JACKMAN — A California-based television group wanting to highlight America’s small towns landed on Jackman after a recent road trip through Maine.
“Everywhere we went, people said you need to go to Jackman,” said Jodi Flynn, the executive vice president for Cineflix Productions in Beverly Hills, Calif. “We were really struck by the passion people have for the town. They just seemed to love it, and it was a different life than most of America.”
The television production company, which produces shows for networks including A&E, Discovery and the National Geographic Channel, knew it wanted to create a show based on “Northern Exposure,” Flynn said. “Northern Exposure,” which ran from 1990 to 1995, was a CBS series about a New York doctor who is sent to practice in a fictional Alaskan town.
“We’re just getting going on it, but the idea was to explore life in great small towns in America. Maine certainly seemed like a place not represented on television,” Flynn said.
Town Manager Kathy MacKenzie said the company visited the town in December to conduct some unofficial interviews with residents.
“We didn’t know they were coming at the Town Office. One of the selectmen just walked in and asked, ‘Who is that interviewing people down at the transfer station?’ one day,” she said. “They were just out and about.”
Fire Chief Bill Jarvis said he was interviewed by a casting producer for the company in February and has been in contact with the company about the progress of the show.
Jarvis, 52, runs his own forestry business and helps to moderate town meetings, in addition to serving as the fire chief. He said he was skeptical at first about the idea of a reality show in Jackman.
“I heard a few people talking about it and figured it was just gossip,” he said. “I think my first reaction was probably one a lot of people would have — we don’t need that. I thought of all the wacky shows out there.”
However, he said he agreed to an interview after researching the company and realizing that they produce quality shows.
Cineflix produces “American Pickers” on the History Channel, “Property Brothers” on HGTV. It also produces other shows that run on Oxygen, TLC and Animal Planet.
“Everything is very well done. They don’t focus on making people look like backwards hicks,” Jarvis said.
MacKenzie said she thinks the network probably chose the town, which has a population of about 800, because of the contrast it presents to other parts of the country.
“People in L.A. would probably find it interesting because of its remoteness,” she said. “People here have to travel pretty far for some basic services.”
The town has its own restaurants, grocery store and pharmacy; but the closest chain stores are 75 miles away in Skowhegan, MacKenzie said. There is also limited access to medical services, she said.
“People might have to travel 100 miles to go to the doctor,” she said.
Jarvis also said the town’s forestry, maple syrup and tourism industries would provide interesting material for the show to focus on.
On Feb. 28 MacKenzie said the company told her the idea for the show had been sold to a network. Flynn said she couldn’t confirm a name or which network had bought the show. For now, MacKenzie said, she has heard it being referred to as “The Real Northern Exposure.” She also said she didn’t know which network, but it is “very well known.”
Flynn said company representatives will be returning next week to conduct interviews.
The company originally wanted to speak with as many residents as possible via Skype, then send them to the network to home in on specific people to become characters on the show. However, the plans changed, and now the company plans to visit Jackman again March 13 and do the interviews in person from March 14 to 20, Jarvis said.
“They are looking for all different types of people,” said Jarvis, who has been in communication with the casting producer preparing to visit next week.
The company plans to return with camera crews in April to film the pilot episode, Flynn said. Depending on how well the network likes the show, more episodes on Jackman may be ordered.
MacKenzie said she hopes the show will portray the community in a positive light and said the company has assured her it would.
“Some of the stuff you see on TV is really negative and not helpful to the communities portrayed,” she said.
The Jackman show would be more of a documentary about the town and its way of life, with more seriousness than typically is granted to reality television, she said.
“They told me that they’re not looking for characters, but that they’re looking for people with character,” Jarvis said. “It will definitely be a learning experience, though. This is all new to us.”
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368