Tampa story wins 'This American Life' Emmys
I first met Karen months ago when I wrote about her son Michael Phillips, an amazing 27-year-old with a muscle disease that has eliminated his ability to move his limbs. Breathing through a respirator and outfitted with a computer that can turn text into spoken words, Mike used his thumb to communicate with the world from their Tampa home (at right is Mike and his girlfriend, former St. Petersburg Times reporter Sara Rosenbaum).
Mike told an amazing story -- certain that Ira Glass' decision to profile him for the Showtime series This American Life actually saved his life, by convincing him to re-examine everything and upgrade his circumstance. The story that emerged, Escape, was a powerful rendering of Mike's attempts to find a little independence from the mother who had devoted her life to caring for him.
Turns out, Emmy award voters thought Escape was powerful too, handing Glass' TV version of his National Public Radio program two awards at Saturday's Creative Arts Emmy awards based on the episode that featured Escape (those are the technical and nonfiction awards held eight days before the prime-time honors on Sunday). And thanks to Glass' gratitude and Showtime's deep pockets, Mike and Karen were there to see it all.
"It was incredible and then some," said Karen, who traveled with Mike to Los Angeles on Sept. 11, accompanying him on the red carpet and meeting celebrities ranging from comic Kathy Griffin to actor Neal Patrick Harris. "Ira looked at me and said, 'Would you ever think we would end up here?' And we sure didn't."
Glass' show tied with PBS's American Masters for the best nonfiction series Emmy, and the sole directing award went to This American Life for the story featuring Mike. "They were thrilled and stunned," said Karen of Glass and his crew, who spent weeks documenting Mike's life last year for the story. "People there even recognized Mike. One guy on the red carpet shouted ''Johnny Depp!'' (After Mike says he would love for Johnny Depp to be his voice, Glass gets the actor to read Mike's words through the rest of the story.)
Karen was calling from the hospital Tuesday because Mike had a hole in his breathing tube, which made getting enough oxygen difficult -- the kind of regular health scare that first interested Glass in telling Mike's story. But the 50-something mom, a veteran of many such incidents, insisted Mike would be fine once a doctor replaced the tube with a spare she always carries in her purse.
"I look at Mike, his color's fine, he's doing fine," she assured. "Other than this, we've had an incredible trip."