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BYUtv’s 'Story Trek' meets people on their own turf

By Judy Fraser

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, July 7 2013 10:47 a.m. MDT

Todd Hansen, left, of "The Story Trek," interviews a show participant.

BYU Broadcasting

Mark Twain once said, “There never was yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy and a tragedy.”

Todd Hansen is convinced, like Twain, that every person has an interesting story. He travels the country with his film crew and knocks on random people’s doors, asking if they will share their story with him. If they agree, he will use their story on his TV show. And the resulting interviews prove, as Hansen believes, that “people are fascinating.”

Hansen is the creator, producer and host of BYUtv’s Emmy award-winning “The Story Trek.”

Terri Pappas, coordinating producer at BYUtv, says, “This show just gets tons of fan email with lots of great positive comments from people. People really love him; he has quite a following.”

Many of those emails say the show has inspired viewers and helped them overcome obstacles in their own lives. Often they say in some way, “Your show brought some light to my day.”

Hansen was a Salt Lake City reporter and anchorman until he found he didn’t like the negativity of working in the news business. He wanted to be involved with a “feel-good” show instead — and no show in BYUtv’s lineup better exemplifies its motto, “See the good in the world,” than “The Story Trek.”

So what is Hansen’s own story?

He says he was very shy growing up and wanted to overcome it. “I would credit first my [LDS] mission and then … broadcast journalism to get me over” the shyness. He chose broadcast journalism in part for that very reason. Now the former shy guy is knocking on strangers' doors for every episode of “The Story Trek.”

The strangers he meets soon become friends. Eric Gaylord, director of photography on the show, says, “It amazes me every time how good Todd is at getting people to share their story with complete strangers — not just Todd but a whole crew. ... I don’t know how, but he just does it.”

The stories are often inspiring and show the resilience and courage of the human spirit.

In one “Story Trek” episode we meet a 19-year-old woman who was formerly a drug addict, and tried to overdose several times. Her mother prayed that a change would happen in her circumstances. A week later the girl was in a car accident that medical personnel later said should have killed her. After three months in the hospital and several surgeries, she now says, “[The accident] is the best thing that’s happened in my life.” She now speaks to teenagers about the importance of wearing seat belts.

In another episode we meet a middle-aged man who is going to college to break the cycle of poverty in his family, saying, “I wanted to change my life, and I’m the only one who can change it.”

There is the young man who shares how difficult school was for him until a dedicated teacher stepped in. A cheerful older woman talks about why she takes care of the seriously ill man at her side, even though they are twice divorced. Several people who have lost children share how they’ve come to find peace. A volunteer youth coach tears up as he tells how he feels when his former players call and let him know he made a difference. A woman talks about her happiness in finally being married to a kind and loving man after two abusive marriages. These are just a sampling of the more than 150 stories chronicled in 52 episodes so far of “The Story Trek.”

Hansen says each interview is as different as the individual sharing it. Though what comes out on TV will be just minutes long, Hansen sometimes takes hours talking with a person to get those few minutes. He says, “Sometimes they’re just so compelling and they just go and go and go [with their story], and two hours later you’re exhausted. It makes it tough to cut it down.” In contrast, Hansen says that others are harder to draw out.

Hansen makes sure to point out that every interview ends up on the show. “If I claim that everybody has a story and I don’t use their interview, I’m a hypocrite. There goes all my credibility.”

Hansen’s goal for the series is this: “I want viewers to know that everybody they come across every day is exceptional and special and worth getting to know, and that includes the person in the mirror.”

“The Story Trek” is broadcast on BYUtv on Monday nights at 6 p.m. as well as other times during the week. All-new episodes begin airing July 8. BYUtv is on all large cable networks. All past episodes can be seen anytime online at byutv.org/thestorytrek.

Judy Fraser lives in Centerville, Utah.

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