Tim's Turn - August 2019
I’ve enjoyed my career as a journalist/reporter/editor/copy editor/headline writer. And I’ve always thought I was better than average at all of the above. And faith in oneself is a good thing—if you’ve chosen to make your living doing so and have a family to support.
But in a perfect world, I would be able to do two things a lot better than I have been able to do in the past.
First is to craft a sentence like my hero, novelist and wordsmith Stephen King.
Second is to write a captivating headline like the editors do at the National Enquirer—the American supermarket tabloid newspaper—week after week! I’ve shared those “wish I could do things” with few people. My old boss at Ripley Entertainment, Bob Masterson, is one of them.
After Bob had retired, he became part of a group that acquired the rights to the attractions side of the National Enquirer newspaper. He called and told me the group was in the infant stages of creating the first-ever attraction dedicated to the publication, while recalling my headline writing fantasies.
Bob is out of the picture now, but his original partners, former IAAPA Chairman Bill Sims and Steve Nichols, along with longtime showman and attraction mogul Robin Turner and some other investors, opened the first National Enquirer Live in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, on May 24. The attraction—as does the publication—promises you’ll read the “Untold Story,” and you are special if you liked the publication because “Enquiring minds want to know.”
This enquiring mind loved the attraction. The designers really used display formats and techniques that captivate attention. Front pages with some of the most creative headlines ever written are everywhere, and the place is full of celebrity, presidential, royal, Bigfoot, and alien exhibits and displays. I was able to spy from above (thanks to Google Earth) at the homes of many celebrities including Tiger Woods in a really cool interactive activity. The ball crawl, with clear balls, was themed as a nest of alien eggs, and all who entered the place walked down the red carpet with paparazzi photographing every step you take. You can even get your photo taken and appear on a cover of the newspaper!
The attraction did a great job covering decades of celebrity and checkbook journalism. The publication, which is still going strong, loves celebrity gossip and insider information. The National Enquirer is the first to admit it gets stories by doing whatever it takes, within the law, of course. One fun gallery has “photos” of celebrities (posed by celebrity look-a-likes) who look at each other and talk, allowing you to eavesdrop on the gossip.
The place has augmented reality as well. You can scan 20 covers with your phone, and up pops a more detailed “untold story” about the subject, along with photos and video. The building’s exterior is quite exaggerated, in the manner of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and WonderWorks attractions; one enters the building through the lens of a camera, being held by very large hands.
When I first heard about this idea, I had a hard time visualizing how the creators were going to get the message across and make it fun, interactive, and interesting at the same time. Well, they did it, and by early crowds, there are a lot of enquiring minds out there.
There are successful attractions and museums on oddities, wonderment, sunken ships, the Bible, espionage, and the likes. So why not one on perhaps the most notorious newspaper ever? Now that I have experienced it, it surely makes sense to me.
Tim O’Brien is a veteran outdoor entertainment journalist and is a longtime Funworld contributor. He has authored many books chronicling the industry’s attractions and personalities and is the only journalist in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.