Rick's Take on Producing the Series
How did you get involved in television production?
In the late 1980s a Seattle production company (Small World Productions) combined their passion for travel and TV production expertise to turn the message of my guidebooks into a public television travel series. It was tough to get off the ground. But with a lot of hard work and sweat, the early shows did well and eventually public television programmers came to expect a new batch of "Travels in Europe" shows from us every two years. In 2000 I decided to produce TV shows on my own. Since then, I've done 43 "Rick Steves' Europe" shows plus "Rick Steves' European Christmas" — a PBS TV special airing this December. This past summer we filmed new episodes in Bath and York in England, plus Scotland, Wales and Northern Spain. These and a few yet-to-be-filmed shows will air in the fall of 2006.
Why do you produce shows for public television and not cable or network television?
Many TV producers have tried to lure me into the money-making world of commercial and cable television. But my audience is public television viewers and my passion is to make travel accessible and meaningful. That fits the mission of public television to a tee. I'm thankful to have public TV as my home...and you'll find my shows nowhere else.
What do you enjoy about being part of the public television world?
I think of myself as a teacher and a tour guide with a passion for helping America broaden its perspective through travel. (Only America can be outvoted in the UN 180 to 2 and think everyone else is wrong. To me, this indicates a serious need to get out and explore the world.) Public television runs my shows giving me a huge "tour group" to vicariously show around Europe. In return, I am happy to scramble with public television (spending 20 days a year on the road doing pledge drives) to help them make ends meet in this tough economic climate. As far as this taxpayer is concerned, our society would benefit greatly from more government funding public broadcasting. Then we could spend our energy generating great programming, rather than asking for financial support to pay our bills.
How do you decide which European destinations you'll cover in your shows?
My scripts are inspired by my work as a tour guide and guidebook writer. With my experience leading tours around Europe and exploring new places with my guidebook in mind, I stumble onto activities, experiences, and slices of the local culture that just scream "Put me on TV!" When I assemble an eight-page script of these great travel moments...I do.
What is your favorite country to film in?
Any place that I have something new or different to offer and local friends to buddy up with to give a more vivid and intimate look at that locale. From a nerves point of view, I like places where the sun shines (much better TV footage) and where the local tourism folks see a big camera as a friend rather than an enemy. It's interesting how some places give our crew a big warm and wide open welcome while others make it really tough to film.
What is a typical day like for you in Europe while filming?
We spend six days filming a 30-minute episode and it is a fascinating, exhilarating, and exhausting scramble from start to finish. We generally shoot from 9 a.m. until it's too dark to shoot any more. Then, about half the evenings are spent shooting after dark segments. I spend my late hours on my laptop finessing the script which evolves over the course of the shoot. We start with a carefully crafted 8 page script. But it always changes a lot as the work progresses. I love the collaboration with my producer/director Simon Griffith (who is on location for every inch of footage and then overseeing the post-production back in our Seattle-area offices) and with our camera-person. I work hard because this is my wonderful opportunity to share a favorite slice of Europe with what I think of as a giant tour group watching from the comfort of their own living rooms. My crew is just as committed to the quality of our work and for that I am really thankful.
To interview Rick, please contact:
Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door
130 Fourth Avenue North
Edmonds, WA 98020