Remember "The Southern Sportsman"?
Posted May 11, 2007
I've located a Holy Grail, of sorts.
I grew up around here, and I watched "The Southern Sportsman" when I was a kid in the 80s. I think it aired from the 1970s until about 1993. It aired early Saturday mornings on WRAL-TV -- and some other stations around the Southeast. Its host was Franc White, an avid outdoorsman and conservationist.
He also was a restrauteur, with "Southern Sportsman" restaurants in eastern N.C. and Virginia (Maybe elsewhere? Help me here, readers.). His now-out-of-print "Southern Sportsman" cookbooks were big sellers and now command big money on eBay.
I had the fondest memories of the show. It was precisely the kind of show that should be on Saturdays at 6 a.m. -- the kind of show you wanted to watch as you got ready for a family trip to the coast.
Franc would cook a great recipe in the first and second segments. He then narrated silent film (video by the 1990s) of some fishing or hunting trip around the Southeast. The pleasant theme music would play softly underneath Franc's narration. He always ended with a commentary, usually about the ecology, and his sign-off line, "Please don't litter. And do yourself a favor, take a kid fishing."
WRAL-TV produced the show. So, when I started working, I was itching to find some old tapes to relive those memories as an adult. But after turning the place upside down, we couldn't find any evidence of the "Southern Sportsman."
The show's last producer/director here at WRAL, Clarence Williams, said Franc owned the show and he took all the master tapes with him.
Earlier this year, my quest for "Southern Sportsman" tapes re-emerged on my radar screen. I Googled the show, and I found out that I'm not alone. There is a group on Yahoo! devoted to the show. I also found discussions about it on several message boards.
Well, tapes of the show just aren't easy to find. On one message board, someone who says he knows Franc reported that the master tapes are destroyed. Franc apparently stored them in an airplane hangar and the heat baked them, the guy said.
Fortunately, I was able to locate someone in the Triad who recorded the episodes for his dad. He had several tapes full of episodes. We finally connected yesterday, and I couldn't wait to get home and pop the tape in the machine.
Friends, it was magical. Better than I remembered it. So easy to watch -- so comfortable. It's from a refreshingly different era of television.
I'm hoping we're going to be able to post a clip from the show here on WRAL.com. Since we don't own the show, I don't know if that will be possible. On our WRAL Classics page, you can watch some clips from other old local WRAL shows, like "Sparks" and "Frog Hollow." It's a nice trip down Memory Lane, and I'd like to have a "Southern Sportsman" intersection there somewhere.
Anyone out there want to share their memories about the show? Does anyone have any information about it's history or what's new with Franc White these days?