Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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We were scooped on our own story

August 15, 2013

I was pleased and a little embarrassed when Managing Editor Rob Ireland showed me a copy of the Aug. 1 Lake Geneva Times.

Ostensibly a competitor, the Times had done a story on Underground Lake Geneva, a program we run on is a video spinoff of the Regional News.

“So why haven’t we done a story on it?” I asked more to myself than Rob.

The story in the Times, written by editor Vicky Wedig, did a great job of giving the reader a feel for how our ReelLife videographers cover an event. In this case, they were giving us a taste of the Carson and Barnes Circus held on the Lake Lawn Airport grounds a few weekends ago.

The story captured the exuberance of Phil Bonyata, who heads our efforts, Joy Kowald our ace videographer and, most of all, Philip Sassano our gifted raconteur who hosts Underground Lake Geneva.

That said, there’s really no way to capture Sassano. For one thing he moves too fast. For another, he talks as fast as he thinks — a quip always at the tip of his tongue.

Sassano, whose day job is owning a design firm and Refined Rustic, Studio and Gallery, is a born host who gives life to any room he walks into.

As a measure of his energy, a friend of mine reported one day about a conversation he had with Philip over coffee. “As though he needs coffee,” the friend said.

Frankly, I’m not even sure how Philip ended up as part of our network family.

My bosses at our corporate offices asked me the other day, “how much do we pay him?”

“Nothing,” I said.

And then I repeated myself several times because corporate bosses can’t seem to get their head around the concept of someone working for free.

If memory serves — and it sometimes doesn’t — the Sassano saga started when he caught a commercial we did for that ran on YouTube.

“What’s this ReelLife TV?” Sassano asked me one day over the phone.

I explained it to him. We shoot commercials, put them on and on YouTube.

When I transferred him to Bonyata I knew it was a match made in heaven. Two creative personalities with a gift for gab and outlandish energy. They hit it off. And when Joy was worked into the equation, Sassano was so happy with her personality that he eventually hired her to work at his store.

Before even I knew it those three musketeers had started Underground Lake Geneva — sort of a walking minstrel show whereby they visit area events and figure it out as they go along.

The Times article mentioned that the shows are unscripted. It’s true. Beyond broad concepts going in, they make it up as they go along.

It’s one reality show that’s really a reality show. Sassano is a master ad libber. We never know what will come out of his mouth and I don’t think he does, either.

ReelLife is one of those rare ideas that has received rave reviews. Knock on wood, I’m still waiting for a bad one. Our testimonials fill in the white spaces in the Regional News and Resorter.

I can brag about it because it has nothing to do with me. Give Phil, Joy and Philip a free hand and I can just sit back and enjoy it like everyone else.

My favorite videos from the vault are the interviews Sassano did with local students for his “What is Lake Geneva Missing?” campaign — an awareness project to start discussion about our community.

They’re a spinoff of the AT&T “It’s Not Complicated” commercials. AT&T spent a gazillion dollars on the commercials and auditioned thousands of kids.

Philip just walked in cold with kids supplied by the school and pulled it off every bit as well as the high-priced marketing people did.

And check out our entire network at

We thank the Times for getting the scoop on us. The whole story is available at

Now I’m wondering why we haven’t done an Underground on itself or, for that matter, the Regional News. I’ll just sit back and see if Philip, Phil and Joy read the paper to see if they pick up on my little hint.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.