Damiani’s ‘Sweet 16’

Published 10:55 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Former Suffolk mayor Andy Damiani, right, tapes an episode of his “Roundtable Talk” show Tuesday with John Pruitt, left. The show celebrates its 16th birthday this month.

Andy Damiani and John Pruitt sat down in front of video cameras Tuesday at the Shooting Star Gallery.

After a bit of reminiscing, the pair — Damiani, a former mayor, and Pruitt, who retired as special sections editor from the Virginian-Pilot — got around to discussing projects like the Four Farms development, the CenterPoint Intermodal Center and the new city hall.

The date was Feb. 1, 2011. But save for the location and the discussion of recent issues, it was similar to the very first edition of Damiani’s “Roundtable Talk” show 16 years ago, which featured Pruitt and then-editor of the Suffolk News-Herald, Tim Copeland.

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Damiani invited Pruitt back to the show for its coming-of-age party.

“It was really a method of getting news out to the people,” Damiani said of the show’s genesis. “I thought it would be helpful to the city to have people talk about things in Suffolk.”

In its younger years, episodes of the show were filmed at the Pruden Center, where students in a television production class ran the cameras and soundboard. A furniture store donated the chairs for the show, and a set was constructed.

“We built it with hinges,” Damiani said Tuesday. “At the end, it just folded up and leaned against the wall.”

Now that the show is a teenager, however, it gets to travel. Episodes have been taped all around Suffolk. After the King’s Highway Bridge closed, one episode with an irate Driver business owner was recorded right on the bridge.

Episodes have even been taped in Norfolk, Wakefield, Virginia Beach and as far away as New York City.

“I’ll go anywhere for a story,” Damiani admits.

Episodes still largely focus on city issues, but sometimes feature people with interesting hobbies or just “people with personalities,” Damiani said.

“After 16 years, I haven’t run out of people to do shows,” he said.

Pruitt has been a regular guest on the show, often to talk about city government or the newspaper business.

“It gives a different view than the official view of the city,” Pruitt said. “Andy is Suffolk. He’s put ages of time into city matters. He’s very strident about his downtown ideas.”

On Tuesday, there were no birthday hats, streamers or noisemakers. Damiani and Pruitt sat facing each other and discussed the outline for the episode from one-word reminders Damiani had scribbled on note cards. They talked around staff from Prime Media, which produces the show, as their microphones were clipped onto their shirts.

“We don’t rehearse anything,” Damiani said. “We don’t script anything.”

Once the cameras are rolling, the men think back to the very first Roundtable Talk episode.

“We had a lot of fun,” Damiani said.

The show is part of what has made Damiani into something of a local celebrity.

“When you go to lunch with Andy, it’s like going to lunch with a rock star,” Pruitt said. “Everybody knows his name.”

The show runs on Charter channel 13 every day at 8 a.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.