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Marcus Sakey’s ‘Hidden City’ explores Atlanta Dec. 27

Former Atlantan Marcus Sakey hosts "Hidden City" on the Travel Channel on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. CREDIT: Travel Channel

Former Atlantan Marcus Sakey hosts "Hidden City" on the Travel Channel on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. CREDIT: Travel Channel

In 1996, Marcus Sakey landed his first job out of college in Atlanta at Turner Broadcasting behind the scenes in animation. At the time, he never imagined himself in front of the camera.

Fifteen years later, Sakey’s hosting his own TV show on the Travel Channel called “Hidden City,” where he travels to one particular city each episode to dig into iconic historical crimes. On Tuesday, he ventures back to Atlanta, a city where  he resided from 1996 to 2003 and met his wife G.g.

“The idea is to explore cities through their stories,” Sakey said in a recent phone interview. “I go into each city from the viewpoint of a novelist. The idea is to understand the people as characters, to know what they were going through from my perspective.”

A fictional crime author, Sakey said “Hidden City” takes a slice of foodie traveler Anthony Bourdain’s whimsy, a taste of light-hearted ABC drama “Castle” (which stars a crime novelist) and a dash of MTV’s “Jackass,” because he’ll partake in activities that are reminiscent of the referenced crimes.

Over 12 episodes, he gets pepper sprayed like a protestor, attacked by a dog and tackled by cops after trying to “steal” a car. “It’s not just gimmicks,” he said. “I want to understand why people act the way they do and get the adrenaline rush of being on the run.”

In Atlanta, Sakey pursued three stories, taped in June of this year: a chase between two locomotives during the Civil War, the Buckhead day trader murders of 1999 and a notorious Gwinnett County drug case from 2008.

The thematic tie of these three stories, he said, is the city’s relentless focus on commerce and transportation, with an eye towards the future.

Sakey even visits a dank maintenance tunnel in downtown Atlanta where a sign marks the spot where the city officially staked itself as a railroad hub in 1837. It’s also a popular hangout for homeless people. “History,” Sakey said on the show, “smells a lot like urine.”

Ratings for “Hidden City,” which debuted Dec. 6, have been modest. After three episodes, it’s averaging 346,000 viewers, down 25 percent compared to what was airing in the time period a year ago (”Ghost Adventures”), according to Nielsen ratings data. Sakey is not deterred, noting that viewer reaction has been positive so far.

“We’re very pleased with how ‘Hidden City’ is performing,” a Travel Channel spokesman wrote in an email Wednesday, noting that the program has been seen by 4.5 million viewers cumulatively, counting repeats.

Here’s a quick overview of the three crimes Sakey spotlights in Tuesday’s episode:

The General on display at the Kenessaw Civil War Museum. CREDIT: Andy Sharp/AJC from 2001

The General on display at the Kenessaw Civil War Museum. CREDIT: Andy Sharp/AJC from 2001

- In 1862, Union scout James Andrews and several volunteers commandeered Confederate locomotive the General in Kennesaw and tried to destroy the rail line leading up to Chattanooga in hopes of cutting off supply lines.

William Fuller on the Confederate side, using a locomotive called the Texas, eventually caught up with the General and captured Andrews, who was hanged. “The daring rogue versus the tireless voice of law,” Sakey called it on the show. (The Texas is now at the Cyclorama.)

“This is such novelistic territory,” Sakey said. “Two men squaring off. Behind enemy lines, one man steals a train right under their nose. If Andrews had pulled this off, it might have shortened the war.”

People run from the building across the street from where a gunman opened fire, killing nine people, as police officers crouch behind a vehicle in the Buckhead section of Atlanta Thursday, July 29, 1999. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)

People run from the building across the street from where a gunman opened fire, killing nine people, as police officers crouch behind a vehicle in the Buckhead section of Atlanta Thursday, July 29, 1999. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)

- On July 29, 1999,while Sakey was working at a web design company at the King Plow Arts Center during the height of the dot.com boom era, Mark Barton was trying to make a living day trading.

But with financial losses piling up, Barton snapped and turned to violence, first killing his family, then nine employees at two different Buckhead day-trading firms, then himself. Buckhead, Sakey noted on the show, was known more for “shopping sprees than shooting sprees. It’s Elton John’s neighborhood, for Christ’s sake!”

