In his cross-country travels, TV host Todd Hansen has found one thing to be true: Everyone has a story.
That was the premise for a TV show that he pitched to BYUtv years ago. His idea became the Emmy Award-winning show "The Story Trek," which starts its 10th season on Monday, Sept, 5, at 6 p.m. MDT.
Monday’s episode — the 107th — was filmed in Winona, Arizona, a spot in the road on the legendary Route 66. The town was made famous with the line “Don’t forget Winona” in the song “Route 66.”
Hansen and his traveling crew of five found their way to this tiny town — and every other show location — randomly. "The Story Trek" crew has visited every state, some two or three times. To pick each location, a volunteer throws a dart at a map, pulls a name out of a paper bag, drops a marker on a map or uses another random way to pinpoint a state and town. At each town, a local follows a similar exercise to choose randomly a street location. Hansen then begins knocking on doors to find someone willing to tell his or her story on television.
Usually it only takes three or four door knocks to find a willing participant. It only took a few houses to find someone in Winona. However, there have been a few marathon days full of turn-downs. The largest number of refusals before someone said “yes” was 43, and the second largest of “no” door knocks was 38.
The state? Utah. “I guess you’re never a prophet in your own land,” he said, joking.
Individuals have yelled at him and slammed doors in his face. One woman pulled a gun, and another person threatened him with a bat. Luckily, most people refuse with a polite “no.”
Often, even when they are willing, the interview subjects don’t think they’re TV worthy.
“It’s funny how many people say, ‘I don’t have a story,’ but people are fascinating. It’s amazing what comes out of their mouths when they start talking. It still blows me away what people tell me,” he said in an interview as he was traveling on assignment in southeastern Washington.
He uses every interview in the show, fitting at least three segments into every episode. He doesn’t have prepared questions. No special tricks are employed to encourage the participants to open up.
“I just listen," he said. "People are so busy in this world that I don’t think anyone listens anymore. Listening is a lost art.”
Some interviews take 30 minutes, while others can last a couple of hours. The TV crew also shoots video in the volunteers’ homes, at their work and during their activities in the community. He’s interviewed individuals on the steps of a trailer park home and in an expensive home owned by a physician in Florida.
“We see all the slices of life.” he said.
As an individual’s story tumbles out, the discussion often reaches a deeper level than a casual conversation: Illness, divorce, death of a loved one, unemployment. The obstacles and struggles of everyday life are discussed freely. But rather than being depressing, the discussions will rise to a positive level, focusing on coping methods and how an individual views life through an optimistic lens.
“People are resilient,” Hansen said.
Hosting and writing "The Story Trek" has had a positive effect on Hansen, too. An experienced journalist who worked in TV news for 10 years, Hansen found the negativity inherent in news reporting "had made me a jaded, cynical guy.”
Now, he reported, his friends say, “We have our Todd back.”
“I am meeting great, normal, so-called boring people, and it’s given me a more upbeat, positive outlook,” he said. He called "The Story Trek" his “dream job,” despite working more and longer hours and traveling to far-flung places often in the “middle of nowhere.”
Each season brings a fresh group of those whom Hansen referred to as “great” individuals.
“The crew will think they’ve seen and heard it all, but then they’re surprised with the stories we get. Every one is unique,” he said.
In this season, one story stands out. Starsky, a 52-year-old mentally challenged man wearing a bright orange safety vest, rode up on a moped one day when Hansen was door knocking in South Carolina. The journalist said Starsky proves that no matter your circumstances, you can contribute to your community. Hansen didn’t want to spoil Starsky’s episode by revealing too many details ahead of time, but he did say the man always had a smile on his face and was truly inspirational.
There is one person’s story that the viewer will never see on "The Story Trek." If a reporter knocked on his door, Hansen said he would refuse the interview.
“I’d just say, ‘Go to the neighbors,’” he said.
The show’s aim is to spotlight ordinary people in their everyday lives, and he is only the facilitator for telling their stories, he explained. He does tell his own story, however, when he speaks to civic and church groups and will include it in a book he is writing about "The Story Trek."
After Monday’s premiere, "The Story Trek’s" 107th episode will also air on Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and Saturday, Sept.10, at 5:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
BYUtv is carried on most cable networks and through satellite. The show can also be watched on-demand on the BYUtv website byutv.org or on the BYUtv apps for iOS, Android, Apple TV, Xbox One and Roku. More information about apps is available at byutv.org/apps.
Angelyn Nelson Hutchinson is currently serving as a church service missionary at FamilySearch. Now retired, she was a reporter, city editor and assistant managing editor at the Deseret News.