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Henry, Mac and Annie, the stars of 'Into the Outdoors.'
Coming to the airwaves near you:"Into the Outdoors," a dynamic television program that shares enthusiasm for outdoor fun, exploration and environmentalism with younger viewers.
Each half-hour program opens and closes with comments from two kids, sandwiched around four live-action segments. Our hosts, Annie and Henry, met at a fishing clinic in Milwaukee. Since that time prior to the show's first episode, they've communicated by computer. Their focus, as well as the show's, is exploring Wisconsin outdoors: nature, spiders, fish, birds of prey, activities like snowshoeing, the list goes on. We join them each week as they hook up to decide where the adventure will begin. One week they join a friend who's tracking wolves by airplane to study this magnificent animal in Northern Wisconsin; another week they'll yank invasive plants at Peninsula State Park. From each initial adventure, we're off on three more, each as dynamic, educational, and active as the last.
A little about the characters: Annie lives in Milwaukee with her grandparents and widowed father. She's vivacious, sharp, with a keen sense of adventure. Her best buddy Henry lives in Eau Claire, geographically apart but together in spirit and technology. Henry lives with his younger sister, Patsy, an aspiring television reporter who shows up in several episodes "getting the scoop" on mosquitoes, ticks and bees, or the dirt on pollution. Henry's dad is a travel writer and his mom teaches at the university.
There's a strong inter-generational tie, with Annie's father and grandmother turning up from time to time, and Henry's family built into the show through Patsy's reporting and his parents' participation in outdoor activities. Aside from appealing to kids and enticing them outside, this sense of connected families that stay involved and pass on their experiences to the next generation is an important element of the show.
Adding to Annie and Henry's adventures is a naturalist named Richard, who shows us all about habitats, wetlands, environmental issues and wildlife. Richard is Annie's friend and she visits him often at the environmental center, taped at DNR's Havenwoods Environmental Awareness Center in Milwaukee. He leads Annie and her small group of local friends outdoors, where the natural world around them comes alive.
Amelia is everybody's neighbor. Her home is her garden where she shows kids different nature-related crafts they can make at home. These include leaf-printing on T-shirts, making bug traps to study crawling critters, crafting an eagle mobile, and more. Amelia has a warm, engaging personality that invites all viewers, child and adult alike, into her world of hands-on crafts and exploration.
Finally, there's Mac, an older kid from Brooklyn, NY whose relatives live in Stevens Point. He's been to Wisconsin and loves it, making as many trips back as he can. In the meantime he provides fascinating scientific information in short 90-second clips when Annie and Henry turn to him for the lowdown on topics such as tracking devices, fishing lures and tapping sap from maple trees. Mac likes to dress to fit the topic and lets his silly side shine through, complementing his scientific nature.
Why watch? Because the show brings Wisconsin's outdoors to life for children. It shows the outdoors is accessible to all kids whether they live in rural homes or urban apartments. Viewers get to see and learn about a range of outdoor fun from a young rural boy who goes turkey calling with his parents, to a program for city kids that takes them to a game farm to learn about hunting dogs. Even Richard explores gardens at Havenwoods in Milwaukee, since gardening may well be the closest experience in the outdoors that some viewers will get.
Educational – By having specific educational goals, "Into the Outdoors" stands apart from much of children's programming, putting it in the company of the best children's TV shows. It encourages kids to think, do and explore. Each segment provides something for the young viewers to think about and learn, from the different calls of a loon, to seeing a bear cub returned to the wild, showing the viewers how, what, and why the outdoors works. The environment, so much a part of Wisconsin's identity, is presented truthfully, including problems such as measuring mercury levels in the rivers and streams, and managing deer populations. Sometimes the answers are tough, and "Into the Outdoors" keeps it honest, never glossing over a difficult solution, and never assuming the viewers won't understand.
Entertaining – The show's creators knew from the start that the only way to reach an audience is to keep them interested and engaged. In today's world of 70-channel cable choices and entire channels devoted to kids, the need for fast-paced, entertaining television is crucial. "Into the Outdoors" keeps this need to be entertaining always in mind. Younger audiences can identify with the hosts. Their personalities are strong, their relationship solid and often funny. Patsy, Henry's sister, adds a strong and engaging character who takes her investigative reporting very seriously. Amelia captivates with her gentle world in the garden. Richard draws us in as he leads us around the pond or through a habitat. And Mac provides solid scientific information while injecting some wackiness to the mix when he shows up in a wetsuit to talk about frogs or a skull cap and beak to rap about raptors. This human element combined with original music, graphics and editing to produce a fast-paced, entertaining show that will hook kids from the start and keep them watching.
Engages adults too – Much hand-wringing occurs in today's culture about the lack of mentorship and adult involvement with kids. The creators of "Into the Outdoors" remain keenly aware of this. The show never abandons its child viewers to a television set overrun by cartoon characters or an entirely young cast. It covers a wide age range in its characters, from the hosts, to Mac, to Richard and Amelia, adults who exude comfort and respect in the presence of kids. The families of the hosts remain always near. We see Henry and Annie's families in the show. We hear their voices. We know they are close by, ready to lead and support these kids. Once we dive into the live action segments, adults are everywhere: DNR employees show the kids brownfields, water snakes, loons and milkweed monitoring stations. Using a range of DNR naturalists and educators, the show continually highlights children interacting with adults, and these interactions are two-way: the adults often learn as much by being with the kids as the kids learn from the adults. Whenever possible the live action segments are told from the point of view of a single kid on an adventure, such as Keenan, the boy who goes wolf tracking, and Maggie, who checks out bird watching at Bong Recreation Area.
Wisconsin specific – This show breathes, sees, eats and does Wisconsin. It takes viewers all around the state exploring new places and giving examples of why Wisconsin has a national reputation as environmentally enlightened. The outdoors are truly important to the people of Wisconsin, and that message comes through clearly in this show. Map locators identify the location of each and every segment. Cities, parks, recreation areas, lakes, rivers, and streams are all identified and identifiably Wisconsin. The characters love where they live and have more than enough to explore and discover within the state to keep them busy for years to come.
And that is "Into the Outdoors." A show created by Discover Wisconsin Productions and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. It's designed to reach kids across the state, get them up and out, looking under rocks, kayaking in wetlands, using their hands and their minds to uncover the world, as Amelia says, "Right under your nose." "Into the Outdoors" awakens children to the air, the water, the land, the teeming wildlife all around them. It provides an excellent vehicle for kids to begin and continue exploring the natural world with each other, with their friends, and with their families. The outdoors is for everyone, from kids in wheelchairs roaming a park to families speeding out for a day of charter fishing on Lake Michigan. They learn through this show that they're a part of this natural world, that it requires stewardship and respect, and that learning all this is an adventure of the highest sort. The title itself says it all: an exhortation to get "Into the Outdoors", right now, today, it's all there just waiting for a curious kid to take a look.
Mark A. McNease is the "Into the Outdoors" co-creator and the program's head writer.