Following Seigenthaler not easy for Ellison, Philpott

Friday, March 4, 2016, Vol. 40, No. 10
By Zack Barnes

J.T. Ellison and author David Bell during the filming of “A Word on Words.”

-- Submitted Photograph Courtesy Of Nashville Public Television

Nashville Public Television announced at the end of last year that the station was re-launching its book series “A Word on Words.’’

Renowned editor, publisher and Nashville native John Seigenthaler hosted the show for over 40 years.

Novelist J.T. Ellison and magazine editor Mary Laura Philpott will co-host the revamped program.

Replacing the legendary Seigenthaler, who died in July, 2014, was a tough task for Nashville Public Television officials.

“It was difficult to think who could be the new host for ‘A Word on Words,’ ” says the show’s producer, Linda Wei.

“John Seigenthaler was irreplaceable, which is one of the main reasons we decided to reimagine the show from the ground up.

“On my search for a host, I asked J.T. if she would be interested because she has a great respect for Mr. Seigenthaler’s legacy, and we knew she understood what “A Word on Words’ provides to readers and writers.”

When approached to co-host the show, Ellison resisted because of her anxiety of public speaking.

“I can’t do that,” recalls Ellison on first hearing about the job possibility. “That was literally my first thought.”

The team at NPT was persistent, but carrying on Seigenthaler’s legacy was enough for Ellison to try out for the show.

“(Ellison) was also a frequent guest on the show and is a champion of other authors,” Wei adds. “Both J.T. and Mary Laura Philpott immediately caught our attention during their screen tests. We felt each would bring much to the new show, and after much discussion, decided two hosts instead of one would be a better fit.”

Before the show started, the thought of the cameras turning on triggered great anxiety for Ellison.

She found it less intimidating after the first filming.

“I did it. I made it. Yeah, I get nervous,” she says.

“Apparently I am not as afraid to do things as I thought I was. That’s a big realization. Wait a minute. Maybe I can do it.”

Ellison has made an impression on the show’s producer and authors.

“It was a great experience,” says David Bell, an author who was recently on the show to talk about his latest book, “Someone I Used to Know.’’

“I’ve been interviewed a number of times before, and I have to say this was the most professional group of people I’ve ever worked with.”

“Making a conversation seem casual in front of lights and cameras is not an easy task,” Wei says. “But J.T. asks insightful questions and has an obvious passion for writing. She is able to easily gain the guest’s trust and quickly make them comfortable.”

“I think this revival of the show carries on that tradition very well,” Bell adds. “and even adds to it.”