For 132 years, members of the Maine Warden Service have enforced the fish and game laws — among myriad other tasks — in some of the most rugged territory the state has to offer. Much of their time is spent alone, in pickup trucks or boats, on snowmobiles or ATVs.
In most cases, their work goes unnoticed by the general public, who tend to live in places where basic amenities such as paved roads and electrical poles are considered essential, rather than luxuries.
Starting in March, TV viewers will get a closer look at the life of Maine game wardens, as Animal Planet unveils “North Woods Law,” a show that focuses on the state’s men and women in green as they perform their regular duties. The show was developed by Engel Entertainment of New York City, in cooperation with the Maine Warden Service, and will debut at 10 p.m. March 16.
Cpl. John MacDonald has been the warden service’s project manager since discussions with production companies began two years ago.
“We were first approached by another television production company. Evidently we were a little bit behind on the uptake on that one and another state got ahead of us,” MacDonald said.
That didn’t dim the interest from other production companies, however, and Engel Entertainment producers stepped forward with their own idea.
“Our development department was looking for shows, as they always do, and came across the warden service in Maine and wanted to see if they would like to work with us on this program,” said Jessica Winchell-Morsa, the co-executive producer of “North Woods Law.”
After ironing out details with the warden service and the Maine attorney general’s office, Engel Entertainment made a pilot of the proposed program and showed it to Animal Planet, the network that had already expressed interest in the show.
Engel Entertainment crews, headed by co-executive producer Devon Platte, headed into the woods with wardens during moose season last year, and have continued to film since.
Animal Planet liked what they saw and Engel is now in the process of producing six episodes that will air on the network. Each episode of “North Woods Law” is one hour long.
Both MacDonald and Winchell-Morsa said that warden service work is largely a mystery to the public, both in Maine and nationwide. North Woods Law shines a light on that work and illustrates the variety of jobs that wardens must perform on a daily basis.
“Most people know and can name the job description for the state trooper from state to state,” MacDonald said. “In some sense, we have a misidentity, perhaps. [We have] people not knowing exactly what we do, from out of state or even within the state.”
And even if many Mainers do have a rough idea of a game warden’s job description, the larger Animal Planet audience doesn’t.
“It is a unique job. You may be used to hearing about what wardens do for a living, but to a lot of people it’s brand-new information and a new type of job,” Winchell-Morsa said. “It’s a very exciting job.”
Winchell-Morsa is confident that Engel Entertainment has captured that excitement, as well as the rugged beauty of rural Maine, in its episodes.
“Maine is a unique place compared to the rest of the country, and I also think that it’s a state that people don’t talk a lot about, so it’s new territory,” Winchell-Morsa said. “Culturally, it is different from the rest of the United States. We like who we’re meeting and we like the wardens and what they do in a very special place. In that way, it makes [“North Woods Law”] different [from other shows on the market].”
MacDonald said neither the warden service nor the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will receive payment for their participation in the show, because law enforcement agencies are not allowed to accept money for projects such as this. He said the DIF&W might see some spin-off income if viewers decide they want to buy licensed department goods — including hats and shirts — that have been available for years.
The real benefit, he said, will come later, as people more fully realize what the warden service is up to.
“We’re hoping to use it, really, as a tool to distribute our message about what it is that we do and our mission,” MacDonald said.
Reflecting that mission in the proper light was a concern to the warden service and the DIF&W, and MacDonald said those details were ironed out in early discussions with producers.
“We needed to be able to protect ourselves with some ability to be sure that the footage that actually goes on television was appropriate and professional and accurate,” MacDonald said. “We made that happen.”
MacDonald said the wardens who are featured on the show weren’t picked randomly. Instead, a “casting call” among the state’s wardens was staged, and Animal Planet officials chose which wardens they wanted on the show.
Thus far, eight Maine wardens are listed as “cast members” of the show on IMDb, the Internet Movie Database: Warden Sargeants Chris Simmons, Scott Thrasher and Tim Spahr, and wardens Jonathan Parker, Alan Curtis, Rick LaFlamme, Kris MacCabe and Josh Bubier.
“They’re getting some good-hearted ribbing from some of the other wardens about becoming superstars,” MacDonald said with a chuckle.
MacDonald said film crews have spent quite a bit of time with wardens, and via email Winchell-Morsa said crews were out on a search and rescue mission with them Thursday.
“They’ve been in Down East Maine, western Maine, the Greenville-Jackman area, southern Maine, [and] central Maine,” MacDonald said. “Because of the logistics of having film crews and lodging and things like that, and keeping where the action is, the northwest part of Maine, which is the most remote pat of Maine, probably is the only area that we haven’t gone to do a lot of work.”
MacDonald said he hopes that changes in the future. In order for that to happen, however, the show will have to be popular enough to convince Animal Planet to keep it on the air after its initial six-show run.
“We hope that people love it and we’d love to keep working with the warden service and Animal Planet making more episodes,” Winchell-Morsa said.
John Holyoke may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Check out his blog at outthere.bangordailynews.com.