The Insider: On the Bright Side

Nov 25, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The season in which even the prone-to-be-cranky Yours Truly seeks out and savors people and words and moments that touch and linger in the heart officially has begun. So, it’s out with the Scroogies and in with the Uppies as we suck up to Santa and try to start the next year off on the right foot.
Feel free to share entries from your own list (mgreppi@tvweek.com is always open).
The Insider’s list starts with Lee Thomas, an entertainment reporter at Fox-owned WJBK-TV in Detroit, who has written “Turning White: A Journey of Change,” available at Amazon.com and MomentumBooks.com. It’s about his life with vitiligo, a non-contagious, non-life-threatening disease that is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. It has, over the last 15 years, progressively turned his hands and patches of his face white.
As a 7-year-old hooked on community theater, “I always thought putting on makeup meant that you were going to be famous,” he says. “I wanted to wear makeup as a kid. Now I have to, and the definition of makeup has changed for me.” Makeup (a combination of Iman Cosmetics’ dry foundation stick for African Americans and Dermablend) allows him to do his job without becoming a distraction.
At the urging of his boss, VP and News Director Dana Hahn, Mr. Thomas first addressed his disease, which affects an estimated 2% of the U.S. population, on air in 2005. From thousands of responses came a support group that met for the first time in September.
He can and does tell stories about learning to cope with the reactions of people ranging from a frightened child to awkward friends to his own questions about whether he could continue to cover a very cosmetic beat in a very visual medium. But he makes clear he is at heart a positive person who has been given a unique opportunity to employ his skill as a storyteller and been rewarded with an “outpouring of love and support” in return.
“Yeah, I’m dealing with this very visual disease. I haven’t lost my job. My girlfriend still loves me. I am happy as I can be. But when I go into public sometimes I get some responses that make me pause. Not for very long. Not as long as it used to,” he says.
Also on the list: “Days of Our Lives” heartthrob James Scott, who beat malaria he contracted during a trip to Madagascar on a break from the NBC daytime drama. Mr. Scott last week taped a public service announcement for iWILLafrica.org, an interactive Web site for American children who want to topple malaria as the leading cause of death for African children younger than 5.
“In Africa, the lives of children are often measured in just days,” Mr. Scott says in the PSA. “In America, we rid ourselves of malaria many years ago, partly because of public awareness campaigns like this one about the need for using bed nets.”
If the subject sounds familiar, you might well have been among the millions who watched last spring’s “’American Idol’ Gives Back” special, which turned a spotlight on the cause.
The Insider’s younger goddaughter Phoebe and her friend Claudia watched the “Idol” special. For their bat mitzvah in September 2008, they are enlisting 900 people to buy mosquito bed nets at $10 per. That will take much longer than it took to get Mr. Scott’s PSA posted on YouTube.


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