with them. I loved those years of travel. Now I just don't do it with a cameraman. [laughs]
Watch episodes free at wtciTV.org/southernaccents.