WESTON, Conn. – Richard Wiese, the Weston resident who hosts the ABC program "Born to Explore," has spent much of his lifetime traveling around the world to places most of us can only dream of visiting. Yet he’s proud of maintaining ties to Weston and producing his show from an office in Westport, where the local crew can work and raise their families.
"Born to Explore" premiered last year and was rated No. 1 in its time slot (Saturday morning at 10 and 11 a.m. on channels 7 and 8). The second season launched Oct. 6 with 26 episodes shot in Chile, South Africa and other locations documenting the people and cultures of the world.
We spoke with Wiese this week to get a focus on his life and the show he created.
The Daily Voice: You climbed Mount Kilimanjaro when you were 11. How did you get such a young start at exploring?
Wiese: A lot of the things I remember since I was young dealt with the outdoors. It’s how I was raised. When I went to Africa at 11, I got the exploration bug.
The Daily Voice: What other kinds of exploring did you do that led to "Born to Explore?"
Wiese: I’ve done quite a bit. I was the co-discoverer of 212 new forms of life in Central Park and the same with Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, where I discovered 26 new forms of life. I’ve been on archeological digs, I’ve been to the North Pole, I’ve been on Everest doing medical research, I climbed an unclimbed mountain in Alaska. I’ve done a little bit of everything.
The Daily Voice: How did the idea for the show come about and how did you make it happen?
Wiese: Anytime someone has an idea for a TV show they think "If I were the boss I’d do things differently." I put my money where my mouth was and decided I wanted to do a TV show that was a little different than the adventure shows you typically see. I pitched an idea and ABC liked it, along with the distributor, Litton Entertainment, and we gave it a go. I was in a unique situation, a host who also owns the show and is the executive producer. My small editorial group has total control over every week’s show and it’s great that way. We use adventure as the backdrop, but it’s people who make the show. Whenever I travel I find the stories behind the people are so interesting. I’ve seen a part of the world when I travel that I’ve never seen before, so you’ll see things you never see in tourist books.
The Daily Voice: What’s the strategy of the show and how do you deal with the people you see?
Wiese: The strategy is that you think global but act local. If you were coming to Weston it would make most sense to have someone who lives in Weston show you about and that’s the same when I go to Uganda. We work with tourism boards and public relations and they take care of security so I’m not always looking over my shoulder, and I can meet somebody and go into their life. I try to capture the universal languages of art, music and food where somebody actually lives no matter how humble it is.
The Daily Voice: Of all the places you’ve been, what are the highlights of the first season and what do you see ahead for the second season?
Wiese: We’ve been to so many great places. I really enjoyed walking amongst polar bears up in the tundra with the Inuit. In Morocco we went to a Berber village that had never been visited by Westerners before. In Uganda, we met the Batwa pygmies. The trip I’m taking to South Africa in the next month is the trip of a lifetime and a trip I’m taking to India coming up is the trip of a lifetime. Every trip I do is off the charts.
The Daily Voice: Does every trip produce one show?
Wiese: No, we have to do 26 shows so generally we do two to four shows per trip. For South Africa we’ll do four. The last trip for the South Dakota buffalo stampede we also did a Native American show.
The Daily Voice: What are the benefits of producing the show in Westport and living in Weston?
Wiese: We chose to produce the show out of Westport instead of New York or L.A. First of all, I live here, and second, there are a lot of talented people, skilled producers with children, and the choices they made they can’t do that commute. It has a little more family atmosphere here, it’s more laid back.
The Daily Voice: Are there any opportunities here for aspiring TV professionals?
Wises: Absolutely. We had four interns who were all hired and they’re here working. Erica Pulcini just field-produced our last show in South Dakota and she started as an intern. We’re global in the scope of what we do but to do stuff locally is way better.