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August 06, 2013 | 01:30 PMIt was a remarkable several hours.
Milwaukee Public Television has come up with a program that examines the innards of Wisconsin communities while maintaining an informality and good humor which seems to help guarantee keeping viewers aboard.
This sort of quality usually comes down to one or two personalities.
In this case the personality is John McGivern, an experienced actor who has taken to hastening about Wisconsin neighborhoods interviewing the locals who help make their towns and communities what they are. Out of these encounters seems to emerge the characters of those communities.
This hustling, spontaneous kind of human give-and-take has become a 30-minute show called "Around the Corner with John McGivern," which completed its second season in April.
I have seen all 26 of the two seasons' shows and am fascinated by the process of reporting and interpreting the character of neighborhoods and cities.
Earlier this year during one of those necessary though not particularly endearing pledge drives, came an offer I could not refuse.
For a pledge, whose amount shall go unrevealed, I could receive DVDs of all 26 shows of the first two seasons. But of more interest, I could accompany the MPT crew on one of its production days of the third season (May-September 2013).
The DVDs do not matter so much. I have so many of them and many are productions in which I was involved. I have yet to view one of them.
The important factor was satisfying curiosity about a process which captivated me.
There seemed to be a fundamental connection between this project and one I was involved in for 25 years at Badger High School. That involved recording (on slides), then interpreting through narrative and music, members of graduating classes.
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This of course morphed into characterizations of those classes.
I decided to take advantage of this offer. It was then I learned that one of the communities to be covered this summer was Lake Geneva.
At first, since it was curiosity about the process that drew my attention, it would be better to attend a session in one of the other communities on the schedule.
Included in those were Oconomowoc, Hartford, West Allis, La Crosse, Prairie du Chien. However, since my personal circumstances would not accommodate out of town schedules, I decided on Lake Geneva.
I was allowed to observe two of the four production days. Being a photographer, I had to take advantage, and I no doubt annoyed the crew with an occasional flash and those louder-than-life shutter clicks.
Oh yes, the crew. It takes only four people on location, which seemed to me quite extraordinary: a cameraman, audio technician, John McGivern who is the only member to appear on camera, and of course the producer.
Lois Maurer is an attractive, easy-smiling blonde who clearly has a close working relationship with McGivern and appeared to have the complexities of production under strict control.
John McGivern exhibits an amiable sense of humor, and there is a friendly unpredictability in his style.
We all met at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay at 9:30 a.m., May 30. In an hour and a half this interesting facility, this fascinating process, and the quartet of TV folks kept me and my camera fully engaged.
They worked smoothly in this fast, unfamiliar space. The two University of Chicago officials interviewed, including the observatory's director James Gee, also seemed impressed by the operation.
On June 5 it was off on Gage Marine's Walworth II to observe the mailboat jumpers. A one-of-a-kind activity, it generates a special kind of excitement.
I have to admit it is a little like watching auto racing — always the possibility of mishaps. Or translated to mailboat parlance, a dip in the lake.
Being an observer on two of the four production days, it seemed that the project was more about Geneva Lake than Lake Geneva.
On the other hand, who wants to examine the town, as interesting as it may be, when there is this beautiful and famous body of water. To that extent the experience was a bit disappointing.
But the dominant impression was amazement. After viewing shows about other communities, I wonder how one goes about making sense of such random-appearing and detached segments. But as Lois said, it will all come together in the studio. I do identify with the process. It was all too familiar.
Whether the community has been captured will come out when the program airs early in 2014. It if turns out as remarkable as my experience, it will be a winner.
Johnson is a retired Badger High School English teacher.
Editor's note: The show profiled above is scheduled to aired this coming winter. The Regional News will provide updated information.