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Kennywood on a roll in 'Thrills, Chills and Spills'

Sunday, May 26, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Correction/Clarification (Published May 27, 2002): This story listed the incorrect date for the broadcast of Discovery Channel programs on amusement rides. The correct date was Monday, May 27, 2002.

With the summer vacation season kicking off this weekend, American amusement parks are about to be deluged with visitors. With that in mind, Discovery Channel presents three programs as part of the network's theme night: "Thrills, Chills and Spills."

TV Preview
"Thrills, Chills and Spills"
When: 8 p.m. Monday on Discovery Channel.

At 8 p.m. Monday, "Top 10 Coasters 2002" reveals the votes of viewers for the Top 5 wooden and the Top 5 steel coasters in the United States. Kennywood's Thunderbolt came in at No. 3 on the wooden coaster list.

"Extreme Rides 2002" at 9 p.m. looks at a variety of newfangled rides, including an extensive segment on the transformation of Kennywood's Steel Phantom into Phantom's Revenge (viewers learn the loop in the Steel Phantom was taken out to help make Phantom's Revenge appeal to more people).

The science of how these scream machines work is explored in "Ultimate Guide: Roller Coasters" at 10 p.m.

Kiku Lani Iwata produced all three programs, and she's been filming Discovery's amusement park shows since the first "Wild Rides" program in 1996.

Visits to Pittsburgh's Kennywood have been part of her job. The park is featured in all three shows Monday night, including "Ultimate Guide," which explains the mystery of Kennywood's Racer, a single-track racing coaster. Iwata called "Ultimate Guide" a class in "Coasters 101" that explains the physics and science of the rides and looks at the various types (wooden, steel, stand up, sit down, etc.).

Iwata has now become an expert in amusement parks, but she wasn't always.

"I think I took them for granted, probably like the average person. When you start doing more research, you realize there's a whole world, especially regarding the quality of certain coasters," Iwata said. "The more you learn about the subject, the more you really respect it."

Before working on the programs, Iwata had never heard of Kennywood or other regional parks. Discovery Channel programs may even be responsible for feeding interest in these parks and rides.

"We keep running into more people who say they watched a program on Discovery Channel and then signed up to join American Coaster Enthusiasts," she said. "They say it's affecting the popularity of coasters. It's a circle. More people want to ride, the parks have to build it, and then we get to document it. We're all fueling each other."

As long as parks keep building bigger and "better" coasters, Iwata said, Discovery is likely to keep making programs. "Extreme Rides" introduces several new types of coasters, including one that makes riders feel as though they're flying.

And yes, Iwata, 40, does have to experience all the rides in the programs to formulate interview questions. She's yet to meet a ride that was too scary.

"Some rides look worse than they are," she said. "What convinces me is when you see people coming off laughing and smiling."

She doesn't have a favorite ride, though she is a fan of Kennywood's Thunderbolt.

"We're spoiled because we get to ride the best of the best," Iwata said. "Each ride we get to ride is kind of like a car. I'm always asked, 'Do we have to mention the maker of the coaster?' But it's like a car maker, and when you see a documentary about a car, you want to know who made it. The smoothness and quality is dependent on its manufacturer and it's the same for coasters."

Some coaster enthusiasts might wonder why Phantom's Revenge didn't make the Top 5 steel coasters in this year's "Top 10" program, but there's an easy explanation. Balloting for tonight's show was done at discovery.com last May, before Phantom's Revenge opened. Better luck next year.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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