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Craig Cohen

Craig Cohen

WILL host, 1995-2002 | Houston Public Media

Unfortunately for the poor folks whose jobs revolve around pumping up programming, not everything that airs on public television is “Downton Abbey” popular or Ken Burns prolific.

Take it from Craig Cohen, whose seven-year stint creating and producing content for WILL (1995-2002) included an on-air fundraising drive during a documentary titled “The Homes of FDR.”

“It wasn’t really about (Franklin) Roosevelt, just about the houses in which he lived, and it was, well, dry. OK, boring. Very boring,” says Cohen, now a host and executive producer at Houston Public Media. “Sorry. I know someone worked hard to make the program, and someone out there loved watching it, but yeesh.

“So, we were trying to keep the mood light in the TV studio before the next break began. For example, I mentioned to our producer, Heather Miller, how I had noticed BBC reporters’ tendencies to end interviews with the word ‘indeed,’ and we each employed our best British accents in attempts to impersonate them. Meanwhile, (former WILL General Manager) Carl Caldwell was rolling his eyes at the droning documentary, and dripping with sarcasm, he mumbled, ‘Wow, this sure is fascinating.’

“I dared him to say that in the next break. Heather double-dog dared him.

“And that’s when things started going off the rails. The crew realized we were going to break sooner than expected. Everyone rushed into place. Carl and I sat in our chairs, composed ourselves, and the break began. ‘Craig,’ Carl says, turning to me, ‘The Homes of FDR’ ... this sure is (giggling) ... fasc ... in ... at ...

“That’s about as far as he got before just exploding with laughter. And all I could manage to say in response was — say it with me — ‘indeed.’

“Well, that got everyone going. I was laughing, Heather was laughing, Carl was chortling so hard tears streamed down his beet-red face. The picture of us on screen was shaking because the cameraman was laughing so hard.

“And. This. Went. On. For. Seven. Minutes. We never really regained our composure. The whole break was an utter disaster.

“Except: three people called. Not with complaints, but contributions. So, technically, we did our jobs. We certainly got viewers’ attention that day.”