Friday, July 16, 1999

Glendale native turns globe-trotter




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PASADENA, Calif. — Some people spend their whole life trying to star in their own TV series. Then there's Megan McCormick.

        The 26-year-old Glendale native, who still has relatives in the Tristate, was hired to host the Travel Channel's Lonely Planet documentaries practically on a lark.

        Her boyfriend saw an advertisement in Backstage magazine, and Ms. McCormick applied for the job by sending snapshots of her 1996 trip through the Far East with her mother, Judith.

        “They gave me a shot,” says Ms. McCormick, whose Lonely Planet: Egypt premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday.

        At the time of her “discovery” by the Travel Channel, she was on the lowest rung of the TV business — as a MSNBC production assistant. She did research and filed videotape for The News with Brian Williams.

        “I was just starting out in the business,” says Ms. McCormick, whose father, Thomas “T.C.” McCormick operated the four T.C. Peppercorn restaurants in the Tristate in the early 1970s. The family moved to Tampa, Fla., in 1977.

        Travel Channel executives were impressed with her globe-trotting experience. After earning degrees in philosophy and political science from Boston University in 1994, she spent a year in Japan teaching English in junior high schools. When her work was completed, her mother flew over to sightsee with her.

        “She and I traveled for about six weeks. That was a great experience, despite some of the crazy looks we got,” she says.

        After her mom flew home, the daughter continued to explore China, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, until her money ran out. Her low-budget, “off the beaten track” Asian tour turned out to be the prefect preparation for the Lonely Planet series on the Travel Channel, a Discovery Channel sister service reaching 29 million U.S. homes.

        For her audition, Ms. McCormick toured New York's Chinatown with a camera crew. Two weeks later, they sent her to the West Indies. In April, she accompanied a four-person Lonely Planet crew to Egypt.

        “The Great Pyramids are just awesome. Egypt was very majestic to me,” she says.

        She spends 31/2-4 weeks in each country, filming sometimes from sunrise to sunset.

        “They have a general itinerary of where we are going, and where we'll stay, and a plethora of story ideas,” she says.

        “It's a great job.”

        She has had some pretty good other gigs, too. As a teen-ager, she studied at the School of American Ballet in New York and with the San Francisco Ballet. Tired of ballet's strict physical discipline, she turned to political science. But she lost her appetite for politics after working on Mitt Romney's unsuccessful 1994 campaign to unseat Sen. Edward Kennedy.

        “I didn't want to make politics my life's work. I had the travel bug,” she says.

        And she hopes to keep it for a long time.

        “I'll do the Lonely Planet for as long as they'll have me. It's fantastic,” she says.

        NO SHOW: The Television Critics Association's summer press tour opened with a preview of new fall syndicated shows. Two of the more interesting pilots have not been bought by Cincinnati stations:

        • Richard Simmons' Dream Maker, a combination Queen for a Day and This Is Your Life.

        • Louie Anderson's revival of Family Feud.

        The new Feud has been overhauled from the days of Richard Dawson and Ray Combs. You won't see the Whitman sampler graphics or the “Hatfields vs. McCoys feel” dating back to 1976.

        “I wanted the hokeyness gone. I wanted to get rid of that banjo stuff,” says Mr. Anderson, a stand-up comedian and friend of Mr. Combs, the Hamilton native who committed suicide in 1996.

        “I thought Ray did a good job. But this was kind of Richard Dawson's signature show,” he told me.

        “I loved Richard Dawson kissing those Midwesterners on the lips,” which is something the new host won't do. “I'll shake their hand. I'll give them a big hug. But there will be no kissing.”

        FALL PREVIEW: The daytime TV picture changes in September with a new slate of weekday syndicated shows:

        • The Martin Short Show, a talk-variety series hosted by the former Saturday Night Live comic actor (Channel 5).

        • Divorce Court, presided over by attorney Mablean Ephriam (Channel 19).

        • The Dr. Joy Browne Show starring the popular radio psychologist (Channel 12).

        • Blind Date, a daily half-hour chronicling the first dates of two couples (Channel 5).

        Enquirer TV critic John Kiesewetter is reporting from the TV Critics Summer Press Tour this month.

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202.