Question: What television show (with about twice as many episodes as “Seinfeld”) is the nation’s longest-running for its genre?
Answer: “Discover Wisconsin,” which aired its 350th episode this month. No other tourism series has outlasted it. The show began 25 years ago and runs on 18 TV stations in the Midwest.
A new coffee-table book, “Discover Wisconsin: Discovering the Very Best of the Badger State” (Discover Mediaworks Inc., $39.95), celebrates this silver anniversary. Inside the photo-rich album is a mix of Badger State history, heritage, travel and trivia. I learn:
– At least 3,000 collectibles, gas pumps to signage, make up the Northwoods Petroleum Museum, Three Lakes.
– One of the best places to watch bald eagles is at the Mississippi River, between Blackhawk Avenue and Washington Street in Prairie du Chien.
– The Milwaukee Mile is eight years older than the Indianapolis 500 racetrack.
– The Wisconsin Corvette Club, founded in 1959, holds its monthly meetings at The Machine Shed in Pewaukee.
You could say the TV show “Discover Wisconsin” – which lets everybody explore the state without leaving the couch – caught on because of an Eagle River fishing trip in 1985. Longtime fishing guide Dick Rose (who two years earlier helped comedian Bob Hope catch his first musky) was on water with Wisconsin Dells businessman Chuck Thompson and then-legislator Tommy Thompson.
“Why not promote our state as a great place to vacation?” Dick asked the politician, who liked the idea and subsequently rallied to help publicly finance the first episode, about Eagle River’s annual world championship snowmobile derby.
The show only aired on WAOW-TV in Wausau but was the springboard for much more, especially after Tommy’s election as governor. Add corporate backing (Chevrolet was the show’s first official sponsor), a 13-week flight of programs and a widening range of viewers.
“Dad had the opportunity to fish with many celebrities and would always talk up the great state of Wisconsin,” says Mark Rose, who earned an associate degree in police science after his service with the Marine Corps.
“I thought I’d be an attorney, but Dad wanted help raising money, so I took off a semester of college. The show kept growing and growing.”
Former Miss Wisconsin Stephanie Klett’s 19 years as show host further elevated public attention. “She was a great choice – high visibility and full of energy, excitement, passion for Wisconsin,” Mark says.
After Stephanie’s 2011 appointment as state tourism secretary, more than 400 people applied for her job. In the role is Emmy Fink of Yorkville, near Racine, whom Mark says adds social media savvy – mobile updates, Facebook posts – to her statewide travels.
“We affectionately use the term ‘edutainment’ to describe the show,” Mark notes, in a Wisconsin Counties magazine article. “The novelty of Dad’s idea was to create a long-form show where people were being entertained while learning about a destination.”
The “two-way business model” involves advertisers and resources from destinations featured on the show. Mark describes the setup as mutually beneficial.
He and wife Lisa Rose today are executive producers of “Discover Wisconsin,” which is a part of their Discover Mediaworks, whose 43 employees also provide a range of marketing assistance, branding to online strategies for corporations to tourism destinations.
Discover Wisconsin Radio segments began nine years ago, to complement the TV show. The children’s program “Into the Outdoors” was launched 11 years ago, in partnership with the state Department of Natural Resources. “I started fishing with my dad at age 5, but it’s not like that for a lot of kids,” Mark says. “We want to get them involved in the outdoors.”
Episodes, used in classrooms, teach children to become good stewards of the Earth.
What can fans expect as more years pass? “The stories just keep coming at us,” says Mark, who calls St. Germain home. “When you have a state like ours, it makes our work easy.”
For more about “Discover Wisconsin” and to order the new book: discoverwisconsin.com, 888-447-7578. Inside the book are Quick Response codes that produce online video tours of Sprecher Brewery, a Native American powwow and more.
Lolly Rose, wife of “Discover Wisconsin” founder Dick Rose, heads the nonprofit Angel on My Shoulder, which arranges outlets of support to people whose lives are touched by cancer. The work began after Dick died of lung cancer in 1994.
Upcoming events include a retreat for cancer caregivers, May 11-12; summer camps for children and teens affected by cancer through loved ones (such as a parent or sibling); and a November retreat for adults who are cancer survivors.
For details: angelonmyshoulder.org, 800-860-3431. Donations are appreciated. This all-volunteer initiative began in 1995 with Uplifting Angels, one-on-one support – through “thinking of you” gift basket delivery – to cancer patients throughout Wisconsin.