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Jill Wagner is a Winston-Salem native and the star of the TV movie “The Legend of 5 Mile Cave.”

For Jill Wagner, a Winston-Salem native, the chance to star in “The Legend of 5 Mile Cave” was “a no-brainer for me.”

“I have two firsts — my first period piece and my first Western, two things on my bucket list of things that I’d love to do,” said Wagner, perhaps best known as one of the hosts of ABC’s “Wipeout” and who has appeared in various films, TV shows and Hallmark TV movies. She fondly recalls watching “Gunsmoke” reruns with her grandfather while growing up, and was also a big fan of “Little House on the Prairie.”

“The Legend of 5 Mile Cave,” a family-friendly Western TV movie, airs today on the INSP channel (Channel 461 on Spectrum Cable; also available on other services). Another part of the TV movie’s appeal was that Wagner has a long-standing relationship with INSP, having starred in its series “Handcrafted America.”.

In “5 Mile Cave,” she plays Susan Tilwicky, a strong-willed widow in 1929 whose farm is on the verge of foreclosure but who refuses to give up on her late husband’s dreams.

“I felt a real connection to her. She’s the kind of woman I would look up to,” Wagner said.

Tilwicky reluctantly takes in a boarder, a burly drifter named Sam played by Adam Baldwin, who shares tales of the Wild West with Tilwicky’s impressionable young son Tommy (Jet Jurgensmeyer) as he helps tend the farm. Tilwicky has some qualms, not wanting her son to become too enamored with flights of fancy, but she eventually befriends Sam as his past catches up with him.

The story is split across two time periods, some of it taking part in the late 19th century and shot in Arizona, with Jeremy Sumpter as gunslinger Shooter Green, the subject of Sam’s tales, and part of it in 1929 and filmed at a farmhouse near Atlanta.

One thing Wagner had to adapt to was the dialect for a character in 1920s Kentucky.

“Not only is it a different Southern accent but it’s slower,” she said. “They had a certain cadence they spoke in, softer and slower. I remember trying to get that right. ... It was a challenge for me, I have to admit. I was kind of nervous to speak for the director the first time. ... When I saw the movie, it didn’t make me cringe. If it doesn’t make me cringe, that’s good.”

Working with Adam Baldwin, best known as the irascible mercenary Jayne in “Firefly” and “Serenity” and the gruff but lovable John Casey on “Chuck,” was another bonus.

“Adam is awesome,” Wagner said. “Total pro, totally down-to-earth, a great actor and a real privilege.”

Wagner had played a mom before, including in the movie “Braven,” where she played the wife of Jason Momoa, but this was her first time playing a mother since becoming one herself.

“Now that I have a stepdaughter who’s 9 years old, it helped me feel more grounded in that role,” she said. “Before, I felt I had no idea what I was doing.”

In 2017, Wagner married former professional hockey player David Lemanowicz. They recently moved to a farmhouse in Tennessee, but she hasn’t had much of a chance to enjoy her new home yet.

“My land overlooks the North Carolina mountains, so that’s a little bit of home,” she said. “As much as I love my farm in Tennessee, spring and summer are my favorite seasons, and I’ve been gone for spring and will be gone for most of summer.”

She has several other cable movies coming up for Hallmark, including “Mystery 101: Playing Dead,” which will debut at 9 p.m. June 23 on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel (Spectrum channels 78 and 629), and the forthcoming “Christmas Wishes & Mistletoe Kisses,” with even more in the works.

“They’ve kept me pretty busy,” she said. “I’m going back to Vancouver to shoot two more movies, and then a vacation in Hawaii.”


The crime comedy-drama “Claws” returns for its third season at 9 p.m. today on TNT. The series follows a group of manicurists led by Desna (Niecy Nash), whose Florida nail salon became a front for money laundering, which over the course of the series has led them into a life of crime.

Jenn Lyon, a UNC School of the Arts alumna and High Point native, plays Jennifer, a brassy, “tenuously sober” manicurist who is Desna’s best friend and confidante. Lyon previously had a recurring role on “Justified” and was a regular on the comedy “Saint George,” and has had guest roles on such shows as “Army Wives,” “Louie” and “Suburgatory.”


Several Triad-area people are advancing to the next round of NBC’s obstacle-course competition series “American Ninja Warrior” after Wednesday night’s Atlanta round.

Kenny Niemitalo of Trinity and Chad Hohn, the owner of Level Up Triad training center in Thomasville, came in at Nos. 8 and 16 respectively. Neil “Crazy” Craver, an artist from Winston-Salem, did not make it through the obstacle course, coming up short on the “mega wall” but did well enough to qualify as No. 19.

They will compete in the Atlanta finals, which will air later this summer.


Several popular — but perhaps not popular enough — shows have just gotten the ax. SyFy canceled “Happy,” a bizarre series about a grizzled detective who teams up with an imaginary flying unicorn, after two seasons, and “Deadly Class,” which is about a high school that trains assassins, after one season. And Amazon has canceled “Sneaky Pete,” which is about a con artist, after three seasons.

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Tim Clodfelter writes about entertainment for the Winston-Salem Journal. Contact him at or 336-727-7371.

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