The Milwaukee Independent spent a full day traveling with the crew of Around the Corner with John McGivern, while filming a season six episode featuring the community of Whitefish Bay.
The Milwaukee Public Television (MPTV) program has a staff of 14 who work full-time to produce each season. For Milwaukee Independent’s Day Three, the on location crew included host and producer John McGivern, producer and director Lois Maurer, videographer Justin Migliano, and audio engineer Gail Grzybowski. Mike McGivern, Sports Segment Producer, joined the team for the final segment of the day, and history segment producer John Gurda was absent, having filmed his portion on Day One of the four day shoot.
During the episode’s production, which took place along high traffic public streets and areas, there was a constant flow of people excited to say hello to McGivern, who is an Emmy Award-winning actor. They did not greet him with star-struck awe, but with the comfort of a family friend or at least the familiarity of a much funnier Mr. Rogers.
Each episode of Around the Corner has between 15 and 22 interviews, filmed over 4 and a half days, to produce 28 minutes of television. Run time is the top issue the show gets feedback about.
“The number one, I will call it a criticism, about the show is why isn’t it an hour. Because we cover so much so quickly in every community. So people would like to see more,” said Lois Maurer, series producer and director for MPTV. “I feel that is also a vote of confidence. Because if you feel like oh, no, it’s already over, then I’m doing something right.”
For viewers who regularly watch the show, McGivern’s energy and personality are every bit as genuine when the camera is not rolling. The creative chemistry between him and Maurer are contagious. The production day was long, and required skill, hard work, advance planning, and on the spot adaptability. The veteran crew made the job seem easy, because of their experience and professionalism. And at ever step of the experience was amazingly fun and it was a privilege to watch the magic behind the scenes.
Making Season Six Episode 4: Whitefish Bay
McGivern was moderately familiar with Whitefish Bay from his boyhood, because the number 15 bus route went up Oakland Avenue when he would ride to Bayshore Mall.
“Winkie’s is part of my youth, I remember it clearly as a kid,” said McGivern. “We would always come to Winkie’s to get stuff to decorate our bikes with for the 4th of July, and Christmas decorations, Christmas lights. My Mom loved stuff like that. And its still an anchor to this community.”
Because he lives in downtown Milwaukee, from a logistical view to produce the show, the thing McGivern “loves most about Whitefish Bay is that its only 15 minutes from home.”
Whitefish Bay encompasses 2.5 square miles, populated by 14,000 people, with the predominate feature of single family homes. That fact alone says much for what the community is about.
“By our second day in Whitefish Bay we realized, we get this, we get why people live here,” said McGivern. “We get why people move here, and why people move back here for those who were raised here. It’s a great community. We don’t say that about every place.”
Nuts and bolts of production
Around the Corner has aired 65 episodes, and is currently close to halfway through producing the next 13 for season 6. When McGivern and Maurer started the show 6 years ago, they had no idea that each community they found would all feel so different.
“Some of the episodes that end-up being the most exciting and successful for me are the places I never heard of before,” said Maurer “So now I don’t have a dream location left to visit because I know there are places out there that I’ve never been to or heard of yet that I will be going to and love.”
Around the Corner started with a whole different idea, to inspire people with a sense of community. However, the producers soon learned that folks did not need inspiration because they were already passionate about their community. Instead, the program needed to show people and celebrate their community commitment.
The show’s content producer, Deidre Martin, who in fact lives in Whitefish Bay, scouted the area and talked with folks in the community, then gives a list of 30 to 35 things to Maurer.
“Lois keeps in her mind what we are doing all season so we try not to repeat stuff. So when people are like ‘I cannot believe you didn’t do this…’ Well, if you look at other shows throughout the course of the season we may have, for example, another library or been to something really similar in that community,” said McGivern. We try to keep it so its not the same stuff for 13 episodes.”
As public television, every person and place featured on Around the Corner is selected by the production. It is not like Discover Wisconsin with requires payment to be in the spotlight, nor does it follow the agenda of a Chamber of Commerce or Business Improvement District. The selection process remains a hit with the audience who crave having their community featured in a future episode.
“We have this entire state that we cover. And I wish I could tell you that it’s scientific, but it isn’t. We say, hey where do you want to go. And someone says, Wauwatosa,” said Maurer. “Between my shooting crew, audio, post-production, pre-production people, we all have a voice, because it takes a huge team to make Around the Corner.”
The process of discovery
Over the course of filming, it was through the words of those who are interviewed that the crew began to realize what it what Whitefish Bay is. This process help form the ending of an episode.
“If you watch the show, I do a ‘this is what Whitefish Bay is.’ It is what we come to understand from those who live here. And that is, the heart of this community feels like it always did. That its based on neighborhood, its based on family, and its really kind of based in community, and that’s what Whitefish Bay feels like,” said McGivern. “If you look at these streets, there are kids everywhere. If you look at the schools, there are hundreds of bicycles. I don’t know if we’ve been to a community where that is true. Which speaks to community.”
It is the premise of the show that if you drop into a community, what are you going to find? Who lives there, who plays there, who works there? These are the questions that direct the exploration through each episode. Tourist guides are great for landmarks that everyone can visit, but Around the Corner goes out of the way to find what is commonly overlooked. Usually an agenda to present a city makes it look just like every other city. What McGivern, Maurer, and crew strive for is finding the unique essences of the community.
Social good presented as entertainment
Milwaukee is much maligned as a segregated city. MPTV is based here, and a good portion of its viewership is from the area. What Around the Corner does, which lacks so much from other media, is offer insight and understanding. When we as a community talk about identity and diversity, they are only theory unless they come with action. Until enough people are willing to step outside of their comfort zone, get in a car and travel, McGivern’s program at least paves the way for viewers to understand different communities. While many enjoy the episodes as ideas for travel destinations, the program shows our shared humanity. All the different shapes, sizes, thoughts, experiences, likes, hopes, dreams and complexities of our people, our cultures, and our communities. We are not all the same. But we are familiar. And in the familiarity we fail to really ask questions and explore. Around the Corner takes this task with each episode produced, and packages it with a light-hearted approach, brilliant storytelling, and entertaining humor.
By the end of the day spent with the crew, that was summary for this editorial report. The show features who we are, to help us accept ourselves and others.