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Monday, February 22, 2010

Cooking Without Looking

This blog has featured several stories about former WCIX anchors and reporters, and the great success they’ve found since leaving the station. They are people with names you may recognize, and might even see on the tube while surfing around. You probably won’t recognize the name of the subject of today’s post, but she’s another Channel 6 success story. This long-time behind-the-scenes employee moves into the big time today, with the national debut of a show she’s poured her heart and soul into.

Her name is Ren’ee Rentmeester, but in her time at Channel 6, she was known as Ren’ee Hagen and Ren’ee Morales. Most former 6’ers will remember her time in the promotions department, but I really came to know Ren’ee during her stint as a news writer and associate producer. There are good people to work with… and there are REALLY good people to work with. Ren’ee was one of my favorites, thanks to her infectious smile and easy-going manner. Our running gag had to do with the obligatory “did anyone win the lotto” copy stories that aired every Sunday evening. Either Renee or Traci Cloyd would always get stuck writing those 16-second lotto block enders, and it became a contest of sorts to see how many ways we could say the same thing, week after week, without totally repeating ourselves. To this day, I still ask Ren’ee how the lotto story is coming, even though I’m 10 years removed from TV news, and she is now the creator, executive producer, and driving force behind a program that’s moving from local TV, to a national stage, starting this morning (February 22, 2010) at 6AM on the Fine Living Network.

The show is called Cooking Without Looking, a sort of Galloping Gourmet for the blind and visually impaired. The show, which teaches cooking skills and kitchen safety, is taped in Boynton Beach, and up until now has only been seen in South Florida. I asked Ren’ee about the show, and how she came to create it… and of course I could not help but ask about her time at a certain TV station.

SAY SIX: How did a sighted person happen to come up with the idea of doing a show for the visually impaired?

RR: After working in Community Relations with some of the largest non-profits in the country, I wanted to create something myself. I wanted it to be something that could affect anyone, no matter what race, gender, or financial status. I thought about doing something about blind babies/children, but fortunately, less than three percent of the babies in this country are born without eye sight.

Then, someone told me about descriptive television. It was new, and it was an accessibility solution for blind people in the same way that closed captioning helps hearing impaired people.

Well, now you had my two loves together: television and helping people, and it was hard to say 'no' to that. So, I found e-mail groups of blind/visually impaired people known as listservs, and I signed up for as many as I could handle. Since I didn't know any blind people, this would help me research the issues near and dear to many blind people.

In a way, when I first started to do the research, I felt like blind people had a secret underground, and unless you were blind, you didn't know about all the solutions available. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I couldn't imagine going blind, and then having to find out how to help yourself.

Since TV is such a pervasive medium in this society, the show could work in several ways:
-help newly blind people find answers;
-show people who have been blind a new way to do some of the basic tasks in the kitchen;
-educate sighted people to the world of the blind person, so they didn't feel awkward, and so if something happened to them in the future, they would immediately know where to go.

I find that as I produce more and more of these shows, I'm really a translator between the different blind and sighted groups of people. There are so many stereotypes associated with being blind that we have to overcome. My point in doing all of this is that we all need to focus on the ability of each other, and not the disability.

So someone doesn't have sight or hearing...there's so much more to that person.

SAY SIX: Television is such a visual medium, yet the show is geared toward people who can’t see. How big a challenge does that present?

RR: Actually, it presents a very small challenge. We can't use teleprompters. Scripts are written in 36 point type for the people with macular degeneration. Everyone describes exactly what they are doing when they are doing it. What we have to remember is that because these people are blind/visually impaired, most have residual eyesight even if it is shadows.

Our real challenge comes in the form of changing people's minds about people with disabilities. One lady I helped as the result of this show was blind. She kept saying how stupid she felt, even though she was a MENSA person. Intelligence has nothing to do with blindness...our creativity to overcome the challenge is much more important, and our mindset on a daily basis. A sense of humor is almost crucial.

SAY SIX: If there’s one thing about the show you want viewers to come away with, what would that be?

RR: I want people to know that there's actually something good about being blind. It's that when you're blind, you have to trust others with all of your heart. You enjoy meeting people because of what's inside of them. It doesn't matter what the car is that they drive, or the clothes they buy at the exclusive stores. You just enjoy the person who you're speaking with for who they are. Nothing more.

And, no matter what the challenge we all face, we have to keep our head up and keep on making our life something we can be proud of. And, oh yeah, have FUN!

SAY SIX: Since this is a WCIX blog, I want to ask you your favorite memories of Channel 6. You can give me one serious one, if you’d like, and some “fun” or not-so-serious ones.

RR: Well, there were a lot more "not-so-serious" ones than there are serious ones.


All of us in the Promotion Department dressed up like Promotion Director Brian Blum
for Halloween...beige sweater, dark pants, mustache and all!

I remember Nelson Milton, his hearty laugh and his breakfast of sardines. I remember someone working late night, and recording an adult movie....which, oops, went over the air.

I also worked in the old building which was a lot like a layer cake. Someone from the traffic department would yell out, and slide the logs down the inside of the glass window to the various floors that needed them.

The serious, and a sincerely heart-warming memory was when Hurricane Andrew blew through South Florida and the President of CBS and many of the higher echelon people came to town and spent time talking to each of us, and finding out what we needed. They also helped chop down some of the trees that had fallen at the station, and I believe they also brought supplies, and helped people with their homes.

Oh, yes, and my own personal fun was to be called into the General Manager's office right after the weekend when an employee or two did something that we shall call, "newsworthy", and we strategized about how we would present it to the media.

Explaining the channel change to the viewers was also a hoot. A couple of viewer calls/conversations on how the whole switch was going to happen, and my head was like chopped lettuce in a salad spinner.

SAY SIX: How many years were you at WCIX? And how much of that was spent in the news department, and the same for promotions?

RR: I was at WCIX/WFOR for just about 13 years. I started in Promotion writing the VOC copy for the end of the shows, as well as press releases. They had to make budget cuts but wanted to find something else for me to do, noticed that I have a journalism degree, and put me in news on the weekend assignment desk, as well as associate producer. I was also on the Broward assignment desk for about a year.

Then, they created a PR position for me, Media and Community Relations Manager, where I wrote the station newsletter, was the station spokesperson when the media called, and produced the PSAs.

Thanks Ren’ee. I have to tell you, your life is about to change. Prepare to be overwhelmed, as your brainchild starts to touch lives all across the country. The Fine Living Network has not made a long-term commitment to the show, so it’s important for those who enjoy the program to let them know. To become a sponsor of Cooking Without Looking, or for more information about the show, contact Ren’ee Rentmeester at 305-200-9104.

Oh, and Ren’ee, please tell Glo we need the “Jumpin’ Jackpot” graphic for that Lotto story!

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