By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Schmoozin' with Suz

Photos by Jason Redmond / Star staff: Terry Wieser of Technology Development Center Studios clicks a slate as the taping of "Schmooze With Suz Show" with host Suz Montgomery begins. Camera operators Nick Crane, left, and Todd Williams wait.

Host uses her TV program to showcase local people

Ventura County Star/February 7 2008

For as long as she can remember, Suz Montgomery has been approached by folks from all walks of life who want to share their stories.

"With my square-jawed face, I'm open and approachable. It's been going on since I was a child," said the 60-year-old Ventura resident. "They must sense that I really am interested in their lives; truthfully, I am. I really listen; I sincerely care about them. I love and find everyone fascinating."

So when the owner of Avenue TV Cable in Ventura asked her to host a local show featuring area personalities, she knew she found the perfect forum to showcase their lives.

"Pretty soon we had a locally based audience, and they asked me to help them with their respective needs to market their nonprofits and tell their stories," Montgomery said, "and, like they say, the rest is history."

Coined "the most outspoken individual in the city of Ventura," Montgomery is the host of the "Schmooze With Suz Show," which officially launched in 1984.

The show, which serves Time-Warner affiliates in Ventura, Ojai, Oxnard, El Rio, Port Hueneme, Thousand Oaks, Oak Park, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Simi Valley and Moorpark, airs on different channels and at different times, so viewers must check their local listings.

Over the years, the show has featured numerous guests who address a variety of topics. For instance, Bernie Lehrer, a local retired attorney who ran for Ventura City Council, talked about his proposed plans for the city.

"His platform was for more girlie bars," Montgomery said. "He was a hoot and left me speechless and stunned after that remark."

Lehrer, 83, enjoyed the opportunity to discuss his views.

"She allows the guest to take the spotlight," Lehrer said. "This town needs a showcase for our local characters not only before elections but to expose interesting people to the public."

'Too controversial'

Another show that focused on gay youths won a national award.

"I was cautioned to not do that show because it was too controversial," Montgomery recalled. "It was riveting. I had to stop tape numerous times to mop my teary eyes from the anguish and pain the kids experienced by peer bullies and by the adults who were ignorant out of misplaced fear."

After the show aired, many people came forward in appreciation of the exposure to this issue, said Kim O'Neil, 37, of Ventura, co-founder of the Youth Empowerment Program at the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance, who talked about the challenges facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths.

"We discussed specific issues of social intolerance of gay youth and the mental and physical repercussions upon the youth," O'Neil said. "We had a couple of youths on the show who openly told their stories of coming out, what bullying in school did to their self-confidence, how their families reacted to their sexual identity."

Not all topics are controversial, however.

For instance, artist MB Hanrahan of Ventura talked about the Tortilla Flats Mural and reunion project, a public art project commissioned by the city of Ventura that tells, in pictorial form, the stories of residents of a Ventura neighborhood displaced when Highway 101 was built through Ventura.

"I was surprised at how many people contacted me when recognizing me on her show," said Hanrahan, 49. "It was fun. I enjoy media coverage, and interviews help me to more concisely communicate my views and ideas."

Spreading the word

Louis Vigorita discussed his nonprofit group, Advocates for Civil Justice, which concentrates on affordable housing interests.

"Suz provided me with the opportunity to be on TV and spread the word to a larger audience than I had previously reached," said the 60-year-old Ventura resident.

Joyce Sherwood of Ventura, an instructor in a learning program called Brain Gym, discussed how movement enhances brain function and learning for people of all ages, and how beneficial these activities are for seniors and aging baby boomers.

"Suz is open to presenting people and ideas that could easily be overlooked," said Sherwood, 54. "She finds value in everything and everyone."

For some guests, being on the show is a cathartic experience.

Heidi Moon, 33, of Ventura talked about her aunt's death on Valentine's Day in 2002, a hit-and-run driving-under-the-influence accident.

As a result, "I began to work on changing some our own city laws — we are third in the state for alcohol outlets per capita — and awareness on drunk driving in general," Moon said.

"It is so important to have a local venue to express ourselves," Moon said. "I cannot say enough good things about Suz and her show."

For Montgomery, the ultimate goal of the show is to "tell the truth, educate, and show real life with real people, not some whitewashed version network," she emphasized. "It's not sanitized; it's real."

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