A new reality TV show airing on the History Channel has cast a spotlight on life in Maine, taking an amusing look at a handful of men who deal in the discards of life to make a few extra bucks. The History Channel, however, could have taken a lesson from National Geographic.
The show, “Down East Dickering,” features fellows who get the weekly Uncle Henry’s Swap or Sell It Guide and essentially use it to find bargains — castoffs they can turn around and sell for a profit. The dickering comes into play when they haggle for the best deal they can get.
The show has averaged 1.9 million total viewers and has grown each week, according to Susan Levoli, publicist for the History Channel, and boosted the network to No. 1 in the Wednesday 10-11 p.m. time slot among men ages 25-54. No decision has been made yet on extending the show — which premiered April 2 — beyond eight original episodes.
Bearded, long-haired Tony Bennett, 48, of Bethel narrates the show and is featured in one of the groups of men who are in the cast.
In episode one, Bennett and his sidekick, Chris “Codfish” Codwell, who also lives in Bethel, buy a used snowmobile for $150 and a bucket of collectibles for $50. Later he sells one item from the bucket — a hood ornament for an old automobile — for $400. He takes some of his profit and pays a visit to someone with a yard full of junk and spends a few hundred dollars to buy some old signs and a Coca-Cola vending machine. Later he sells four signs out of his own yard to a couple from the city — “flatlanders.” The episode depicts similar escapades of other men featured in the show.
Bennett said he once bought a four-bedroom mobile home for $1 complete with a deck, porch, sheds, doghouse and swing set. He sold the mobile home for $3,500 and also got a used Jeep Cherokee valued at about $2,000 in the deal. “We got $5,500 out of a dollar that day,” he said in an interview Thursday.
He doesn’t deal in any particular category of goods. “It don’t matter what it is. We specialize in money. We deal in anything. If there’s money involved, we’ll get involved. … As long as it’s legal.”
Contrary to the publicity information distributed by the History Channel, Bennett also does work for a living. He does snow and ice removal work. He also takes down trees and does roofing. “We specialize in anything dirty and dangerous,” he said.
“If your money’s green, we’ll do it,” added Bennett. “We don’t discriminate.”
The show’s title is somewhat of a misnomer. None of the cast members lives in Down East Maine. Besides Bennett and Codwell, three people featured in the show live in the vicinity of Dover-Foxcroft, and two live in the Lewiston area. The other three hail from Vermont.
“We’ve been getting a lot of crap about that,” said Bennett, referring to the show’s name and lack of Down East representation. “I didn’t care for the name myself, either.”
The cast members are in groups, with team Clint comprised of Clint of Sangerville, Bruce of Willimantic, and Nate of Monson; the men are not identified by last name. The other Maine group is team “Yummy,” which includes Roland “Yummy” Raubeson of Minot and his son, Mitch, 23, of Auburn.
The show was cast and developed by Crybaby Media, a production company based in New York City, in a partnership with Pilgrim Studios in California. Kevin Webb, the publisher of Augusta-based Uncle Henry’s, became friends with Crybaby Media vice president Bryan Severance, who vacationed in Maine.
“I had an idea to do something different,” recalled Webb in an interview Thursday, but Severance “had a little different spin … and he had the connections to put it together, so we went with his plan.” After settling on the concept for the show, they began recruiting people to be cast by advertising in Uncle Henry’s. Webb screened people and put candidates in touch with the production company, which eventually narrowed the list and made a promotional video and began pitching it to networks.
Some people from Down East Maine originally were in the show as it was being developed, according to Webb. In fact, several teams hailed from the region, which was the impetus for the name of the show. However, those people were eventually screened out of the show as it moved forward in development.
“We just loved, loved the thought of something in Maine,” Elaine Bryant, senior vice president of programming for the History Channel, said Thursday. The way of life that Bennett and others carve out “is so aspirational,” said Bryant. “We thought our viewers would really respond to that kind of lifestyle, and that’s what happened.”
Bryant was caught off guard when she was informed by a reporter that none of the people featured in the show actually live in Down East Maine. When asked if she knew where Down East Maine was, she replied, “I know it’s a region,” but she could not identify any of its communities.
He has had more conversations with people about the name “than anything else about the show,” said Bennett. “People from Maine don’t like it,” he said.
Bernie Metcalf, who is from Down East, a Washington County contractor who lives in Machias, was not familiar with the show. “Of course, it’s very odd,” he said, referring to the show’s misnomer, after being informed where the cast members live.
“It’s sort of like claiming you starred on the high school basketball team and didn’t even make the team,” said Metcalf.
People outside of Maine associate the entire state with the term Down East, suggested Bennett. For them, the name of the show “is kind of fitting.” Mainers, however, are “going to have to live with it,” he added.
“I hope people enjoy and try not to take it too seriously,” said Webb. The show is “meant to be entertaining,” he added.
“We’re real proud of it, and it’s a lot of fun,” concluded Bryant.