Mayor-elect Sandy Stimpson may need to bring the “Secret Millionaire” back to the Azalea City for a more positive gander at our town if the Sept. 1 episode of the show accurately conveyed the feelings the show’s protagonist had after his 2011 visit.

“Secret Millionaire” is a “reality” show on ABC in which wealthy people are brought into a situation that takes them out of their comfort zone as they pretend to be of far less substantial financial means. In the episode filmed locally, Wing Lam, the founder of a chain of 60 fish taco restaurants, is brought into the Mobile area in 2011 to find organizations worthy of his largess.

And while Lam ended up making some great connections at 15 Place and Tri-Coastal Community Outreach, as well as writing them some impressive checks, Mobile didn’t exactly have a Chamber of Commerce moment. As he left the airport the voiceover had him saying there didn’t seem to be any main street or city center.

The show’s producers either were somewhat confused about where they were or just didn’t want to try to say Bayou LaBatre, because while it was clear to me much of what they filmed was down in the Bayou, it was repeatedly suggested he was in Mobile. As the episode was produced just a year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, there was a lot of talk about the devastation wrought by the oil spill. Yet they showed clear hurricane damage as if it had been done by the oil spill.

At one point the voiceover person even said the oil spill had happened in Mobile Bay.

When Lam did come to the city, Mobile didn’t fare much better. The scenes were almost totally from burned-out sections of downtown. One formerly homeless man even showed Lam how he and others had used the old abandoned police department building downtown for shelter.

It is wonderful Mr. Lam had a good experience here and made some major donations to some worthy organizations, but the show portrayed Mobile as a pretty shabby place. And while we do have our share of vacant buildings, they could have at least given us one or two glamour shots.

I suppose if it’s any consolation, BP came off looking pretty bad as well.

Political ratings

While not even 50 percent of the registered voters managed to make it to the polls for the Aug. 27 city elections, there is pretty strong evidence people were indeed interested in the race.

WKRG televised the third and final mayoral debate between incumbent Sam Jones and challengers Sandy Stimpson and Dr. Doris Brown and landed the evening’s best ratings. The debate was hosted by the League of Women’s Voters and took place at the Davidson High School auditorium Aug. 13.

Hosted by anchor Peter Albrecht, the debate didn’t feature some of the fireworks prevalent in the two earlier meetings, but it was the only one televised. It was also the only one that featured some of the “amusing” ideas Dr. Brown put forth. It’s probably a great testament to Albrecht’s professionalism that he did not laugh at some of her more eccentric plans.

Regardless as to why they tuned in, it seems WKRG landed quite a haul of viewers and voters for the show.

“I thought we did a really great job with it and it looked top notch. Our ratings are from a company we subscribe to called Rentrak. Its numbers come directly from cable system set-top boxes. So, there’s nothing more accurate. We of course partnered with the League of Women Voters on the project,” WKRG News Director Mike Rausch said. “It was the number one program of the evening in the Mobile market. It beat all network programs on all stations with an 8 rating. With DVR viewers it did a 9 rating.”

What that means is 44,000 households were watching the debate.

“So, I figure 2.5 people per household which would mean more than 100,000 people watched it,” Rausch said.

It’s great the station was rewarded with such a high rating for televising the debate because maybe it will help convince local stations there is ratings magic in some of these debates. There’s a Congressional debate coming up in the next couple of weeks, so maybe there will be an incentive to cover that in the same way. I know many people appreciated the opportunity to see the mayoral debate at home.

Starling flying to USA

Longtime Press-Register/al.com photographer Bill Starling tells us he is leaving the newspaper after 20 years in the business. He say’s he is taking a position at the University of South Alabama doing photography.

Bill and I both cut our teeth together at The Mississippi Press in the ‘90s and even flew together aboard a Hurricane Hunter out of Biloxi. (His idea, not mine!) Once you’ve spent seven hours flying through a hurricane with someone, you’re bonded for life. Best of luck Bill.