The title of the show is "Today Throws a Hometown Wedding." And to someone in Anchorage, a Southern Maryland couple getting married in Annapolis or Baltimore or Stevensville may seem like a fair definition of "home town."
What's the big deal? It's a small state. As long as there's some water nearby, a couple of boats, a good sunset, or if not, at least an elegant estate, something historic, then let's not split hairs.
But the possibility that Mark Dale, 26, and Sarah Raley, 23, the featured couple on the NBC morning show's wedding planning program, might be married in someplace other than the county of their birth -- St. Mary's -- has become an urgent issue for many in the community.
Only one of the four possible locations for the Sept. 16 wedding is in Southern Maryland: the Garden of Remembrance at St. Mary's College of Maryland. The others are the Evergreen House, a 19th-century mansion at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club just over the Bay Bridge on the Eastern Shore; and the Annapolis City Dock.
Television viewers have until midday today to vote online from a link on the "Today" show Web site to choose their favorite. Around Southern Maryland, there is only one right answer.
"Going to Baltimore and Annapolis is a bit far of a stretch in our opinion in defining a hometown area," said Carolyn Laray, tourism manager for St. Mary's County.
"I would have preferred to have four St. Mary's sites on the ballot, but NBC has decided that home town means the entire region," said Bill Scarafia, president of the St. Mary's County Chamber of Commerce.
"It's a hometown wedding," said St. Mary's County Commissioner Thomas A. Mattingly Sr. (D-Leonardtown). "It ought to be in the home town."
Unwilling to let fate take its course, the county's Department of Economic and Community Development, as well as the chamber, has sent a torrent of e-mails urging people to vote for St. Mary's College.
Before the finalists were chosen, Laray and Jennifer Fabbricante, the county government spokeswoman, led NBC producers on a tour of several potential Southern Maryland sites, though Laray declined to reveal the location of the losing offers. She went only so far as to acknowledge they were "most of our standard, lovely, historic sites and attractions."
Now, the only one that matters is St. Mary's College, where Raley graduated last year. College spokesman Marc Apter shot off an e-mail to his constituency trying to get out the vote.
"Both Sarah and Mark are from Southern Maryland. And Sarah's immediate family features two additional SMCM graduates -- her father, John, graduated in 1974, and her brother, Ryan, graduated in 2001. . . . No spot could be more beautiful than our own Garden of Remembrance at St. Mary's College of Maryland. We believe it is only fitting that our alum be married here along the shores of the beautiful St. Mary's River," Apter wrote.
The college will not win without a fight. The Chesapeake Bay Beach Club's Web site also was exhorting its followers to go to the polls.
"If the Beach Club wins the voting . . . the lucky bride and groom will experience a truly Extraordinary Waterfront Wedding," the Web site read. "You can help bring this nationally televised gala event to the Beach Club by clicking the link below and voting for the Beach Club on the TODAY Web site. Tell your friends! Vote early and vote often!"
The territoriality of the wedding show first reared up two weeks ago, when Solomons Island, in neighboring Calvert County, was chosen for the broadcast of the episode in which the couple was selected. Never mind that that might have been appropriate: Dale lives in Lusby, which is in Calvert. Raley is from Valley Lee, in St. Mary's. Both were born at St. Mary's Hospital and attended Leonardtown High School.
"I got a couple calls from some irate citizens saying how disappointed they were in the Board of County Commissioners for letting the initial event take place over in Solomons Island and not in Valley Lee," St. Mary's Commissioner Daniel H. Raley (D-Great Mills) told his fellow commissioners last week.
"You know, I make a lot of mistakes, and I take criticism for the things I make mistakes on. But it really gets me when I get blamed for stuff that I don't have anything to do with," said Raley, who said he is a very distant cousin of the bride-to-be. "And we didn't have anything to do with the 'Today' show."
The issue seems to pick at the sensitive spot that is Southern Maryland's self-image. The state's birthplace and the home to about 300,000 people, Southern Maryland still has a low profile on the state stage. Who hasn't heard the tired joke about Southern Maryland being confused for the Eastern Shore? Losing a wedding perhaps would be just another knock.
But there is more going on here, Scarafia said.
"It means a number of things in a number of ways. It's getting St. Mary's County and Southern Maryland national exposure that we could have never imagined, we could never have been able to buy or secure any other way," he said. "People who may have heard about us but knew nothing about us are now seeing pictures and are much more likely to visit.
"We're sure it's going to enhance tourism, and it's being done in a non-threatening way," he said. "If we were going out trying to solicit somebody to open their business or do business here, people are always a little bit standoffish with that approach."
But what's it really about?
"They're no longer going to say, 'Hey, are you on the Eastern Shore?' "