The place: The food court of Warwick Mall, a suburban shopping center just outside Providence, RI. The prize: A trip to New York to film several national commercials for the Discovery Channel. The winner: Ben Schwartz.
Discovery Channel, in partnership with Cox Cable, instituted the “Discovery Kids on Camera” promotion in 1999. In short, one lucky winner from each of Cox’s national markets would be chosen to participate in an on-camera adventure in the concrete jungle of Manhattan.
How would these winners be chosen? Auditions would be held across the country at such places as suburban malls. At Warwick Mall, each participant had to stand on a prominent stage in the center of the Food Court before a video camera which was recording the audition. The participant had to deliver a short 15-second spiel: The first part of the spiel was mandatory and as follows: “Hi, I’m (insert your name here) and I’m a Discovery Kid. On my ultimate adventure, I would…” The second part of the spiel was unique to each participant. Basically, each participant had to conjure up some exciting Discovery Channel-style adventure on which to embark.
Ben’s spiel went as follows: “Hi, I’m Ben and I’m a Discovery Kid. On my ultimate adventure, I would collect a cultural artifact from each of the 192 independent countries of the world.” Ben was 10 years old at the time.
Weeks passed. Then, Ben received a phone call. He was the local winner; Cox had loved his audition. So, in April 1999 Ben was flown into LaGuardia Airport, gateway to New York City.
At a busy studio in Manhattan, Ben and the other national winners of the “Discovery Kids on Camera” promotion received a sort of baptism by fire. They were thrust before cameras, before makeup-artists, before excruciatingly bright lights, before green screens and blue screens.
Ben reprised his “ultimate adventure” spiel for his solo commercial (a commercial featuring the entire group of Discovery Kids was also shot). With magnifying glass and “ancient artifact” prop in hand, he stood between a camera and a green screen and delivered the lines. The green screen was later digitally replaced with footage of a mysterious, dark jungle thick with vines and monkeys.
Quite literally, 15 seconds of fame. But hey, 15 seconds on the Discovery Channel! Not a bad bargain at all. In all reality, this television experience was but a tasty morsel of an appetizer. In the following year, Ben would have about 30 minutes of fame when he appeared on a nationally syndicated game show.