Robert J. Terry//March 28, 2011
//March 28, 2011
Local fans of the ABC show “Secret Millionaire” saw a familiar face Sunday night — John Ferber, who co-founded Advertising.com in the 1990s with his brother, Scott, and today lives in Palm Beach County, Fla.
Ferber spent a week posing as a documentary filmmaker in the notorious Skid Row district of Los Angeles.
The episode ended with Ferber cutting checks totaling $100,000 for three neighborhood organizations. He also purchased $20,000 in goods for the groups.
Baltimore-based Advertising.com was acquired in 2004 for $435 million in cash; Ferber pocketed about $72 million in the deal. He has several Internet ventures percolating from his Florida base, including Microgiving.com, which we blogged about a couple of weeks ago.
He says he was intrigued about going on reality TV after a producer for the show — who read a profile of Ferber in a magazine — forwarded him some YouTube clips of the British version of the program.
“I was really touched by the whole spirit of the show,” Ferber told me Monday. “It really felt like the right thing to do.”
In the episode — you can see it here in its entirety on Hulu — Ferber spends time at the Alexandria House, a long-term shelter for abused women and children. He also meets some of the estimated 15,000 homeless people in the area through a group that organizes three-on-three basketball games in a park. A wall mural that had fallen into disrepair provides a haunting backdrop (and appears later in the episode).
He also meets one man named Amin, who distributes hygiene kits and other essentials to the area’s homeless. During the episode, Amin takes the shoes off his feet and gives them to another man, a moment that clearly moved Ferber.
The episode was filmed over a week in March 2010. Ferber didn’t know where he was going until a cab driver at the airport in Los Angeles told him. With a crew of anywhere from 20 to 30 people following him, Ferber was dropped off at an intersection and led to a low-income housing complex.
He’s been back to the area since the show was recorded and says he keeps in touch with the people he spent time with during the episode. In thinking about how the program impacted him, Ferber referenced a man with no arms or legs who for many years has set up on President Street near Little Italy, asking drivers for change.
“I passed the guy probably every day for 15 years and never really gave a lot of thought to the people and the circumstances that put them there,” he said. “It opened my eyes.”s