During “Hidden City,” Sakey recounted that awful day with then-Mayor Bill Campbell, who was the public face of horrified Atlanta residents — many huddled around office TV sets as the scope of the tragedy around them unfolded in live news reports. Campbell, later disgraced after being convicted of tax evasion, rarely does interviews but accepted this one, Sakey said, because of its narrow scope.

Sakey met Campbell at the Silver Skillet diner in Midtown because that’s where many a dot.com deal was settled back in the 1990s. Plus, “when I worked at Turner, I spent many a lunch at Silver Skillet. I think the hash browns are still in my belly!”

The firm Sakey worked at in 1999, he said, eventually “imploded spectacularly – but without gunfire.”

A Rhode Island man, Oscar Reynoso, 31, was chained in a basement in Lilburn for nearly a week by men who wanted to collect a drug debt, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Reynoso, 31, originally of the Dominican Republic, was lured to Lilburn to complete a vehicle purchase. When he arrived at his contact's house in Gwinnett County he was ambushed by seven men. After being beaten, Reynoso was chained to a wall near a mattress. The U.S. Attorney's office charged three men with kidnapping and holding for ransom as well as conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The alleged captors called Reynoso's wife in Rhode Island to collect a drug debt of $300,000 that he supposedly owed. (HANDOUT PHOTO/U.S. Attorney office)

A Rhode Island man, Oscar Reynoso, 31, was chained in a basement in Lilburn for nearly a week by men who wanted to collect a drug debt, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Reynoso, 31, originally of the Dominican Republic, was lured to Lilburn to complete a vehicle purchase. When he arrived at his contact's house in Gwinnett County he was ambushed by seven men. After being beaten, Reynoso was chained to a wall near a mattress. The U.S. Attorney's office charged three men with kidnapping and holding for ransom as well as conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The alleged captors called Reynoso's wife in Rhode Island to collect a drug debt of $300,000 that he supposedly owed. (HANDOUT PHOTO/U.S. Attorney office)

- With its miles of highways and a giant international airport, Atlanta’s image as a transportation hub was key to attracting business. In 2008, those same assets also attracted big-time drug dealers moving their contraband throughout the East.

In 2008, a mid-level cocaine dealer Oscar Reynoso was kidnapped and held for ransom by a Mexican cartel for owing $300,000. He was hidden away in a Lilburn basement, gagged and beaten.

U.S. federal agents found him alive.

“Who would have known Atlanta is a hub for Mexican drug cartels?” Sakey said.

He interviewed undercover officers involved in the raid at Manuel’s Tavern, an Atlanta hangout for politicians and journalists. “I like a place where you have no idea if it’s dark or sunny outside,” he said.
TV preview

“Hidden City”

10 p.m, Tuesdays, Travel Channel.

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By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk

10 comments Add your comment

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Neal Boortz

December 27th, 2011
8:14 am

stay outta da ‘hood !

Dunwoody Dave

December 27th, 2011
8:44 am

“History,” Sakey said on the show, “smells a lot like urine.” … too funny!

SAWB

December 27th, 2011
1:06 pm

So, in the history of Atlanta these are the most interesting crimes he could come up with? I guess I’ll watch to see how many tired stereotypes they use, but basically it sounds like a bore.

HISTORICUS

December 27th, 2011
2:26 pm

The murder of little Mary Phagan remains Atlanta’s most historical murder mystery

jd

December 27th, 2011
6:29 pm

man he is good looking!!!!!!!!!

KimZ'sPackage

December 28th, 2011
12:28 am

The 1965 Murder of a Lady at Lenox Square when it opened hasn’t been solved. She was the wife to be of my friends dad. This would be a great story to follow.
The Case of the Missing Bride
If Mary Shotwell Little had simply disappeared without a trace, she probably would be forgotten today.
http://www.buckhead.net/history/mystery/msl_a.html

Joe McNamara

December 28th, 2011
6:29 pm

How did this guyl get a show? What a d-bag!!!

bhorsoft

December 29th, 2011
8:54 am

It’s a nit-pick, but I was irritated when he talked about “giving the gas” to the trains. It should have been “pouring on the coal”. His editors and producers should have caught that – he said it twice.

Overall, not impressed – more glossy than substantive.

GreatATLGuy

December 30th, 2011
9:38 am

This was bad — he interviewed a convicted felon (former mayor) about the Barton case, and Dr. Davis, who swore that his son, Scott Alan Davis, was not guilty of killing David Coffin. They also showed clips of midtown as being Buckhead, etc…. overall, a C+ for this episode in my opinion.