It’s finally here. Tonight, flip past those talking-head shows, because network television is getting a large helping of some old-school, carnival-esque action. Step right up and turn those clocks back a hundred years or so, it’s time for a member of the Wallenda family to have an iconic moment in the spotlight.
Ladies and gentlemen, Nik Wallenda will be soon be tightroping 1,550 feet across Niagara Falls.
And ABC, broadcaster of the stunt, seems very excited. The Canadian and U.S. towns of Niagara Falls are crossing their fingers and tourists are reportedly flocking to the attraction once again. And why not? Wallenda had been trying to get the go-ahead for this attempt, and when the thumbs up finally arrived he effusively stated, “I feel like I’m on top of the world.”
(PHOTOS: High Wire Act)
And, it seems, there wouldn’t be a better person suited to become the latest 21st century daredevil than Nik Wallenda, a guy whose family has a legacy (see the AP timeline here) of these sorts of stunts. To rattle off a few of Nik’s credentials, as he does in a promotional video, he holds six Guinness world records and has been tightrope walking since he was two years old.
So, as ABC’s press release breathlessly relays, tonight we’ll see a guy teetering “173 feet above the raging waters of Niagara Falls — an unprecedented feat that has been banned for over 125 years.” What that release doesn’t note, but which the Associated Press soberly does, is that Wallenda was convinced to wear a tether (reportedly it was worried sponsors who insisted) so that if he took a misstep everyone wouldn’t see a fatal plunge.
Still, that cultivation of the inherent danger is what makes the event so exciting. And so retro. As the Associated Press put it when Wallenda first got the green light, a main concern of the panel overseeing the stunt was a “return to the carnival-like atmosphere seen beginning in the mid-1800s, when daredevils sailed over the brink in barrels with mixed success and tightrope walkers traversed the gorge, though never the falls themselves.” Sounds like a charming scenario — until someone takes an unexpected dive. And it’s a long way down.
Naturally, along with excitement, there appears to be certain level of skepticism around the event. Inevitably, it was Stephen Colbert who described hype for the Niagara Falls event sarcastically and succinctly. “[Wallenda] received an exception to the fall’s no-stunt’s policy thanks to the local economy’s sluggishness,” said Comedy Central’s faux conservative host this week. “Now, folks, you know a town is in bad shape when they have to create a tourist attraction to attract tourists to their tourist attraction.”
For his part, Wallenda has mentioned that he’s just blocking everything out during the attempt. “I’m sure there will be some tears involved,” he was quoted saying by The New York Times. “It’s coming down to the wire, no pun intended.”