By Samantha Mehlinger - Staff Writer
June 17, 2013 - Local television personality and university professor Art Levine airs the 500th episode of his show, “Straight Talk,” the weeks of July 6 and 13, featuring conversations with Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and California’s former governor, George Deukmejian. The Business Journal had an opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes look at the process of taping this milestone episode, which is recorded on the campus of California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).
As Governor Deukmejian and Supervisor Knabe get ready in the green room, the two chat and share laughs over a box of donuts. When asked how many times each has appeared on Straight Talk, Deukmejian shrugs and smiles. “I have no idea. I’m so old I can’t remember,” he says with a chuckle. The day before taping the 500th episode, he turned 85.
Sitting patiently in the makeup chair beneath bright lights, Deukmejian continues. “It helps to educate the community. I think that’s its main purpose,” he says of “Straight Talk.” Knabe, already made-up, adds, “You can take an issue and be a little more thorough here: what goes behind a decision, how it was made, the importance of it. Instead of just a surface headline.”
Knabe is the only guest ever to have swapped chairs with Levine and assume the role of host, and he does so again for the 500th episode. “I’m going to ask him who his favorite governor was. And his favorite county supervisor,” he teases.
After Levine walks in from taping his 499th episode, the three soon start chuckling over anecdotes from shows past. Levine even has Deukmejian watch a tape of his first appearance on the show on the series’ 11th episode. The light-hearted atmosphere carries through to the filming, during which Knabe presents Levine with a certificate from the County of Los Angeles congratulating him on the 500th episode.
After the episode wraps, Levine sits down to talk about the endurance and principles of “Straight Talk.” He has hosted the show for 21 years on Charter Communications, focusing on developing dialogue about issues affecting Long Beach and the surrounding region, from politics to business and the arts.
“The whole show is designed for a bright 12-year-old to be able to follow. There’s a philosophical principle, Occam’s Razor, in which you cut away the unnecessary stuff and just get down to pure message,” says Levine. The half-hour show serves 40 cities, including Long Beach.
A long-time professor of ethics and law at CSULB and graduate of Yale Law School, Levine says his legal background “has been invaluable” on the show. “The only time I come down hard is in a political situation if someone says something that I know is not true or is arguably wrong. I will challenge it,” he says.
Levine says he always invites guests with “something worthwhile to say,” explaining he is not interested in using the show as a platform for divisive dialogue. “What I encourage is bringing people together. Understanding the other person’s point of view.”
He recalls some of his most significant interviews, listing off U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, Mayor Bob Foster, State Sen. Alan Lowenthal and former CSULB President F. King Alexander. Photos of many of these guests line the walls of the green room. He points out one of Gloria Allred posing with a local pageant winner. The two were guests on different shows taped back to back. “She was a good enough sport to pose with the pageant girls,” he recalls.
Of vital importance to Levine are the viewers. “I try to ask the questions that they would want to ask if they were sitting in that seat,” he explains. “I also view the show as a trusteeship that the community has given me a valued place in the community dialogue.” With 500 episodes under his belt, Levine plans to continue contributing to this dialogue, hoping to one day simulcast the show on radio to reach even more of the community.