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A Whole Lotta Talk

By Chet Hardin

An ambitious young talk-show host gets his Ricki Lake on at Schenectady’s public-access station


This guy is smooth. He’s got that ineffable something that goes beyond well-studied or groomed. That rare breed: an uninhibited TV natural just born to beam a big smile into a studio camera, a microphone tethering him to the thousands and thousands (or maybe dozens) of viewers.

Preshow. The in-studio audience is tittering. The monitor facing them is black. You can hear a guy in the control room counting down. “Can we hear an applause, you guys?” the skinny 21-year-old prods the 16 or so people gathered into the small studio. He takes a deep breath, slouching to one side, and rubs his free hand across his black hair, which is pulled back into a long ponytail.

The monitor bursts into color and the audience sees itself for the first time in full on the screen. On cue, and caught up in the excitement, they rip into applause. A girl hollers.

“Hi, I’m John Cancio, host of True Talk. If you’d like to be an audience member at True Talk, give me a call at . . .”

Cancio launches into his promo, a little fast, maybe, but he’s got to get it out there quickly. He only has 15 seconds. The audience members resume their applause as the monitor begins a fade-to-black.

Cancio hurries over to make some last-minute preparations with his guest, psychic Ann Fisher, propped in a swiveling chair set in front of a faux fireplace. The monitors come back live. This time, it is a second angle, on the corner of the audience. A teen girl catches sight of herself onscreen and fusses with her hair.

“Who knows who is going to see me tonight,” she giggles to the girl next to her, who in turn breaks out in a big grin and hides her face.

It’s true. There is a chance that anyone in Schenectady could see her. Not just tonight, but any of the five nights that that this particular episode of Cancio’s True Talk is set to air on SAAC TV-16, Schenectady’s public-access channel.

Cancio launched True Talk in May of this year with an ambitious episode, he says, that covered uncomfortable, dramatic issues, like life on the streets for homeless mothers, the ultra-taboo of ultra-icky pedophilia, and the fate of youth in homeless shelters. Since then, he has brought onto his show such local notables as former Schenectady mayor Frank Duci, Brian Wright of the Human Rights Commission, and, of course, Fisher.

Cut to: Close-up shot of the show’s title in bold capped letters set at that risky, oh-too-sexy, italicized angle. TRUE TALK. Fade to black. “Give me a beat,” Janet Jackson demands through the PA, and the audience claps and cheers.

“How you guys doin’?” Cancio shouts. “You ready to meet Ann today?”


“We’re talking all about dreams today,” Cancio says, turning to the camera.

“So,” he says to Ann, “You connect with ghosts?”

“Ghosts, spirits—spirits are different then ghosts, you know,” Fisher says.

“You are also an author?” he asks.

“Yes, I have books. I am a hypnotist, and I have done a lot of entertainment where I actually do dinners.”

“And we have actually hypnotized people on the show before,” Cancio smiles, “Haven’t we?”

“Oh yes, we have,” Fisher smiles back. “We have.”

“Now we are going to talk about dreams a little bit,” Cancio says, moving the show along.

“Everyone dreams,” Fisher interrupts. “Even animals dream.”

“Now that I didn’t know,” Cancio says, and a woman in the crowd turns to her neighbor and nods her head. She knew it.

Fisher explains that dreams are messages of unheeded importance sent in symbolic packaging from the subconscious mind to a person when they are most receptive. And when dead people speak to you in a dream, she adds, you are having a “spirit conversation.”

Cancio turns to the audience, asking if anyone wants to share a dream. A girl stands up, and Cancio throws his arm around her shoulder.

“Now I know that you have a good dream, doncha?” he says.

“Yeah, I guess so,” the girl replies. “Two weeks ago, my friend was murdered. And the night of his wake, when I went to his wake, I had a dream that when we were all at the funeral parlor, at his wake, that somebody revived him, and he came back to life. But he was still hurt, ’cause he got shot. He was like trying to talk to us . . . but you couldn’t hear nuttin’ he was sayin’, ’cause he was hurt from the shot.”

“I know exactly what he was doing,” Fisher says, drawing Cancio’s attention. The feed from the camera trained on her comes back to life and her image flickers on the monitor.

“People that die usually do go to their own funeral, in their spirit body,” she says. “He was trying to tell you that he is very much alive, but on the other side.”

“So this was a personal connection?” Cancio asks.

“Yeah,” Fisher says, “but he was very much alive, and not dead. Well, he’s dead in the physical sense, but he is alive and well in the spiritual sense.”

“Oh, OK,” the girl says, and smiles.

“Do you feel him near you, sometimes?” Cancio asks.

“I have him near me all the time,” the girl replies, and turns to show his image, airbrushed on the back of her jean jacket, to the camera.

“I am feeling cold air,” Fisher says.

“Yeah,” the girl says, “I got goosebumps.”

“You know what that means?” Fisher asks. “It means that . . . he is around us.” Apparently, spirits vibrate at a different frequency than the living. And when they come near us, Fisher says, we feel a chill.

Or something.

“Good job, Ann,” Cancio says.

Audience member after audience member stands up to ask Fisher about lost loved ones or children, haunted houses, why they just don’t dream, or why when they do dream it is only about fire. Cancio moves through the crowd, the cord to his microphone dragged across a row of heads, getting tangled up in chairs and on necks. A woman tries to help. “John, you are choking people,” she whispers. But Cancio doesn’t hear her. He is too busy breaking for a commercial.

As the monitor fades to black again, the audience starts to applaud without any provocation from Cancio. They don’t need any further instruction—they’ve seen this all before. They are all a bunch of TV naturals, too.

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