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Venture North

Karen Sunderman was a little anxious and jumpy -- she usually is until things get started. Although she was enjoying what turned out to be a glorious autumn day at the Apostle Islands, there was work to do.

Karen Sunderman was a little anxious and jumpy -- she usually is until things get started. Although she was enjoying what turned out to be a glorious autumn day at the Apostle Islands, there was work to do.
Sunderman had to get intriguing information and interviews. From morning until mid-afternoon, she worked quickly and diligentlywith colleague Steve Ash to get what they needed for a 7-minute segment of "Venture North," a feature television program that highlights living in the northern regions of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Sunderman is a writer and producer for WDSE Channel 8 as well as the host for "Venture North." Ash is a WDSE photographer, director and editor.
This October, "Venture North" will begin its 20th season. Sunderman and Ash recently did a "Venture North" story about the fifth annual Apostle Islands Lighthouse Celebration.
At 10 a.m. in Bayfield, Wis., one September day, stormy weather threatened Sunderman's and Ash's intentions as they prepared to board the shuttle boat Eagle Island. Having a choppy lake could be a problem. Ash had to get steady pictures of the captain, passengers and the scenery as the boat made its way to Raspberry Island Lighthouse.
Along the way, a surprise was in store for Ash as he worked his camera around the boat. A pair of bald eagles soared from tree to tree around each bend as the boat made an impromptu excursion along the shore of the mainland.
As the clouds cleared, Ash said he was able to get backlit shots of the passengers admiring the eagles, as well as the water spraying from the boat as it coursed through the waves. In the meantime, Sunderman talked to a few passengers and interviewed the boat captain.
There was more work to do once on the island. More interviews, information gathering and camera work (besides interviewing, Sunderman's job is to haul Ash's tripod everywhere they go).
On the way back, Sunderman and Ash were able to sit and enjoy a muffin for a few moments before talking some more with the captain and doing another interview with the man who started the Lighthouse Celebration.
There were a few minor complaints once filming was done. Sunderman said it's hard to do a story while on someone else's schedule. They only had an hour at the lighthouse. Ash said the choppy lake and cloudy skies at the beginning of the day, as well as shooting in midday light at the lighthouse, were difficult.
Recapping the day is typical after shooting a story, both Sunderman and Ash said. Communicating prior to the shoot, however, is vital, because the pictures have to match the story.
"He knows my writing style and way of thinking, and I know his style," Sunderman said about working with Ash. They have been working together for five years on "Venture North" and WDSE documentaries.
"Venture North" was originated, produced and hosted by Glenn Maxham and first aired in October of 1981. Maxham, who now freelances for local publications and occasionally works for WDSE, said he always has had an insatiable curiosity.
Maxham's interest in feature stories began while working for the Armed Forces Radio while overseas. He also did feature segments for each of Duluth's news stations before joining WDSE.
"Initially, getting started was horrendously difficult," Maxham said. He and the photographer had to get three new "Venture North" stories a week. Maxham remembers shooting five in one day, and editing was done manually.
Maxham said he had to get out and look for the stories by visiting communities and asking questions. One time he asked if anyone made homemade butter in the community, and someone actually did.
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"Venture North" was somewhat primitive in the 1980s compared to today, Maxham said. Special effects were minimal, and the host segment was shot in front of the fireplace of Maxham's former log home rather than at the station.
Despite a few differences, the formula of the show remains the same. Maxham said he chose stories based on geographical diversity and gender following. Sunderman said today, stories for "Venture North" also need indoor and outdoor segments as well as active and passive ones.
Maxham said he never thought the show would last 20 years.
"It's really a long run for any show in television today," Sunderman said. "Especially for smaller, local shows."
Sunderman said she works on "Venture North" stories at least six weeks in advance. There are other shows to write and edit at the station before she works on the Raspberry Lighthouse story, which will be aired in January.
"Venture North" begins its 20th season on Thursday, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m. with stories about Duluth artist Ann Jenkins, a couple who started a "mom and pop" bird rehabilitation program in Wisconsin and Peg Oberg, a boat captain in Grand Portage for the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
The program is aired in 17 markets throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, including a few "pockets" in Wyoming and Indiana.
"The formula for 'Venture North' is things to do, people to meet, places to go," Sunderman said. "It's a slice of life."

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