The lines light up at 8:30 every Wednesday night, when Norris and Coleman co-host "Mad as Hell" on RICH-TV. The show offers Richmonders 45-second chances to vent their frustrations no names or profanity, please on any topic they choose.
Each caller's tale of woe is discussed by Norris, cameraman Howie Williams and Coleman (who also hosts a RICH-TV sports show and "SportsPhone with Big Al" on Richmond's ESPN Radio 100.3 FM). The hosts sit at a table on the floral-wallpapered kitchen set where RICH-TV films its cooking shows. Walter the Devil, a red-painted concrete gargoyle promoted from his former job as doorstop, serves as mascot.
The three then rate each story on a scale of zero to 21 "devil heads," shown as grinning red icons on the screen. At the end of each half-hour segment, the caller with the highest combined score wins a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
One recent caller's complaint about Geraldo Rivera's return to the United States won with 15 devil heads. A mother whose son skipped school and daughter lost her iBook got 11. Telemarketers filling an answering machine with messages rated 13.
The range of topics came as a surprise, says Wanda Lewis Goodridge, general manager and part-owner of RICH-TV, which she says reaches more than 200,000 households. Goodridge says she's heard many callers get mad about serious issues, such as state tuition increases or why Virginia allows parimutuel betting but no slot machines.
"Mad as Hell," now 6 months old, may be the most lighthearted show on a channel best known for practical programming, such as "Parents, Kids and Drugs" and "Your Car & What it Takes." The hosts, who have been friends for 27 years, laugh and joke throughout most of each show. But, Goodridge says, Coleman and Norris "show some compassion on what people are going through."
On one recent show, a man called to tell them that his insurance company had refused to pay to treat his daughter after she was diagnosed with an eating disorder. The hosts were moved.
"You've hit a chord with me, hoss," Coleman says. "Boy. Seven devil heads."
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
We make sense of the news; pursue those in power; explore the city's arts and culture; open windows on provocative ideas; and help readers know Richmond through its people. We give readers the information to make intelligent decisions.