FORT KENT, Maine — Perhaps it was only a matter of time. Over the past decade reality based television has come to dominate the airwaves and within the last several years, Maine has started to get its share of screen time with shows like “American Loggers” and “North Woods Law.”
Maine, it would seem, makes good television, and producers — always on the lookout for the next “Survivor” or “Duck Dynasty” — are turning their eyes and cameras ever northward.
Last fall I received calls totally out of the blue from two different production companies — one from Chicago and the other out of New York — asking about possible reality show topics here in the north.
Now, while both individuals I spoke with could not have been nicer, it was glaringly apparent that neither had a clue about life in northern Maine.
The first call was from the Chicago-based producer who had worked on reality shows including Cajun Law and was looking for a similar hook here in Maine.
I could actually feel the disappointment coming through the phone line between the midwest and New England as I had to tell him that, no there are not a lot of murders in Aroostook County; no, our sheriffs do not regularly engage in high speed automobile chases on dirt logging roads; no, there are no ongoing feuds between families; and no, the north Maine woods are not full of superstitious cults engaged in ceremonial rites under a full moon.
What we did have, I told him, was a community that pulls together when catastrophe — personal or town wide — strikes, moose and bear aplenty, blackflies and mosquitoes that can carry off small livestock and yes, the kinds of small-town characters that make every community unique in its own way.
Do we at times go head to toe on issues? Sure we do, but when push come to shove, it’s really pretty cool how everyone seems to forget the petty issues that seemed so large and instead work together for the good of all.
What makes for a great community, however, makes for lousy reality television.
Not three weeks later I got a call from a woman out of New York who works for the production company responsible for shows like “MythBusters.”
In this case, she was looking for something that focused on a particular group or family up here in the north and was quite intrigued by Allagash.
Now, I would think anyone who has been fortunate enough to spend any time with the folks who call one of Maine’s smallest villages home would agree — if ever a community was made for television, it’s Allagash.
So, I waxed poetic about the independent spirit of its residents, the amazing transformation of the small school into a thriving community center, last summer’s village-wide involvement in the raising of three pigs, and the longstanding tradition of the Maine Guides whose skills and knowledge have been passed down for generations.
When I was done, the silence coming from the phone receiver was deafening.
Northern Maine, it seemed, was not quite dysfunctional enough in this case.
Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a two-man crew from yet another production company who had actually made the drive north to scout and film for a possible television show.
The producer was affable, but was emphatic he did not want anything about his proposed show publicised lest some other enterprising production company steal his idea.
“I can’t tell you who you can and can’t talk to in your own town, obviously,” he said. “But I really can’t speak to you on the record.”
Fair enough, I thought, thinking that is where this particular story was going to end since neither I nor my editors in Bangor wanted to harm his chances for successfully pitching the show.
Next thing I know, the cameraman is at my house filming me working with the Rusty Metal sled dogs and repairing dog houses — using tools, just like all the other higher primates. From there he wandered around for a bit filming the odds and ends of actual rusty metal around here and some shots of nearby potato fields.
Sadly, time did not allow for filming the Rusty Metal chickens or honey bees.
Then he was gone, off to film more snippets of life in Fort Kent potentially destined for the small screen.
If, by some miracle of modern television production, Fort Kent or even the Rusty Metal critters end up with their own show, it would not be the first time celebrity lightning has struck close to home.
Just up the road from me live my friends Andrew and Linda Morin. Several years ago, Andrew gained fame as one of the featured workers on the popular Discovery Channel series “American Loggers,” which followed the daily routine of the Pelletier logging operation out of Millinocket.
Andrew was — and is — a crane operator responsible for loading logs that have been dragged to the road onto the trucks which take them to the mills.
It can be a taxing job, at times, evident by those occasions when the final version of the log-loading sequence features several “bleeps” censoring some of Andrew’s more colorful observations.
The funny thing is, Andrew’s first language is French and the producers never bleeped out those curse words when muttered in good old St. John Valley French. Now, that was good television.
For now, we wait to see if the goings on at Rusty Metal Farm or the other dozen or so places visited by recent reality television show producers creates enough interest for a full-blown series, something that could be decided by the middle of this summer.
Just in case, I’ve scheduled complete fashion makeovers for the sled dogs and chickens.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.