This Must Be Heaven

For baby boomers who howled at early Saturday Night Live skits that parodied ungracefully aging rockers of the future, life today can be a minefield of painful reminders that, hey, those dreaded days are here. Venerable wild-guy pianist Leon Russell reportedly relied heavily on a cane during a show last month in Delray Beach, and a poignant interview with South Florida denizen Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band -- who has been all over there and done most of that -- is a centerpiece of the premiere episode of Destination Palm Beach.

The new cable show, which debuts on PAX-TV September 27, captures local celebrities at home or about town in video segments that reveal how they balance glamorous lifestyles with community involvement. The celebs are into local culture, it postulates, so why aren't you, the viewer?

But according to one of its hosts, the show's ultimate goal seems to be nothing less than the conversion of Palm Beach and its environs into a kinder, gentler community from the inside out. "Society is screaming underneath for things to change," insists Marysue Jacobs, age 36, a cohost and producer of Destination Palm Beach.

She cites the explosion of violence, particularly in school-age children, as evidence of a festering society in need of spiritual awakening. Faced with such evil, Jacobs doesn't hesitate in identifying exactly who is responsible. "The media is to blame for most of this," she says vociferously, "putting words in people's mouths and creating most of the bad news."

The "media," evidently, doesn't include Jacobs and her fellow producers, Frank Fontana, age 25, and Geoff Haynes, age 33. Destination Palm Beach seems to be protected, at the outset, from the corrupting influence of ratings pandering. Their contract, the producers insist, guarantees the show a spot at 10:30 a.m. every Sunday morning for at least a year.

Included in the first few shows are features on Monty Roberts, best-selling author of The Man Who Listens to Horses, who has helped raise 47 foster children and speaks to corporations on the theme of brotherly and sisterly love before profits; and on Office Depot magnate Mark Begelman, whose sideline is donating musical instruments to underserved kids.

An upcoming segment delves into the rarefied world of Palm Beach artist R.W. Cohen, age 66, who claims to have painted the portraits of more heads of state than anyone alive -- including those of Reagan, the Pope, and even Elvis. Cohen, whose Rolodex includes entries for Donald Trump and the Sultan of Brunei, is the only commissioned artist exhibited in Presley's Graceland mansion, yet he leads a relatively simple life and makes it a practice to kneel and pray before embarking on his rendering of a new subject.

Such examples of humanity are meant to fulfill the avowed goal of the Destination Palm Beach crew: to move and motivate people with their self-styled brand of guerrilla TV, seeking out human-interest stories while keeping the glitz and the gloss. If they are successful in helping turn the tide of humanity's higher endeavors in the Palm Beach area, they plan to expand their efforts into other cities.

For now the producers have a simple formula for finding their niche in the traditionally low-rated Sunday morning enclave of religious, public-service, and infomercial fare. "TV sucks," is the counterprogramming mantra for Fontana, who also cohosts. "It's so predictable. Once [viewers] get past the Christian channels and all that crap and see Gregg Allman, what are you going to watch?"

-- Steve Schmidt

Destination Palm Beach debuts September 27 at 10:30 a.m. on PAX-TV's WBHI (Channel 67) in Palm Beach County and on WPXM (Channel 35) in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

 
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