Tube Talk: Geoffrey Baer offers TV’s best tours of Chicago

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

Anyone lucky enough to have a TV that receives Chicago’s PBS station WTTW should be familiar with Geoffrey Baer. If you get WTTW and have no idea who he is, I’d say it’s time to get familiar with Baer’s body of work.

Not only does Baer contribute pieces about obscure Chicago history to Chicago Tonight, he hosts and produces fascinating documentaries about the city, its history, its architecture, its food, and even its surrounding areas.

His latest production, Biking the Boulevards, premieres at 7:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 29. There’s a reason Baer’s specials are pledge drive staples for WTTW: they can really hold an audience. Baer’s usually on hand during the pledge breaks, offering additional insights into his projects that make even extended pledge breaks a bit more, um…bearable.

Over the years, Baer has taken viewers on memorable architectural tours—on foot and by boat—of Chicago. He’s explored Chicago neighborhoods by traveling the city’s “L” lines, he’s journeyed up and down the Fox River Valley, and when you’ve thought you’d learned all you could about a Chicago-related topic, Baer uncovers even hidden secrets about the city. No matter where Baer’s tours lead you, you’ll no doubt be riveted by true tales of the people and events that helped shape the greater Chicagoland area into what it is today.

On Biking the Boulevards, Baer pedals his way around Chicago’s 28-mile system of boulevards. The boulevards were originally designed in the mid-1800s as a way to link several parks and green spaces. If you want to view a map of the boulevards explored in this special, you can find it at,2.

A couple interesting sites Baer discovers along the way include a south-side “L” station dating back to the 1893 World’s Fair and a beautiful, historic park that may have inspired L. Frank Baum while he was writing The Wizard of Oz.

As always, Baer’s special is about far more than meets the eye. He looks at everything through an historical context. As he’s biking his way down the boulevards, he offers up details about how popular cycling has been with Chicagoans, dating back to when bicycles first became widely available in the 19th century.

Informative, entertaining and engaging. Those words can describe any of Baer’s programs—even his Chicago Tonight segments. Do yourself a favor and watch Biking the Boulevards and you’ll realize that as viewers, Illinois is lucky to have a virtual tour guide like Geoffrey Baer.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to

From the Nov. 24-30, 2010 issue

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