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Comeback stories help define a winning formula for a trio of popular made-in-Michigan PBS shows

Informational television shows work best when the hosts are familiar with the topics and can relate to their guests. That combination has been a winning formula for a trio of Michigan-based public TV programs that have gained national viewers and interest.

“We are exactly the people we feature,” says Start Up host Gary Bredow, who profiles entrepreneurs doing just what the title indicates. “This show is one hundred percent a startup business.”

The same can be said of Under the Radar: Michigan and A Craftsman’s Legacy, whose origins were framed by the mother of invention (or reinvention).

Under the Radar host Tom Daldin says the idea for the show came during less-than-optimistic times for the creators and featured locations. “Five years ago we were all down on ourselves and on the state,” he says. Being laid off will do that, as Daldin and his co-creator, Jim Edelman, had been. “We had to reinvent ourselves, and this was a way to make people feel better about where they live.”

Reinvention, as these shows highlight and reflect, is best done through innovation and hard work — and not worrying about getting dirty hands. No wonder they’re made in Michigan.

Under the Radar: Michigan

Back when Under the Radar was an idea in search of air time, Daldin was asked how long he could maintain a single-state focus. He’d be lucky to last a season, one skeptic had said.

“Are you kidding?” Daldin says. “There are 10 million people in this state. We could do this until my son reaches retirement age.”

UTR has made Daldin, his ball cap, and mustache familiar sights, yet the spotlight remains on the featured Michiganders, who he says are “wonderful, creative, energetic, driven, and motivated people.”

Equal parts travel show and personality profile, an episode typically visits two locations with a couple of highlights at each stop. The common bond is a shared love for a place called home.

“It’s really about cities and towns and letting the people say why they love it so much,” Daldin says.

Entering its sixth season, Under the Radar already topped 75 episodes. There’s a companion book — The First 50 — and talk of an Under the Radar: America. 

Edelman says the audience is what makes the show a success. “It still comes down to eyeballs, ears, and the ability to reach an audience,” he says.

And a host who understands why people move to, live in, or stay where they are. “I try to convey a positive attitude because I do love it here,” Daldin says. “There are a lot worse places you can be.”

Eric Gorges (right) and furniture designer Alan Kaniarz

Start Up

The entrepreneurs of Start Up didn’t just create a product or service. Each redefined themselves just as producers Bredow and Jennifer Feterovich had. Lost employment inspires a bit of soul-searching. “It forced a lot of people to look within and maybe think about what they always wanted to do,” Bredow says.

Now in its third season, the producers have found plenty of kindred spirits with practical approaches to launching a business. No “trust fund” babies or “get-rich-quick” schemes, just hardworking people.

“There’s no ‘next big thing’ because life is not always about the next big thing. Viewers can relate to the subject and say, ‘I want to own a coffee shop,’ ”  says Feterovich. Or patent an invention, like a rib deboner courtesy of former Detroit Lion Al “Bubba” Baker; or college students who’d designed a teddy bear for children fighting diabetes.

Feterovich, who’d emigrated from Russia to the U.S., says the show reflects the art of the possible that is America. “This is the only country where you can come here with nothing and become anything you want,” she says.

Eric Gorges discovers the intricacies of clock making.

A Craftsman’s Legacy

Creator and host Eric Gorges had modest — perhaps cautious — expectations for A Craftsman’s Legacy.

“I didn’t want (viewers) to get up and quit their jobs,” Gorges says. “Just to think about working with their hands again.”

Thus, the “legacy” that Gorges embodies. Childhood memories include never hiring repairmen for jobs that his grandfather or father could do themselves. The genetic makeup served Gorges well with his own company, Voodoo Choppers. His works-of-art motorcycles earned national attention. But the show steps outside his comfort zone.

“We show respect for the history of the craft,” Gorges says. These are the people who build guitars, make chairs, and hand-tool clock workings: young or old; men or women; professionals or amateurs.

“People have jobs, and they have their passion,” Gorges says. “Sometimes those are the same, but … your passion is where you escape.”

Now airing its second season, A Craftsman’s Legacy follows proven formulas like This Old House, but also embraces the “maker’s movement” and do-it-yourself spirit, producer Selena Lauterer says.

That’s because Gorges is not afraid to try new things. “Eric pushes himself,” Lauterer says. “He’ll get behind a loom or a sewing machine and put himself out there as the ultimate apprentice.”

Viewers connect with hosts who are eager for new adventures. It’s what these made-in-Michigan shows have in common.

“It’s never about me; it’s about them,” Gorges says. “We’re all here to learn and we’re all here to share that knowledge.”

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