Wild Chicago was a television series that aired on Chicago's WTTW (a local PBS affiiliate) from 1989 to 2003. The show took viewers on a trip through Chicago's "urban jungle", highlighting hundreds of offbeat and unusual people, places, and events in the metropolitan area. Subjects included the Chicago Herpetological Society; singing taxicab drivers; flotation tanks; an Ancient Astronaut society; the Inkin' Lincoln Tattoo and Piercing Jamboree; an interstate pierogi festival; a squirrel lovers' club; the Playboy Advisor; a cookie jar museum; and the Polka Music Hall of Fame.
Wild Chicago was created by Ben Hollis and John Davies. The series won numerous local Emmy Awards over the course of its run, as did several of the show's hosts. Emmy Award winners for their individual work include Hollis, the show's original host, and his replacements upon taking an extended hiatus in 1992, Laura Meagher and Will Clinger. When, after two years, Meagher left the show to work for Fox Television, then to launch and be featured on Barry Diller's independent channel, WAMI in Miami, Wild Chicago changed to a multiple correspondent/contributor format, a trend in such television magazine shows of the mid-1990s. Contributors included local actors Mindy Bell, Cassy Harlo, Tava Smiley, Sarah Vetter, Denise La Grassa, Choky Lim, Aaron Shure, and Dick O'Day (portrayed by Richard Knight, Jr.—the show's only correspondent to appear in character). The new slate of correspondents continued to win individual Emmys as did the show itself.
As the program entered its second decade, Wild Chicago-style shows were produced making visits to out-of-town locales that included Tokyo, The Indy 500, The Kentucky Derby, Atlanta, Hong Kong, Branson, Las Vegas, and The Wisconsin Dells. Clinger, a local actor who played "Guy on Bench" in a 1997 episode of Early Edition and "Smitty" in an episode of the television series ER in 2005 hosted most of the "road trip" versions of the show and ultimately carried the Wild Chicago host torch longer than any of the other hosts; he held the job from 1992 to 2003 and earned 14 local Emmys during his 11 years with the program. In 2001 Clinger also emceed the "12 on 11," Wild Chicago anniversary special (another Emmy winner) taped at WTTW in front of an audience that featured some of the show's wildest guests.
After being off the air for over 2 years, Wild Chicago made a brief return in spring 2006 with a seven-part special called Wild Chicago's Illinois Road Trip. This final incarnation of the show was hosted exclusively by original host Ben Hollis, and explored oddities throughout the entire state of Illinois, such as ghost tours in Alton and a Beatles-themed bed and breakfast in Benton.
With its tremendous popularity and long television run, Wild Chicago served well the careers of some of its hosts and correspondents. Tava Smiley, who lived on the west coast during the run of the show and flew to Chicago to tape her segments, played a recurring character on the long-running soap opera General Hospital. In 2006 she became host of "World Premiere", a series of featurettes taped on the red carpet for the Fox Movie Channel. Smiley also hosted several programs for HGTV, another cable network, that same year.
Laura Meagher realized a lifelong dream when she moved to Paris in 2001. Happily putting her Wild Chicago experience to use, she created and currently hosts the website Parisfromher.com.