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Long push pays off for ‘Bus Stop Game’

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

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  • Recognize him?

    That’s former Fox Charlotte anchor Israel Balderas behind the badge. He was cast as a deputy sheriff in a scene for the new Fox fall adventure-drama “Sleepy Hollow,” debuting 9 p.m. Sept. 16. Balderas also had a short scene as a news anchorman in 2011 in the first episode of Showtime’s “Homeland,” which shoots in Charlotte.

    “After I left WCCB, I started sending out my head shots to various casting agents,” says Balderas. He also landed a background role on the season finale of CBS’ “Under the Dome,” which is filmed in Wilmington, and last month landed a role playing a reporter in the movie “Kill The Messenger,” due out next year and starring Jeremy Renner. It is based on the San Jose Mercury News series alleging CIA involvement in the ’80s Los Angeles cocaine trade.

Brooklyn-born and Charlotte-raised, Sean Right has always had a thing for “Hollywood Squares,” “Jeopardy!” and “$10,000 Pyramid.”

“As long as I can remember, I’ve loved game shows,” says Right, 38, and now he has one of his own: “ Bus Stop Game,” airing late nights on the Bounce network.

Right’s career has been in marketing and sales, mostly chasing one failed opportunity or another. He even tried the music business, managing artists in New York. “That didn’t work out,” he says. “It was a lesson, though.”

“Cash Cab” on Discovery gave him the idea for “Bus Stop Game.” He pulls up to Charlotte bus stops with his production van and offers cash prizes to people. He bought time last year on WCCB (Channel 18) and WMYT (Channel 55) to air his first 30 episodes late at night.

In January, he rented a booth at a TV trade conference in Miami Beach and landed a two-year deal to sell the series to Bounce TV, carried locally on WBTV’s digital auxiliary signal at 3.2 and Time Warner Cable channel 106. “Bus Stop Game” started airing this month in post-midnight slots.

It was a shoestring production, largely self-financed and created through Craigslist, where he advertised for a host, production talent, people to write trivia questions (he pays teachers a buck a question) and even the show’s production bus.

“I was looking for some kind of vehicle – a limo or a van. One day I saw a VW bus for sale on Craigslist. It was an orange piece of junk.”

He bought the 1978 van for $2,000 and refurbished the interior himself, putting a video game board in the back and production equipment toward the front. He got it painted with the “Bus Stop Game” logo and installed seven cameras, including three on the exterior.

When he’s making shows, he pulls up to bus stops, plays the show’s theme song, and sometimes people start dancing. To win, you have to answer at least three questions correctly in categories like sports, health, USA, or world history. Maximum wins are $250, with the average contestant winning about $150.

“When we pull up, people don’t know whether to run, thinking, is it a scam?” Right says.

His favorite bus stops are at Central Piedmont Community College, where he studied business in the ’90s, SouthPark and the CATS station at the old Eastland Mall. He tells people if they’re still playing the game when their bus arrives, they’ll have to wait for the next one. Most agree. A bus driver even waited at Eastland once for a passenger who was finishing up the game.

Though it airs on Bounce, which is aimed at the African-American audience, his contestants come from all races. Host Robby Presto, a Raleigh actor recruited through Craigslist, is white. Right has even done episodes in Spanish with a second host, Mark Diaz of Gastonia.

“It’s just whoever’s at the bus stop,” Right says. “If Ned the wino is at the bus stop, we’ll ask him questions and put him on TV.”

Now that the show has national distribution, Right plans to take the show to other cities under a co-production deal with Bounce. He also plans to see if there’s a market for the show in other countries.

“My family thought I was the craziest person, going out to do this,” he says. “They were like, ‘How do you make money doing this? You’re just giving away money.’ They’re finally coming around.”

Media Movers

After Don Griffin retires at the end of September after three decades as WSOC (Channel 9) consumer reporter, Jason Stoogenke will take his place. Stoogenke, who joined WSOC seven years ago, has a law degree from the University of Maryland. ...

WLNK-FM (“Link” 107.9) morning host Sheri Lynch tied the knot with Kevin Nash in a ceremony last week in Charleston. ... Heather Shelton joins WCNC (Channel 36) as traffic reporter. ... Departing from News 14 Carolina is business reporter Adam Rhew, who joined the Time Warner Cable station in March 2012. He is joining the education nonprofit MeckEd as communications manager. ...

WCNC reporter Michelle Boudin does freelance writing on the side. Her latest piece, which ran four pages in People magazine, was about Charlotte City Council member Billy Madallon and his partner, Brooks Shelley, who adopted a troubled youngster who had been in about 30 foster homes. ... Charlotte freelancer Michael Solender makes a national sale too. His piece on Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Dale Jr. Foundation will be the cover story for NASCAR Illustrated’s September issue. ...

WTVI (Channel 42) will debut a weekly public affairs magazine 8 p.m. Oct. 3, hosted by the station’s new general manager, Amy Burkett. “Carolina Impact” will focus on issues like health, business and education and will have segments on “terrific teens,” Burkett says. Beatrice Thompson, public affairs director of WBAV-FM (“V” 101.9), will be a contributing correspondent, and David Rhew, host of Channel 42’s “Off the Record,” will provide a weekly segment. ...

After two years on WZGV-AM (ESPN 730), “New York Sports Report” with Chris Pardo and Bob Sosankin is returning to WAVO-AM (1150) beginning 9 a.m. Sunday.

Washburn: 704-358-5007.
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