MILLINOCKET, Maine — As an image of his face filled the projection screen and various flat-screen televisions arrayed around the large banquet room of the River Drivers restaurant, Rudy Pelletier folded his arms across his chest and watched anxiously.
The 51-year-old is a logging company owner, not an actor, but there he was, one of the leading players in the Discovery Channel’s new reality TV show “American Loggers” as it made its debut at 10 p.m. Friday.
Pelletier stood almost frozen as the show’s narrator introduced Pelletier Inc., the Millinocket logging and trucking company upon which the show will focus for nine more episodes, with more installments coming if the program is renewed.
After the first commercial break, Pelletier turned to local restaurant owner Tom St. John.
“So far, so good?” Pelletier asked.
“Perfect!” St. John replied. “It doesn’t get any better!”
About halfway across the restaurant floor, the show’s executive producer, Sean Gallagher, was asking the same sorts of questions. After a year of preparing the show, he was pacing nervously among an audience of people who would know whether he had truly captured the real story.
“Watching the show with all these people around is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,” Gallagher said. “I thought it was going to be like going to a party, and that’s it, but this is tough. They obviously like it, but it’s hard.”
Consisting mostly of Pelletier family and friends, the 200 or so premiere party attendees were not the most critical audience. Their pleasure was pronounced. When not enraptured, they cheered, applauded and laughed appreciatively, especially at some of the more zestfully macho dialogue as the Pelletier family — a patriarch, seven brothers and sons, and a bevy of grandchildren — and several employees described their work.
“It’s fabulous,” said Susan Jane, a resident of the Bahamas who accompanied St. John to the party. “I think it’s great for the family and great for Millinocket.”
Thanks to “American Loggers,” a tiny town of about 5,000 tucked into the southern end of the largest contiguous tract of woods in North America is finally being seen for what it has been for more than 100 years, spectators said: a place of great industry, proud, hardworking families, and immense size and beauty.
“I am so proud of my family,” said Loni Pelletier, 26, of Orono, one of the grandchildren. “Everything that they have worked for, for their whole lives, is being recognized. It really shows people how much these folks do work. They work incredibly hard.”
If nothing else, “American Loggers” will dispel the myth that the Pelletier children have had it easy because they grew up within a large and enduring logging business, said Erika Pelletier, 27, of Hermon, another grandchild.
“Our Dad never came to our sporting events,” she said without rancor. “He was always working. All of us were.”
She and her sister told how their father would awaken his children with cold water splashes at 7 o’clock most mornings if they weren’t up already, of summers spent working in the deep woods, and of a constant message that they should go to college if they weren’t going to join the family business.
“This is their lives,” Pelletier said of the show. “It’s all hard work, responsibility, and never giving up.”
Drawn to the family by its size and intricacies, and to the company’s hazardous logging and trucking along Golden Road for its resemblance to a competitor’s two reality TV programs, the History Channel’s “Ax Men” and “Ice Road Truckers,” Gallagher and his crews assembled the first hour-long segment out of more than 60 hours of video shot last spring, he said.
“The first show of any new series is the hardest to set up,” he said.
Any premiere is a lot of heavy lifting. Characters must be introduced, settings described and dramatic conflicts established, all while enough pyrotechnics occur to keep the audience hooked through the hour and drawn to future episodes, Gallagher said.
Though the first installment implied that the 60 hours ran together in a few consecutive days, with several logging trucks toppling, deadly incidents recounted, a bridge being rebuilt by teetering tractors and tons of trees being felled even as relentlessly soggy weather impeded progress, Gallagher said the show’s creators took pains to capture Pelletier Inc. as it is.
“Cinema verite,” he called it.
About 90 percent of the show is realistic, “without coaching or anything,” with the other 10 percent consisting of reconstructed elements, clearly marked, Gallagher said.
And with the logging industry facing the worst downturn in its history and a single lost truckload costing the company $52,000, the show’s creators didn’t have to strain to show the stresses company workers endure as they strive to get as much wood as they can to their wood mill customers.
“Wait until you see show No. 5,” he said. “That show is crazy and this leads up to it.”
Rudy Pelletier is pleased that the show is finally airing, but said he doesn’t desire any celebrity it might thrust upon him and his family.
“I don’t need that,” he said.
“A lot of loggers out there are just as good and professional as we are. We’re just glad that we can represent them and show people what this business is like,” he added. “That’s good. Now people will really understand, when they go buy a two-by-four at the store, all the hard work that goes into getting it there.”