News Column

Tuning to Maine: Reality TV producers are discovering the Pine Tree State [Sun Journal (Lewiston, ME)]

December 8, 2013


Mainers and their habitat -- back roads, forests, mud pits and main streets -- are becoming reality TV stars.

At least three Maine-based reality shows are currently in production for national audiences. And many more are being pitched, looking for money or planning quick-hit stops in the land of pine trees.

"I think Maine is in a corner of the country, and maybe up until now, it hadn't received a ton of exposure," said Devon Platte, an executive producer for "North Woods Law."

A recent episode of the Animal Planet series, which embeds film crews with game wardens around the state drew a national audience of nearly 1 million people.

Maybe this is Maine's turn in the spotlight, said Platte, who has lived in Portland for about 10 years.

Other cities and some states -- New York and Seattle, Alaska and Hawaii -- are familiar to people who watch TV and movies, he said.

"We all know what New York City looks like, even if you've never been there, because there have been a lot of shows and movies set in New York," he said.

By comparison, Maine is relatively unknown.

Some Mainers have gone onto reality TV fame on shows such as "The Biggest Loser" and "Survivor." And it's been a regular stop for such shows as "Ghost Hunters" and "American Pickers." The latter show aired an episode in Lisbon last year, and this summer, one of its crews ran out of gas atop Auburn's Goff Hill while filming in the region.

Actor Patrick Dempsey, who grew up in Turner and Buckfield, has brought reality TV cameras to the area at least twice. In 2009, he met with a young New Hampshire girl whose house was being rebuilt for the show "Extreme Makeover." In 2012, crews from his show "Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans" filmed him at the annual Dempsey Challenge. The footage never made it into the show.

Similarly, a pilot show based on Diet Coke and Mentos guys Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz failed to get picked up. But the guys, who are based in Buckfield, said recently that they continue to hear from producers with ideas for TV projects.

Some of that may go back to "North Woods Law," which has featured wardens from central and western Maine.

There's been a boom in interest in the state since the show debuted, said Karen Carberry Warhola, who directs the Maine Film Office.

"A lot of people really like it and it's bringing a lot of attention to Maine. And other productions are noticing Maine through it," she said.

While "North Woods Law" continues to work on its second season, at least two other series are in production, she said. (Platte said he's waiting for a decision about a third season of "North Woods Law." "Fingers are crossed," he said. "Things are looking good.")

Details are sketchy about the other two series. One is entirely secret. Warhola said she knows it's happening, but could share no details.

The other is a History Channel program being prepared for airing sometime in 2014, said Barry Rosenberg, the channel's vice president of publicity. However, he declined to say what the show will be about or what it'll be called.

The only thing certain is that one of its cast of characters will be a Minot man named Roland Raubeson, known as "Yummy" Raubeson.

Raubeson declined to talk about the show -- referring all questions to the tight-lipped network -- but he has a record for getting publicity. He has been featured in the Sun Journal for his deer meat recipes and drew national attention this summer when he presided over a wedding at Hebron's annual Redneck Blank event, formerly called the Redneck Olympics.

The event, including games such as bobbing for pig's feet, toilet seat horseshoes and a mud flop, was filmed by crews from both the History Channel and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

It may echo some of the rural, hicks-in-the-sticks character of currently popular reality shows such as "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" filmed in McIntyre, Ga. and "Duck Dynasty" from West Monroe, La.

There's a perception that Mainers are similar to the popular Southerners, said Alex Gray, a member of the Maine Film Commission.

"I was in New York last week and I think everybody thinks, for the most part, that we're like Louisiana," said Gray, who promotes concerts throughout Maine and operates Bangor's Waterfront Pavilion. "They expect everybody to be like the 'Duck Dynasty' guys."

The redneck label may not be any more accurate for most Mainers than it is for people in Louisiana, he said.

"I think it's a situation where you're not so much and I'm not so much," Gray said. "We might have a little bit in us. We probably know how to split firewood."

But it's a commercial opportunity for Maine that was unavailable during the first wave of reality shows, with programs like "The Real World" that were set in big cities and featured improbably pretty young people, he said.

Gray recently had dinner with the "Duck Dynasty" guys' manager in Nashville. The show's reach is extraordinary, he said. Their merchandise at Walmart, including DVDs, T-shirts and fake beards, sells fast. The show has even spawned a popular iPhone app, "Battle of the Beards."

"Who knows what the next big thing is going to be?" Gray asked.

He's hoping he has the answer. He has been pitching a reality show based on the crews at his Bangor concert venue.

"We bring in 20 tractor-trailer trucks' worth of gear and hang it in a couple of hours," Gray said. "There's weather and stress and three or four shows in a row."

There's plenty of drama, he said. There's also the chance to demonstrate his belief that production costs in Maine compare well to other areas, where putting up crews in hotels and feeding them and transporting them from place to place gets hugely expensive.

A recent University of Maine study looked at the economic impact of film and photography production in Maine. Todd Gabe, a professor of economics at the school, looked at 14 Maine projects this year.

The 14 projects accounted for $10.5 million in direct spending in Maine and another $1.8 million in later spending, according to his September report.

Spending specific to reality TV was not separated from such projects as feature films, commercial production or catalog shoots, Warhola said.

Maybe one day, she'll have a better sense of what reality TV means to the state financially, she said. Meanwhile, she's been showcasing the state's varied settings.

In June, she displayed images of the state at a Los Angeles convention held by the Association of Film Commissioners International. It was aimed at film and TV productions looking for a place to shoot.

"I think producers are always looking for locations that haven't been seen before," she said. "They're looking for something new and interesting."

She hopes that audiences will see a lot more of Maine.

"I would like to see the entire state covered," she said. "It's starting to get that way."

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