Portage will get a bit of the spotlight as a Milwaukee Public Broadcasting crew introduces the city to wider Wisconsin and uncovers surprises for long-time residents.
“Around the Corner with John McGivern” will feature Portage in the upcoming season, with four days of shooting scheduled in the coming weeks.
“We go around and it is a half-hour show about what it is like to live, work and play in different towns and neighborhoods in Wisconsin,” said the show’s content producer Susan Borri. “So what we do is schedule nine interviews, or talk to nine people — three live, three work and three play — and John interviews them and we film at their facility or at their home.”
To get an intimate view of a community for visitors working on a tight schedule, producers reach out to local fixers to help get them in contact with residents who are leaders in the community or just have interesting stories to tell.
“They called us and told us they were working on their next season which will not run until January 2019, but they start all the filming now,” said Portage Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marianne Hanson. “They have a list of different places they want to go to and a list of different people they want to chat with.”
Hanson provided Borri with recommendations and answered requests, amounting to a long list of potential contacts and shooting locations, which was shortented to nine interview subjects.
McGivern and producer-director Lois Maurer will be in Portage for four days — two two-day visits — divided between the last two weeks of September. The episode will be aired by Milwaukee Public Broadcasting as part of the program’s eighth season and is aired on Wisconsin Public Television as well as other public broadcasting networks.
The production team earned a regional Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement for Magazine Programming for their sixth season in December.
“We intentionally do it this way because we spend three minutes at the top of every show looking at history, because every community is rooted in its history and we understand that,” said producer and director Lois Maurer. “We focus on the present because we want our viewers to be able to go there. If you stopped in Portage for a day, who would you meet and who would you find?”
Two subjects that McGivern is scheduled to meet will be Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey, who has been a lifelong resident and police officer in the city for more than 40 years, and Shirley Rehdantz, the club hostess of the Women’s Civic League and resident at the Zona Gale House.
The show aims to give a sense of a city, but can’t be all-inclusive, Maurer said, with interviews introducing people that McGivern met, who may not be the same for other visitors.
“It’s really a tough thing to explain, but every community has a feeling and it is my job to put it onto tape,” said Maurer. “One of the things that I am very proud of with this show is that so far we have gone back to communities and ask, ‘Did we get it?’ and they say, ‘You got it.’”
The team does not plan to overlook notable aspect of the city either, said Maurer, pointing to the maximum-security Columbia Correctional Institution. Although filming inside may not be workable, as a major employer here, it bears mentioning, so if necessary, they will stand outside the gate to film a comment on the prison, yet to be determined according to their improvisational style.
“I don’t know what it will be, but it will strike us that day and we’ll say it, because that is how it works,” said Maurer, emphasizing that whatever is said will be positive.
“Everybody’s got their problems and we’re not interested — you can find those things in the newspaper and a myriad of other places,” said Maurer. “But there are very few places you can find positivity all the time.”
The program’s filming schedule happens to land at a time when areas in and around Portage will be largely back to normal following flooding of the Baraboo and Wisconsin Rivers, but even in the event of challenging conditions, they will take what they get.
“We’ve done 104 of these now and I’ve never had to cancel because of the weather. There is always a way to shoot around it,” said Maurer. “There’s always a way to work it in.”
The most challenging shoot happened in Sparta over the summer, according to Maurer, with rainstorms resulting in strategic shooting and editing, and more indoor scenes than average.
“One of the things that I love the most is that there are things you probably don’t see because you live there and you are there for totally different reasons,” said Maurer. “One of our favorite things to do is to look up and to see the buildings, and the names and the dates on the buildings.”
The last word in the program will be given to Mayor Rick Dodd, who will get an opportunity to give the shortest version of his pitch for visiting and living in Portage. The 30-second spot is a staple ending to the program.
“There was quite a variety they had on my list,” said Hanson. “Portage has so much to offer that it is hard to pick a couple things and the show is only 30 minutes long.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: The article was updated to reflect that the show is produced by Milwaukee Public Broadcasting.