Former Cable Analyst Tom Wolzien Chats Up Viewers on Skype Call-In

Former cable analyst, inventor and broadcast news chief Tom Wolzien is knee-deep in a start-up venture he hopes will create a new genre for television and maybe, eventually, attract the interest of a network or two.

About a year ago Wolzien launched Talk Center America, a call-in talk show hosted by veteran anchor Diane Dimond that basically lets viewers see as well as hear the people who call into the program.

People interested in just watching can see the program on the Talk Center America website. To participate in the video chat, you need a smartphone, laptop or iPad with Skype.

Wolzien, who already has several interactive-TV patents under his belt, said his video-call-center arrangement differs from ordinary Web conferencing in that it allows for an extremely democratic, anyone-can-call-in approach to the genre; and it gives total control to the host, who can switch between callers at will.

Video switching is done automatically, so a control room isn’t necessary.

“It’s extremely empowering for the host of a television show, and it’s extremely democratic for people who want to call in,” Wolzien said. “I think as we perfect it, you can think about any number of different shows that can be built around it.”

Wolzien has been testing Talk Center America for months to work out the bugs, with the fourth test run coming this past Thursday (March 28). While friends and family helped out as callers in the first tests, for last week’s effort he used social media to get the word out and increase the number of callers.

Past shows included people showing their pets (one claimed to own the fattest cat in New York); a Nyack, N.Y., singer-songwriter; and Wolzien’s wife, mystery writer Valerie Wolzien, sharing recipes while baking brownies in her kitchen.

Before serving as Sanford Bernstein’s top cable analyst for 14 years, Wolzien spent 16 years at NBC News and was in on the introduction of early computer graphics, global computerization and studio robot cameras.

He said costs will vary depending on the type of program, but Talk Center America is extremely efficient. Currently Wolzien is producing the show out of a 15-by- 15-foot section of his carriage house in the Hudson Valley region of New York.

“The decision to start building this was my 65th birthday present,” he said. “Or, as my wife says, this was my Ferrari. And a friend suggested last week it is becoming a Lamborghini. I just want to make this work, and then we’ll figure out what happens with it.”