From wild crocodile captures, to run-ins with drunken sailors, to life-or-death swamp rescues; there is no such thing as a boring day at the office for the men and women of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The show, Operation Wild follows these real law enforcement officers with personalities as big as the everglades, while they protect Florida’s delicate and diverse natural ecosystems. We had the opportunity to speak with Executive Producer, Adam Reed about Operation Wild and how it is positively effecting the environment, one show at a time.
AR: I like to do unscripted series that are unique. I always look for a unique window into a world that we haven’t seen before. I’ve overseen and executive produced a number of series’ but I have a passion for law enforcement and because of it, if I wasn’t a television producer, I’d be a law enforcement officer. It’s a passion of mine, this genre, so it was really a matter of trying to find a unique window into something that had never been seen before and when I came across the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, an agency that intersects with the environment as well as law enforcement and deals with as many animals, plants, different species as they do humans, I thought was very very unique. Most importantly for me, for any series to be successful you have to have great characters. When we started to meet the men and women of the FWC, I really got a sense of “wow”. These are not just officers that you see on Cops where you don’t remember the officers names, once you see the officers on this show, you become actual fans of the officer. You love their personalities and they are humanized because they are real people, they’re funny, it’s not just action packed, it’s funny, it’s comedic, it’s heartwarming and it’s really a unique arm of law enforcement that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before.
T2T: I’m sure there are a lot of dangers lurking with the show, and because the show is dealing with real life stories, and real life situations, is it difficult to film completely unscripted?
AR: Yeah, very much so. You are right on with that. When we shoot a series like this, you try and keep the smallest amount of crew members following the officers simply for that pure reason, you never know what’s going to happen. Suddenly a bear can come out of the woods and come after who ever is around. Situations can occur like having the officers are rescue beached whales and the beached whale gets out and hurts people because it’s stressed. You never know what’s going to happen with humans and the added element of the animals in the environment here, that adds another layer to not only the greatness of the show, but because there is so much unpredictability it adds another layer to producing the series. It definitely makes it a little bit more difficult and challenging to produce this type of show rather than just a typical ride along series.
T2T: What kind of message are you trying to get across for producing this type of show. For teens and kids you want to be more sensitive, is this geared towards a younger audience or more towards the parents?
AR: The great things about the series, it is literally for tots to teens to adults. The series has become really, really family friendly and it has a very wide demographic from very young children to teens to older adults because there’s a little bit of something for everyone. There are great characters, there’s interesting environment and interesting wild life interaction. There is a great amount of action for those people that like action, but we took pains taking effort to make sure that it was really a series that was balanced for the widest possible audience and you have to be careful about that because it sometimes has a generic feel to it. We try to focus on the character, focus on the action, focus on the environment and highlight the uniqueness of all those things and when they came together, we had a series where, I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve gotten, and emails I’ve received from parents who sit down with their children and watch this show, not only because they enjoy the show but because they’re learning something about the environment. They are learning something about the environment, human nature and nature in general through the difficult jobs that these officers are doing. It allows parents and children or teens to talk to each other about what they are watching because it is not boring and educational and you don’t feel you have been force fed information. You have great take away information with the series, but more importantly, you’re entertained. It is really showing you a world you’ve never seen before, and for us, I’ve done a lot of different reality television series’ and it’s always those shows that show you worlds that you really don’t have a good understanding of that are the most successful.
T2T: How big of an area does Operation Wild cover?
AR: Operation Wild covers the entire state of Florida. The officers patrol the entire state from the Keys to the Everglades, into the more populated marine area’s as well as the dense wooded forest. There are officers dispatched all over the state of Florida which from a production angle makes it a bit more difficult to shoot, but from a variety angle, it’s fantastic because we have so many different environments and just beautiful production value, which is another reason why I think people enjoy watching it. Florida as a state is so beautiful. Having different environments helps to keep the show fresh, it’s not like you are watching the same thing in every episode.
T2T: How does conserving our water at home help to preserve our wetlands, or does it not matter? If I am sitting in a state located in the middle of the United States, how does me conserving my water help Florida? Does it really matter?
AR: I think we hit upon that a number of times in the series. I think we see the officers come across people who are drinking beer while they are on the water and they are throwing beer cans in the water, and you think some people may do it and think “oh, I threw a beer can in the water, so it’s one beer can”, well when that starts to add up, it pollutes the environment. There are little things that each one of us can do, one would be not littering on our resources. You know when you are fishing, these officers are out patrolling to help keep the resources fresh and viable. You know you can only take a certain number of fish, you can only harvest a certain number of lobsters, and those laws are in place not so the law enforcement officers can be difficult, but they are in place to really make sure the environment can continue to prosper. I think it’s the little things that we can do, by following those laws and respecting the environment in any little way possible, even if it seems as small as not littering. Which in a big picture perspective, when everyone is doing it, it adds up and it just ruins the entire environment for everyone.
