Cincy Stories Expands Its Storytelling to TV

”Long Story Short,” airing on Cincinnati’s and Dayton’s PBS stations, aims to build empathy and understanding.
Darnell Pierre Benjamin (left) is the on-camera host of “Long Story Short,” a new storytelling TV series created by Shawn Braley (right) and Chris Ashwell.

Photograph provided by Cincy Stories

The premise of Long Story Short is a simple one: We don’t know our own neighbors well enough. Shawn Braley uses himself as an example, thumbing over his shoulder to the wall. “I don’t know my neighbor’s name over here to the left side of me,” he says. “They live 30 feet away from me.”

And that’s the point of Braley’s and Chris Ashwell’s new 30-minute television show: to help people across Greater Cincinnati get to know their neighbors a little better. Long Story Short debuts on CET Channel 48 at 11 p.m. Friday and on Dayton’s ThinkTV Channel 14 on April 9. Episodes will be broadcast on subsequent Fridays into May.

Ashwell and Braley are the Emmy Award–winning founders of Cincy Stories, which launched as a live storytelling event à la The Moth and now also produces short documentary films and community engagement projects. “What we do is create empathy and understanding and tear down walls that divide us in a lot of ways,” Braley says.

Each episode of Long Story Short will feature stories from Cincinnati, Dayton, and the surrounding areas, hosted by actor Darnell Pierre Benjamin, who had presented at Cincy Stories events. He was the first person the producers considered asking to host, and Ashwell calls him the glue that ties the stories together.

During the six-episode season—which will feature a combination of new content and scenes from previous Cincy Stories projects—viewers will meet a woman who’s a recovering heroin addict, Benjamin says. There’s a young Black man finding his place in the world of ballet, and there’s a father navigating his son’s autism. “I refuse to believe that, watching one episode, you won’t find someone you can’t connect with,” says Benjamin. “They chose people from all walks of life.”

Chris Ashwell (left) and Shawn Braley are launching a TV version of their Cincy Stories storytelling projects.

Photograph provided by Cincy Stories

Take the women in a senior bowling league. Ashwell and Braley showed up to the bowling alley one day without a camera to see who might be interested in being featured in an episode, and they found two women who’d recently lost their husbands and joined the league without knowing anyone. “They formed this friendship,” Ashwell says. “The league became a really big part of their healing, and that’s what our story became. It’s hardly about bowling at all.”

The idea for Long Story Short dates back years. The two producers had long wanted to beef up the area’s local content with quality television that could compete at a national level, Braley says. He remembers a conversation with Ashwell at the now-closed Café DeSales in Walnut Hills about What do we envision for the future? Making public television documentaries was at the top of the list—so the two were thrilled when the local PBS affiliates approached them at the Ohio Valley Emmys in 2018 to say, “We’d love to work with you.”

Long Story Short is currently in production on its second season, Braley says, and will feature entirely new content. “It’s very easy for us to get caught up in our own lives, our own worlds, our own struggles, and our own success,” says Benjamin. “We’re all the same. We’re all people with dreams and hopes and vision. At the core, Long Story Short is a simple concept that’s surprisingly powerful.”

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