Send Letter to Editor

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Henry, Mac and Annie, the stars of 'Into the Outdoors.' copy; Discover Wisconsin Productions, Inc.

December 2000

Into the Outdoors

A new TV show tunes-in to outdoor fun.

Mark A. McNease

Henry, Mac and Annie, the stars of 'Into the Outdoors.'

© Discover Wisconsin Productions, Inc.

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.

When and where it airs
"Into the Outdoors" will be shown on the following stations at these times:

Duluth, MN WDIO, Channel 10, Sundays, 7-7:30 a.m.
Eagle River WYOW, Channel 34, Sundays, 9-9:30 a.m.
Eau Claire WQOW, Channel 19, Sundays, 7-7:30 a.m.
Hibbing, MN WIRT, Channel 13, Sundays, 7-7:30 a.m.
Green Bay WGBA, Channel 26, Sundays, 7:30-8 a.m.
La Crosse WXOW, Channel 18, Sundays, 7-7:30 a.m.
Milwaukee WISN, Channel 12, Saturdays, 6:30-7 a.m.
Madison WKOW, Channel 27, Saturdays, 10-10:30 a.m.
Wausau WAOW, Channel 9, Sundays, 9-9:30 a.m.

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.

Amelia helps kids with hands-on craft projects in her garden. © Discover Wisconsin Productions, Inc.
Amelia helps kids with hands-on craft projects in her garden.

© Discover Wisconsin Productions, Inc.

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.

Digging deeper online
Television can be so fast-paced that it's hard to get in-depth information you'd like. After watching "Into the Outdoors" (ITO), visit EEK! Environmental Education for Kids, the Department of Natural Resources' website where kids can learn more about Wisconsin's natural resources.

EEK! has added a special section where TV show viewers can "Go Deep Into the Outdoors" to get additional information on stories that have aired. If a segment on wolf tracking leaves you wanting more, visit EEK! to read about wolves in Wisconsin. Couldn't quite follow Amelia's origami instructions? EEK! will give you step-by-step directions to fold your paper on the Amelia "Right Under Your Nose" pages.

When you're done surfing the ITO section, check out other parts on EEK! for more information on plants, animals and the world around you. Test your knowledge with EEK!'s games and quizzes. Teachers who want to bring ITO into their classroom will find special hands-on activities to go along with the television show on the EEK! Teacher Pages.

Into the Outdoors lists air dates for the shows, information on the characters, special outdoor events and provides an address where you can e-mail your ideas for future episodes.

Both the television show and EEK! encourage kids to learn more about the natural world and then do it – put their shoes on, grab their coats and go outside to experience all the great things the outdoors has to offer. – Carrie Morgan, DNR Environmental Educator

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.

Why TV?
Why TV? In casting an eye toward the future, DNR Secretary George E. Meyer decided the time is right to invest in a television show for youngsters about the state's outdoors and environment. His strategic aim? To build a natural resources ethic in today's youth – tomorrow's citizens – by using television, a medium that kids enjoy, while satisfying demand for quality children's programming.

Through "Into the Outdoors," the DNR hopes to:

introduce children to Wisconsin's natural resources and environment
show children how to appreciate, use, sustain and protect these resources
teach children how dependent we all are on our natural resources

The decision to help produce "Into the Outdoors" acknowledges a sober truth: Wisconsin won't maintain a quality environment and abundant natural resources if future citizens don't know or care about nature's bountiful, but vulnerable, assets.

That reality already is evident. Social and economic changes nationwide continue to move each generation a little further from the land, while technology and population growth place more pressure on it. A generation ago, youngsters could more safely and independently explore the outdoors. Environmental topics were rarely taught during the school year, but more kids lived in rural areas or had close relatives who took them berry picking on a dry hillside, fishing for bluegills in a nearby lake, or just exploring woods, fields and streams.

Now the reverse is true. Thanks to committed teachers, strong curriculums and supportive parents, young people learn a lot about the environment in school, but they have fewer opportunities for outdoor experiences. To suburban and city kids, nature seems more distant even though outdoor fun may be just blocks away at a waterside park or bike trail. Busy, two-income households and more single-parent families need all the help they can get to find convenient outdoor getaways to enjoy with youngsters.

As a result, many kids just don't know what it's like to muffle the sound of their shoes in a woodland carpet of moss, hear a whippoorwill call in the summer twilight or glimpse a brook trout fanning its fins in a gravelly streambed.

"Into the Outdoors" will introduce the sights and sounds of nature, visit nearby places to have fun outdoors, and demonstrate how to keep Wisconsin's environment healthy to enjoy "the good life" now and in the future.

The show will feature children taking part in many popular outdoor and environmental programs currently offered in Wisconsin. Look for segments that teach viewers to enjoy the outdoors safely and skillfully whether hunting, fishing, or operating a boat, snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle. Look for fun lessons about forestry, wildlife, water and air quality and recycling.

So starting Jan. 6th, let kids tune in weekend mornings to check out pond life at a local environmental center, join wildlife managers running a goose-banding "round-up," or prepare a recyclable picnic. The fun and learning are waiting for young people, their families and Wisconsin's future on "Into the Outdoors." – Wendy Weisensel, DNR Public Affairs Manager