T2T: What should one do in the state of Florida if they see something going on that they know isn’t right, or legal?
AR: Notify the FWC. The FWC is a state wide agency so if you are in the Florida area and you see something that isn’t right, they can dispatch an officer as soon as they have someone available to check on the resources.
T2T: With a down economy, have you noticed a rise in illegal activity?
AR: It’s hard to tell from a production aspect, but I do know the show is having an effect because the FWC has been inundated with emails, phone calls, and letters saying how much the show has taught them about the environment, it has taught them what the FWC does and about the state of Florida. I feel like the show has really heightened awareness that there is an agency out there patrolling to keep our resources and our environment respected and you know its hard to tell in just two seasons if its made a difference, but from what I hear from the FWC, certainly it’s brought a much wider awareness to the situation that hadn’t been there before. People are really responding and talking about the show. It was the number one rated original series on Planet Green, and now we are running on Animal Planet and it’s had tremendous success. Each episode continues to grow and the viewers are returning, people are blogging about it and talking about it, so word is nicely spreading virally. Operation Wild has such a nice, loyal following to not only to the FWC but to the men and women, the characters as well. It just keep getting bigger and bigger, and certainly I like that as a television producer because my show is successful, but more importantly, I certainly like the effect that I am having on the world too in the sense that we are sending a important positive messages out there and people are responding to those messages.
T2T: What types of jobs/fields are involved or available when working to preserve our wetlands?
AR: The FWC has quite a wide range of jobs it covers. They have law enforcement officers, biologist, people who go out and tag animals, researchers, rehabilitate animals, so if you are trying to figure out what to focus on in school, you can study a number of angles and be employed with the FWC. You can go at it from the animal angle, law enforcement angle, research angle, science angle, rehabilitation of animals angle, its such a big agency and they cover such a wide breadth of what they do that the options are quite endless. Working with the FWC is such a great opportunity because you are not just stuck in a lab all day, you can be out in the field and interact with the environment and see different animals and do something different in science that can have a big effect. Real people, real life, real stakes, and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out but these guys are out there trying to do their best to protect everything that we enjoy.
T2T: What kind of animals do you come across?
AR: We’ve seen everything from manatees, to bears, every kind of fish you can imagine, lobster, whales, porpoises, lizards, every time we are out there we see something different for sure. Someones pet dog got out and was on the freeway and the FWC found the dog. That isn’t something that they normally do, but they found it and got it off the free way and returned it to it’s owner, these guys are out there doing everything. That is the great thing. You see everything from birds to mammals to fish to really extreme wild life like bears. Its a fun show to shoot too. You never know what you are going to encounter and every day is just something new.
T2T: What are some of the hidden dangers for producing Operation Wild?
AR: You are always at risk as a producer when you are doing a law enforcement series, it’s just the nature of the game. I’ve come to know and love the officers and the job that they do. They don’t get paid a lot and they are out there putting their life on the line everyday and we ride along with them, literally standing right by them. We have no guns, no badge, we may or may not have a bullet proof vest on, and you never really know what you are going to come up against. Even in Operation Wild, its even more difficult because most of the people that the FWC is interacting with are either out hunting or fishing. So inherently they are going to have a knife on them, a gun on them, and they are legally allowed to do that. I take my staff through a full training process before we go out into the field so we know how to react. The FWC and law enforcement agencies that we work with give us lessons on how we should react, what we do in case of an emergency, if something happens to them, what we say on the radio, you never know what is going to happen and fortunately we have not had anything bad happen but you always have to be prepared for that possibility.
T2T: What from your stand point as a producer, not necessarily in law enforcement, why should we take care of the wetlands and the eco-systems?
AR: The end of the day, it comes down to one simple word, respect. We have to respect the world that we live in, and the environment that we live in and realize that we are not the only ones that live in it. We need to be aware and take care of the environment that we are in any way that we can. We have to realize that we’re not only respecting the environment that we are living in, but we are respecting it for everyone living in it. If everyone just takes a moment to just think about that while they are out enjoying the beauty of the environment it could be around for generations to come. It just comes down to respecting the environment and using common sense as to what to do and what not to do in those environments.
Operation Wild awaiting the news as to whether or not there will be a season three, but until then, you can catch up on all those episodes you may have missed by checking your local Animal Planet and Planet Green listings. Keep our environment safe, take care of what is ours and give thanks to those officers who live each day protecting our beautiful lands.