The 35-year-old high-wire artist – great-grandson of Karl Wallenda of the famous Flying Wallendas circus family – plans to perform two nail-biting walks that will be televised Sunday to millions of viewers around the world.
The Discovery Channel will use a 10-second delay for the broadcast, allowing producers to cut away if Wallenda falls. He plans to perform the walks without a net or harness.
The daredevil’s challenge starts just after sunset when the skyscrapers up and down the Chicago River will be lit up and sparkling. First, he will walk uphill at a 15-degree angle from the Marina City west tower to the top of a skyscraper on the other side of the river. Next, he’ll walk blindfolded between the two Marina City towers – Chicago landmarks with Hollywood credits.
Months of preparations have meant helicopters lifting cable to the rooftops, road closures and clearances from the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Coast Guard. Residents of Marina City have been asked not to use laser pointers, camera flashes or drones that could interfere. Even grilling has been prohibited.
Meanwhile, Wallenda has practiced the walk in Florida. Two of his previous televised tightrope walks – over the brink of Niagara Falls in 2012 and across the Little Colorado River Gorge in 2013 – drew about 13 million viewers each.
The Discovery Channel hopes to capture an elusive real-time audience in the DVR era. The network plans to keep the almost-live telecast of Wallenda’s progress on viewers’ TV screens even during the commercials, using a “double box” that will show advertisements and Wallenda simultaneously.
The Marina City towers have been on screens – Steve McQueen chased a fugitive around the west tower’s corkscrew parking ramp in “The Hunter” – and graced the album cover of Wilco’s 2002 “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”
Steven Dahlman lives in the east Marina City tower and edits a news site called Marina City Online. His neighbors are a little worried, he said, but excited to be “in the middle of a world event.” Dahlman, who’s also an architectural photographer, has himself sought out lofty views from skyscraper rooftops.
“I have nightmares about falling from great heights. Whenever I was in that situation, I’d want to stay away from the edge,” Dahlman said. “Here’s a guy who has that same respect for heights, but he’s going the other way.”
Journalists covering Sunday’s event signed waivers relinquishing their right to claim emotional distress if they witness a catastrophe.
A year before Wallenda was born, his great-grandfather fell to his death during a tightrope stunt in Puerto Rico. He was 73.
“Life is on the wire,” Karl Wallenda once said. “Everything else is just waiting.”