Last week I came upon a refreshingly uplifting TV program that features people and places in each of the United States. It airs all over the globe to 215 million people, and its most recent episode featured the state of Maine.
The host of this American road show is Gerard Klein, who spoke with me by phone from Paris — not Paris, Maine, but the original one in France. Gerard is a well-known French actor and radio host, who also has appeared in American films. Some years ago he hosted a TV show in France, traveling and exploring various regions of the country. For a long time he and Laurent Le Gall, who worked on the same show, imagined doing a similar show about America.
“Many European people don’t know about America,” said Gerard, “and I thought maybe people might like to see a French guy learning about the country.”
TV5MONDE liked the idea, and “L’Amerique Dans Tous Ses Etats” (Across America) was born.
TV5MONDE is a French broadcasting network that airs in 200 countries. I spoke by phone with Patrice Courtaban, the COO of the network’s US office in Los Angeles, and learned a bit about the company. Part of their mission is to preserve and promote the French language and culture around the world, but they also serve a broader purpose of international cultural understanding.
Their programming is in French, but is subtitled in more than 12 languages worldwide, including English subtitles in much of their United States programming.
“We already have a good viewing audience in Maine,” said Patrice. He is very enthusiastic about the success of Gerard’s show as it heads into its third season.
I can attest — it truly is a delight to watch Gerard on screen. His enthusiastic charm and natural
friendliness are irresistible, both on the air and over a phone line. But part of his exuberance
around “L’Amerique” may be the fact that it is a labor of love for the three men who create it. Gerard does not get paid for the filming. He travels with only two cameramen, who also happen to be his editor and director, and his very dear friends.
“We are really friends,” said Gerard. “It is almost like I am a father to them.”
The same sentiments were echoed by Laurent in my phone conversation with him. He is full of
admiration for Gerard who is much more friend than colleague: “He can be like our father…I really love Gerard.”
Both Laurent and Gerard marveled at the vast spaces in the U.S. Laurent has lived in San Francisco for 13 years, and fell in love with the country “the nature, the space, the people, everything!” He was very excited to work with Gerard on a road show that would portray American culture and landscapes to the world.
One of the reasons why the show works so well, Laurent explained, is because, “We don’t prepare too much, because Gerard has an incredible energy,” and is so good at spontaneous conversation.
“We are really free to go where we want,” said Gerard. “We say to each other, where do you want to go? Hawaii? Yeah! Let’s go to Hawaii!” To be sure they stay fresh, Gerard explained, they film only two episodes at a time in two week sessions, “because I want to be happy every day while filming.”
Highlights of the May 28 Maine episode were: bagpipes at a Portland carnival, women recycling
sailcloth into designer bags (Seabags), a delicious meal in a B&B on Isle au Haut, antique shopping in Bar Harbor, a lobstering expedition with Capt. John on the “Lulu,” a logging operation in Millinocket, a comical moose sighting and a Micmac drummer by a lakeside in beautiful Fort Kent. It was funny, entertaining, and taught me some new things about my home state.
A strong French heritage and history made the Maine episode particularly rewarding.
“Our goal is to meet American people, but we meet at least one French person per episode,” said Laurent.
In Maine, Gerard met several French speakers. He particularly hit it off with Capt. John Nicolai, a bilingual lobster boat tour operator. In fact, the strength of Maine’s ties to French history, culture, and language tempt the show’s creators to return to Maine. They are considering having Gerard return to host screenings of the program, give talks and promote continuing interchange between countries.
“It would be good for me to go back to Maine,” said Gerard.
Sometimes people they meet have asked if the show is going to make fun of them. “But we tell them no!” Laurent said. “This is not political or economical, it is only cultural…It is a great pleasure to me to have the privilege of learning about the U.S. People love the places they live, and they are happy to share their lives.”
Of course Gerard would love it if an American network picks up the show and distribution soars, but in the meantime his enjoyment translates to us with great humor, enthusiasm, and an open heart.
“It was a great dream, this show, and now it’s a great pleasure.”
TV5MONDE is available on Time Warner Cable (Lewiston-Auburn channel 71, Bangor
channel 64, Portland channel 285 and DI SH Network channel 731)
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.