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Good Morning From Hawaii

Friday - October 27, 2006
By Susan Sunderland

Thanks to a new TV show, starting next week the rest of the world will be waking up to mornings in Hawaii.

Can a tough-guy stuntman who has played the villain for most of his career transform into a charming, charismatic talk show host?

Local actor Branscombe Richmond is about to find out. He will make his television debut as a rousing, chatty host on a new local and national show called Good Morning Hawaii. It airs weekdays on KHON-TV starting Monday, Nov. 6, at 11 a.m. with an encore at 4:30 the following morning.

Reminiscent of local TV shows of old, such as Sunrise with Kini Popo and Hawaii A.M. with Don Robbs, this latest production will be cheery, upbeat and friendly - just the way one likes to start a day in paradise.

But this version will reach audiences beyond our shores. Through MyNetwork TV syndication, the aloha spirit will reach 106 million households that cover 96 percent of the U.S. MyNetwork TV, sister network to Fox, airs primarily original programming.

Ernest Cartwright, Branscombe Richmond & Joe McNamara“The world needs more aloha,” says executive producer Ernest Cartwright. The veteran TV executive has a distinguished career of nearly 20 years in broadcast and cable TV, including syndication, TV station sales and international distribution.

“Paradise is a mindset. It calls to us,” he says. “Hopefully we can make the viewer’s morning and life a little warmer, a little richer and a little easier.”

Based on network morning news shows introduced in the early 1950s, many cities have localized versions of NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America.

The shows are informal and relaxed, complete with living room sets, sofas and coffee tables. But for Good Morning Hawaii, scenic locales around the islands will provide the backdrops with 96 percent of the show shot outdoors. That guarantees plenty of Hawaii eye-candy for the viewer.

In recent shooting for the show, Richmond was on Waikiki Beach in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village to interview actress Kelly Monaco, here for Soap Talk in Paradise. Monaco plays Samantha “Sam” McCall on ABC’s General Hospital.

They huddled under a thatched-top umbrella, surrounded by sunbathers and camera-toting fans, with Diamond Head in the background.

Five shows were shot at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore, and other shows will move around the island, according to Cartwright.

“We’re doing 10 episodes right off the bat,” says Cartwright. “That’s unheard of. We’re a careful little production company that’s mean, lean and on the scene. We don’t have the benefits (nor impediments) of a major studio, but we have knowledge and heart.”

Is that enough to sustain a program long-term? Only the ratings will tell.

Add to that five keys to success in show biz, according to Richmond. “If our show makes it, it will because of timing, chance, good fortune, persistence and talent.”

Richmond will be deploying a promotional campaign in conjunction with KHON that will be on-air and in the local community.

Early indications of interest by advertising representatives and affiliated FOX stations are promising.

Joe McNamara, president-general manager of KHON-TV, says, “We’re excited about a show that’s based in Hawaii, with its beautiful scenery and people. It’s been proven pretty strongly here that viewers want to see local programming, local people and local stories.”

Ernest Cartwright, Branscombe Richmond & Joe McNamaraAccording to McNamara, Honolulu is the only market in the nation where the local news beats the three major network and entertainment shows in the morning.

“I think with some of the things they have in place, Good Morning Hawaii has a good shot at making it,” McNamara says.

“They’ve gone out and solicited new networks nationally, which are certainly in need of fresh programming. There are a lot of syndicated reruns, and this offers an alternative,” the veteran TV exec adds.

“If we were to do this on our own, the production cost would be prohibitive,” McNamara says. “So this is a very unique opportunity to serve our viewers. At the end of the day, hopefully we can all profit from it.”

Cartwright observes, “It is that localism that will differentiate KHON from other broadcasters in the community. Even though Joe McNamara is from New York, he gets it. He gets that in order for KHON to have any dominance in the market, one of the strategies is to create this connection with the local community by supporting local programming.”

”Good Morning Hawaii is unique, however,” Cartwright continues. “It is a local program that its viewers can take pride in, but it also connects with a national audience. Another interesting twist is that we have a native host.”

Richmond, who played Bobby Sixkiller in the 1990s hit TV series Renegade, was born in Los Angeles and has family ties to Hawaii. His mother Alice is from Maui. His father Leo is a Pacific Islander from Tahiti. Richmond’s wife, the former Lei Ma’a, was Miss Hawaii and second runner up for the Miss USA title in 1979. The couple has four children, and many relatives here.

“Hey, my wife was on the cover of MidWeek (in January 1985),” Richmond reminds us. “I’m second banana to Lei.”

Branscombe has appeared in more than 400 hours of TV shows and more than 100 motion pictures. Since the late 1990s, tall-dark-handsome Richmond has remained busy on several fronts. He continues acting in Hollywood, is the official spokesman for Indian Motorcycles, and is the lead singer for the band Branscombe Richmond and the Renegade Posse.

He’s also notched up numerous awards, including being voted “Native American Entertainer of the Year” and “Mr. Showman” of the year by the Las Vegas Review Journal.

As co-executive producer and host of Good Morning Hawaii, he presents another dimension of his talents.

Another local star who will contribute to this effort is actor Don Stroud. Although retired, projects keep popping up and Stroud is happy to answer the call. For GMH, he is associate producer - “that’s a gopher helping to book guests.” He’ll also be the show’s man on the beach.

Richmond describes Stroud’s assignments as, “Whenever we have a great white shark sighting off Waikiki, Don covers that. Whenever we have a segment on eating eel live, Don does that. When we go discover a submarine at 4,000 feet under water, Don does that!”

“I can’t wait,” good-natured Stroud responds.

But for tough-guy Stroud, nothing fazes him after starring in more than 100 movies and 175 TV shows to date. He grew up on the beach, where he was discovered as a stunt double for Troy Donahue in the TV series Hawaiian Eye.

Like Richmond, Stroud’s screen credits often cast him as a villain, cocky cop or “just a good-looking bad guy.”

“Oh, and we have a house band, unlike a lot of morning shows,” Richmond boasts. “It’s Sean Na`auao and the Poi Pounders.”

Gov. Linda Lingle will be a guest, as will Mayor Mufi Hannemann. “The governor and I went to the same high school in Los Angeles,” Richmond says. “But we won’t talk politics. The mayor and I will have a free-throw contest.

“Many people come to Hawaii to shoot shows, but you don’t get the essence of Hawaiianess,”

Richmond says.

“This show is like a backdoor education. It will bring Hawaiianess to people on the Mainland, with a hug and a kiss. They’re going to learn more about Hawaii and everything it has to give.”

The tough guy has a soft spot.