Last summer, the creative minds and crew behind "Community Hotline," MetroEast Community Media's hit TV show, realized they had achieved a milestone even the most acclaimed products of Hollywood were still striving to realize.
During a meeting a member of the production team mentioned the show, which focuses on local nonprofits, would be taping its 1,000th episode later that year. Though they were already celebrating the 20-year mark, the realization added even more reason to rejoice.
"It's an incredible milestone," said Martin Jones, CEO of Gresham-based MetroEast, located at 829 N.E. Eighth St. "'The Simpsons' has been on television for 35 years, the longest-running show, and they are only at 618 episodes. We are ahead of 'Gunsmoke,' 'The Flintstones' and 'Monday Night Football' — a lot of shows that are legendary."
"Community Hotline" filmed the 1000th episode Wednesday evening, June 14. The many community members and leaders who visited the studio before the taping enjoyed a reception with beverages and food provided. The special episode focused on the history of the show, interviewing former producers who helped bring it to fruition, while touching on what to expect in the future.
"'Community Hotline' was one of the things that made me really attracted to the CEO position at MetroEast," Jones said. "This is an original, wonderful, homegrown community-based show."
On the air since 1986, "Community Hotline" is MetroEast's staff-produced flagship program. Though there has been changes in staffing, set design and distribution, the focus has remained steady for the show, which is dedicated to highlighting and promoting the work done by nonprofit groups in the community, providing them a platform to share their message while tuning viewers in on the many resources available.
The two main forces behind the show are co-producers Emily Vidal and Monica Weitzel. Vidal, the director, has been involved with the show for 17 years, running the technical side of things while helping the volunteers who assist with the filming.
"It's an opportunity for the volunteers to get some hands-on training, as many aspire to have their own show," Vidal said. "We have a variety of positions they fill, and I work with the entire crew behind the scenes."
Weitzel has hosted the show since 2010 and makes sure everything goes smoothly in front of the cameras while also securing interviews and guests for the show.
"I learned very quickly during my first year here to not go anywhere without Monica, because that is how I have gotten to know the cities we serve," Jones said. "She knows everybody."
The hour-long program is taped the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month, with one show airing live and a taped show being held for the following week. Three nonprofits are showcased every episode during 15 minute sections, with the remaining time filled with public service announcements.
"People love to tune in, and for the representatives of the nonprofits it's fun for them to be involved with a professional show," Vidal said.
"Community Hotline" is shown via cable TV, while episodes are also posted on YouTube and shared on Facebook Live. A few years back an update in technology let them separate the segments with the nonprofits, allowing the groups to take and share their interview on their own platforms. It makes for a great advertisement they can utilize going forward.
Altogether "Community Hotline" has profiled more than 500 nonprofits on the show, with most coming from East Multnomah County.
"It's nice when you find out the show has made an impact for these nonprofits," Weitzel said. "Their donations are increased or they have better attendance at their event."
The 1,000th episode was the first to have a live studio audience, providing what staff members called a fun opportunity for the crew. While it won't be an ongoing feature of "Community Hotline," they said it provided a dynamic energy during taping and let them share the process with those interested in seeing an episode come together.
Another innovation for the latest episode was the including the first-ever corporate sponsor, Gresham Ford. Bess Wills, its general manager, was interviewed during the episode, with the plan to bring on other sponsors in the future. While the show has thrived up to this point without sponsorships, it's not the normal practice, and the change will allow it to continue to grow.
"We are really excited to have Gresham Ford as our first corporate sponsor," Weitzel said.
"Community Hotline" was so well received they decided to expand it to better reach out to the Spanish-speaking community. Once every two months they tape an episode of "Nuestra Communidad," hosted by Atziri Hannon, which functions in a similar manner as the original. The Spanish show has on many of the same nonprofits, allowing them to reach a community of people with whom they usually struggle to communicate.
"One of my favorite things has been watching the nonprofits come back on to the Spanish version," Vidal said. "I've enjoyed seeing them change things for that community, and I get to practice my Spanish as well."
"Community Hotline" isn't slowing down anytime soon, and the schedule is filled for the coming months of taping.
"This show is a gem in our community, and what Monica and Emily have done with it is amazing," Jones said. "We are making television history."