Stories told from the passenger seat on ‘My Chicago’

Written By By LORI RACKL TV Critic Posted: 04/23/2014, 03:00pm
Array Mark Bazer and Odette Yousef host "My Chicago" on WTTW-Channel 11. | Bill Richert

‘My Chicago,” a new series rolling out Friday on WTTW-Channel 11, invites viewers inside a Volkswagen Touareg for a show-and-tell ride with notable city dwellers, past and present.

Think of it as “Chicagoans in Cars Getting Coffee,” a local public television spin on Jerry Seinfeld’s online program.

“It’s an interview show on wheels,” said Odette Yousef, a WBEZ-FM (91.5) radio reporter who co-hosts along with Mark Bazer. The pair, both of whom originally hail from the Boston area, discussed their TV show helming debuts last week over breakfast at Meli Café in River North.

“The star of the show is Chicago,” Yousef said. “We’re talking about the guest and what they do, but it’s really an opportunity to see Chicago through their eyes.”

The half-hour programs are divided into two parts, with Yousef and Bazer grilling their respective guests from behind the wheel of the show’s mobile set.

“It’s not ‘I love to eat here,’ ” Bazer said about guest-specific tours. “It’s ‘I love to eat here because such and such happened here or has meaning to me.’ ”

Or, in the case of New York Times best-selling author John Green, it’s “I used to love such and such a place. And now it’s gone.”

The author of “The Fault in Our Stars,” who now calls Indianapolis home, returned to Chicago to find his first basement apartment razed and replaced with a condo for rich people. Bazer also had to break the news to Green that the site of 95 percent of his Chicago hangovers — Lincoln restaurant in North Center — is shuttered. “I’m starting to have some pretty intense nostalgia, but not the kind where you feel warm. The kind where you feel cold and kind of afraid,” Green laments in the premiere. “Why did you take me on this terrible, terrible tour of my past?”

Sometimes Bazer and Yousef pick up another guest along the way, as is the case in the first episode featuring Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke. En route to West Pullman Park, where the former gym teacher first got involved with Special Olympics, Yousef pulled over and WNBA 2013 Rookie of the Year Elena Delle Donne hopped in the back seat.

The Chicago Sky player, whose older sister was born with an intellectual disability, recently became a Special Olympics global ambassador. Their ride ended at a park district facility where Burke and Delle Dunne shot hoops with the kids.

The series comes from the producers of WTTW’s popular restaurant-rating show, “Check, Please!,” which Bazer tried out for last year to replace longtime host Alpana Singh.

“I made the first cut — the top 8,000,” quipped Bazer, a writer at Leo Burnett and host of “The Interview Show,” held monthly at the Hideout.

Bazer’s quick wit serves him well as he peppers his passengers with questions while trying not to run a red light or bump into something, which he admits he did during the audition. (“Just a minor tap,” he said.)

“My Chicago” segments took him to Welsh musician Jon Langford’s recording studio and to Tinley Park, where he rode a horse for the first time with comic and radio personality Brian Babylon and NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” host Peter Sagal.

“I didn’t know you could ride horses in Tinley Park,” Bazer said. “My association with Tinley Park is Rush concerts.”

The Oak Park father of two young boys also got stuck in a traffic jam with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and her three grandkids. “She wanted to take the kids to a forest preserve, so we drove out to Willow Springs at 4 p.m.,” he said. “We were on the highway for an hour.”

Those riding shotgun during Yousef’s interviews include Rep. Luis Gutierrez, founder Genevieve Thiers, architect Juan Moreno and supermarket king Bob Mariano.

“We started at a Mariano’s, we picked up his wife at another Mariano’s and we ended at a third Mariano’s,” Yousef said about her segment on the Jefferson Park native.

If the six-part series takes off, creator David Manilow has said he’d like to do a national version called “My America” for PBS.

In the meantime, Yousef and Bazer are on the lookout for potential passengers for season two.

“There’s Gov. Quinn,” Yousef said as the state’s top elected official passed our table.

“We should get him for the show!” Bazer chimed in.


Twitter: @lorirackl

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