With a name like Capella Genia Fahoome, you just know this TV producer has some stories to tell.
"Capella is the name of a star in the sky," the former Detroiter and Osborn High grad explains. "My parents were hippies. I'm a flower child. My middle name is from the midwife who helped give birth to me on a kitchen table in New Orleans. And my last name is Arabic."
Now in Baltimore and a producer for Defining Entertainment Inc., Fahoome is a part of one of the most genuine and refreshing new reality series in memory, Random 1, at 11 p.m. Fridays on A&E.
If you haven't heard about the show, it's no surprise. It's not as if A&E is bending over backward for promotion. Besides, its relative anonymity fits with the guerrilla spirit of the program.
"It's a documentary series, first of all," Fahoome says. "It records two gentlemen going around the country, randomly meeting people and listening to their stories. People open up, and that's one of the amazing things about the show. We kind of prove the point that everyone has a story, everyone deserves respect. Once John and André learn about a person, they get a feel for what that person may need to get to the next level in their life."
John Chester is an independent filmmaker; Andre Miller is a former TV fitness instructor. John is white; Andre is black. They met in Baltimore in 1996 and became fast friends, spending hours debating the state of the world and whether individuals really can make it a better place. Long before cameras started rolling, the two jumped into Miller's beat-up pickup and began rambling around the Northeast, looking for "random ones" they might help.
Today, the operation is more sophisticated. When the duo encounters a needy soul, John phones their donated, mobile "RV1" unit parked nearby, where we see Fahoome (she's the sassy, no-bullshit blonde) and fellow producers Jim Lefter and Molly Schreck try to turn the promise of assistance into tangible support. The team had been filming its exploits for almost four years without a TV home until former Seinfeld and Will & Grace producer Tim Kaiser saw the pilot and agreed to serve as executive producer, a "name" connection that gave A&E a reason to believe.
Random 1 falls into a new subgenre of reality programming dubbed "reality nice," typified by series like ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and NBC's new Three Wishes. While TV has shown a philanthropic streak since Queen for a Day in the '50s, it's rare today to find a reality show that doesn't revolve around cash prizes, disgusting edibles or some form of human degradation.
The twist of Random 1: All aid must be donated. No one on the show can spend any money to help the subjects. "We're not like Three Wishes, we don't give anything away," Fahoome says. "All we do is listen to people. We just kind of open doors."
The charismatic Miller, with his 1,000-watt smile and flamboyant hat collection, is the "tracker"; he pinpoints unsuspecting citizens in the street and cajoles life stories from them. Chester is the worrier: He liaises with Fahoome and the RV team to fulfill the offers they've made. Their sniping, friendly banter often is as entertaining as the requests they receive, which can be as breezy as arranging a job interview for an idealistic young woman at a nonprofit agency, or as difficult as finding someone to donate a new prosthetic leg for a homeless man. One episode, "Out of the Woods," tracks the rehabilitation of a homeless alcoholic and forces the team to break its rule by paying for him to get into detox.
"We can get lost in our own neighborhoods sometimes, you know?" Miller philosophizes, "and you just need to find that street you're familiar with. People don't need to get carried all the way home, because then they don't learn anything. But if they remember that street and say, 'Oh, I can get home from this point,' that's what we do as Random1. It's not a celebration that we're on TV. It's trying to remember that as human beings, our greatest responsibility is to one another."
After attending Macomb Community College and graduating with a psychology degree from the University of Michigan, Fahoome moved to Baltimore to earn a master's in industrial psychology and begin a career in human resources. Tending bar while attending classes, "I would use the '5-foot rule,'" she says. "Anyone within 5 feet of the bar, I'd let them know I was looking for a job."
It finally worked when a barfly set up an interview with the president of the now-defunct Flite 3 Studios, a Baltimore production company. "She was this really cool woman, and she hired me," Fahoome says. "I didn't know anything about production, wasn't interested in it. She taught me everything from scratch."
Two years later she launched her own company, which recently produced an experimental anti-drug film called Euphoria with a $1 million grant from the notoriously tight-fisted National Institutes of Health. "My mom [a Wayne State lecturer] always teases me because I'm really big on talking to students about this business and how hard it is to break into," Fahoome says. "And she says, 'Hey, you never worked your way up the ranks!' I called myself a producer out of the gate, and I've always been a producer. I just kept fakin' it until I was makin' it."
Find out more about the series at random1.com.Jim McFarlin writes about the boob tube for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org