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Columbia resident is 'skipper' of flagship public television program

The world of media has changed a lot in the 25 years since Maryland Public Television aired the first episode of "Outdoors Maryland" in 1988.

New technologies have come and gone, and the advent of the Internet has forever altered the way consumers get their information.

Still, "Outdoors Maryland" has been able to build and maintain a strong and loyal following, making it the most popular program on Maryland Public Television.

How has it done this?

Through the guiding hand of the show's executive producer, Columbia resident Mike English.

"He is the skipper at the helm that is 'Outdoors Maryland,' " said Susanne Stahley, who, as a freelancer, produced segments for the show for nearly 15 years.

"He didn't start the show, but he's the master of it. He really is the series, and the series really is him," said Stahley, who is now a staff producer for MPT's arts and culture programming.

Under the direction of English, who took over the show in 1991, the show's format was switched from a traditional long form documentary style to what English calls "mini-docs," or vignettes.

Each half-hour episode is made up of three eight-minute shorts, which English says "pulls the curtain back on nature" for the programs viewers, or — as English calls them — "armchair adventurers."

"Our goal in public television is to create programming for the citizens of Maryland that is educational, entertaining and enlightening and fosters discussion about important issues," English said. "I think 'Outdoors Maryland' does all of that."

According to fellow environmental filmmaker and underwater cameraman Nick Caloyianis, it's English's ability to break down complex environmental issues into easy to understand viewing experiences that make him, and the 37-time Emmy award-winning program, so successful.

"The mark of a good filmmaker is the ability to distill these dense topics so the masses can get something out of it," Caloyianis said. "Not only does Mike do that, but he's managed to give some resolve in his films, to offer some solutions."

After spending time with English at MPT's offices in Owings Mills, it's easy to see where "Outdoors Maryland," which is celebrating its 25th season this year, gets its personable vibe from.

"It's really about people, and how they experience the outdoors," said English. "It tells the story of Maryland's natural resources through the eyes of people."

As the show's executive producer, it's English's job to come up with the three story ideas for each the show.

English said he keeps the focus the show, which airs Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 5:30 p.m., to relevant issues facing Maryland's many natural resources.

"It's a very organic program. We don't use effects, the flashy effect we use is a dissolve," English said. "It's just the viewer and the picture and the sound, and what's unfolding in front of them on the screen."

Nita Settina, Superintendent of State Parks for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which co-produces the program, said English's passion for conservation is one of his, and the show's, strongest traits.

"Mike is a true friend of the conservation of Maryland's natural resources," Settina said. "He does a wonderful job of telling a story in a thoughtful way that is engaging, and connects people with the natural resources."

Settina has worked with English for 17 years on segments for "Outdoors Maryland."

"I've always enjoyed working with Mike," Settina said. "It's a tribute to his storytelling that after 25 years people still want to tune in and watch his program, despite all of today's distractions.

"He's a unique talent here in Maryland, and has really developed the 'Outdoors Maryland' brand."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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