Wineka column: Salisbury native Katie Garner an early starter on TV

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 24, 2012

CHARLOTTE — There’s no way around it: Katie Garner talks fast.
It comes in handy this particular morning, and every morning, as the Salisbury native delivers traffic reports on WBTV.
She has 30 seconds or less to touch her maps, pinpoint where the major accidents are, describe how bad the backups could be and offer alternate routes.
Garner delivers the information like a machine gun before the camera bounces back to Al Conklin for a weather update.
Even though she wakes up at 2 a.m. weekdays and arrives at the station between 3:30 and 4 for this part-time job, the 23-year-old Garner couldn’t be happier.
She knows it’s all about opportunity, face-time and getting better. She loves the veteran members of the morning news show, which just received an Emmy, and her co-workers seem to enjoy the enthusiasm Garner brings to the set.
Off camera, when co-anchor John Carter says Garner brings no personality, laughter or fun to her job, you know he’s kidding.
And co-anchor Christine Nelson quickly compliments Garner on the pacing she displayed in her latest update.
“She’s getting it, she’s getting it,” Nelson says.
A lyric from a Barenaked Ladies song may put it best:
“What’s so maybe about Katie?”
Good question.
Survey friends, family and co-workers, and they predict Katie Garner will be doing something in the future that involves talking.
It could be acting. It could be in television news. Heck, maybe she will be a talk-show host.
The consensus about Garner: You probably haven’t seen the last of her. By a long shot.
“I think in five to 10 years she will either be on air in news or entertainment, or she will be married to Prince Harry,” says David Whisenant, a veteran reporter for WBTV.
Here’s a young woman who jumps at every chance to move her career forward, whatever that career might turn out to be.
Witness the nine internships, from New York to Raleigh. Read her blog, which reveals she has collected more than 50 books on manners and etiquette.
See her listed on the Internet Movie Database, which only includes names of credited actors or crew members.
Have her tell you about the advice she received from Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa or “Good Morning, America” weatherman Sam Champion.
Champion told her to get out of public relations and focus on news — because she had the look.
The next thing you know, Garner is describing how wonderful actress Claire Danes is and how she loved seeing a play by Danes’ husband in New York.
Later this spring, Garner will be starting her second season as Danes’ stand-in/double on the Showtime series “Homeland.” The episodes are shot in Charlotte.
She has a small role as the lifeguard “Lizzie” in the yet-to-be-released movie, “Piranha 3DD,” whose stars include Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, Katrina Bowden and David Hasselhoff.
Garner also showed up as a “posse member” in the 2011 made-for-television movie, “Teen Spirit.”
“She has a passion for what she wants to do,” says her mother, Carr Garner. “She sets a goal and finds a way to get to it.”
Where will it eventually take her?
“I wish I had an answer to that,” her mother says,” “but I look forward to it.”
The blond Garner stands 5 feet, 6 inches. She would rather be 5-8. She admits to a fondness for cigars on occasion and Lilly Pulitzer dresses all the time.
Loves beach music
She loves shagging to beach music, but she turns into a lobster if she stays out in the sun for more than a few hours. So she says on her blog, “Preppy Pearl Girl.”
Garner grew up in Salisbury and is the oldest of Keith and Carr Garner’s three children. Katie attended Sacred Heart Catholic School and Salisbury High.
“I’ve always known I was meant to talk for a living,” Garner says.
As a fifth-grader at Sacred Heart, Garner received detention 25 times for talking.
“She’s something else,” says her best friend since first grade, Carol Ann Duke. “There’s never a dull moment with her. You always laugh, and I’m just so proud she’s doing what she’s doing. She’s done it all herself.”
A 2006 debutante in the Junior League of Shelby, Garner ran cross-country in high school. At Meredith College in Raleigh, where she majored in mass communication, she played a year of tennis.
But Garner acknowledges that she never liked school and preferred advancing her career over side interests such as sports or serious relationships.
In college classrooms, she often spent time filling out application forms for internships — all of the non-paying variety, but experiences she figured would lead to something else.
Over four months in New York, she had internships with two public-relations firms. Other internships included work for WBTV, ABC News, News 14 Carolina and WWAY. She was a traffic producer and reporter for Triangle Traffic Network in Raleigh.
Starting in news
Her first work for a television news station came when she was 19 and WXII News 12 allowed her to file a Christmas Eve report on “Project Santa,” the charity program for needy children started more than 50 years ago by her grandfather, Bobby Garner of Denton.
As a WBTV intern, Garner worked with Whisenant in Salisbury.
“Katie is a go-getter,” Whisenant says. “When we worked together, she was very eager to learn. Her enthusiasm was contagious.”
Whisenant recalls their covering a particularly tragic crime and how excited Garner was to be involved with such a big story.
“I actually had to tell her to calm down a little,” Whisenant says.
He describes her personality as “bright,” something that shows through on camera. “Viewers connect with that,” he adds.
During her internships in New York, Garner took acting lessons. One internship she failed to nab was for David Letterman’s late-night show. Out of 8,000 who were in the running, she made the 20 finalists, which led to a meeting with Letterman.
Garner also made it as a finalist in a Kelly Ripa Look-Alike contest and was able to speak at length with Philbin and Ripa during breaks on their show.
To this day, Garner doesn’t know how she didn’t win.
“I really think it was political,” she complains.
The best advice she received in New York was to hire an agent. She started with Talent One in Raleigh, then signed with the STW Talent Agency in Wilmington.
She appeared as an extra on a Season 8 episode of “One Tree Hill” and as a stand-in for the recently released “Hunger Games.”
A credited featured extra part came in the “Teen Spirit” movie, also shot in Wilmington.
Last year, she landed her biggest role in front of a movie camera in “Piranha 3DD.”
“I have a death scene,” she reports.
Her lifeguard role took five days to shoot, and she lost her voice twice, mostly because she was screaming.
Sheer determination helped Garner land the job as Danes’ stand-in on “Homeland.” She went from waiting in line, to being asked to come back and work.
“I got so close to that whole crew,” Garner says.
Garner took Danes’ spot for various lighting and camera adjustments. She helped in the reading of lines. She was a body double at times and, in the “Crossfire” episode, even served as a stunt double.
Subbing for Danes, Garner ran down a hall in 5-inch heels. She says Danes made fun of her for running like a girl.
Laughing at herself, Garner says, is how she often connects with people. To take advantage of that, she has become a member of an improv comedy club in Charlotte.
Will talk to strangers
Meredith College roommate Jennie Lee Wells says Garner is outgoing, to say the least, and will talk to anyone.
“I think she’s on the right track,” Wells adds, “getting her face out there and talking on camera, because I think that’s what she ought to be doing.”
Garner has been the morning traffic reporter at WBTV since last November.
She works from a corner of the studio, next to Conklin’s weather station.
In preparing for her spots, Garner checks Department of Transportation and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department websites for accident updates. She has a list of 12 telephone numbers to call, if needed, and she likes to keep people updated on Twitter and Facebook.
“I put accidents on there, as well as fun stuff,” she says of her work Facebook page, “so they can get to know me.”
The station also has five traffic cameras Garner can monitor and use as live feeds to show how traffic is moving in certain areas. “These cameras are like a lifeline,” she says.
Garner relies on Google Maps for building alternate routes for commuters.
For morning snacks, she opens a drawer filled with Girl Scout cookies.
Garner doesn’t drink coffee, but she never starts a morning shift, which ends at 9, without first having a Mountain Dew.
That’s a surprise.
She doesn’t need caffeine.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or