Thinking Inside the Box

THE MAKING OF: THE MAKING OF MILWAUKEE

by Ellis Bromberg, General Manager of MPTV


When I was hired as General Manager of Milwaukee Public Television six years ago, the best gift I received, from a member of our Friends group, was the book "The Making of Milwaukee" by John Gurda. My family and I were newcomers to Wisconsin, and John's book was the perfect introduction to all things Milwaukee, past and present.

When it was published by the Milwaukee County Historical Society in 1999, "The Making of Milwaukee" was the first full-length book about the city's history in 51 years. As I read though it, with the eyes of a guy who has spent his career in TV, it occurred to me that the definitive television history of Milwaukee had never been made. Over the years, we at MPTV have brought you some splendid documentaries about the histories of New York City, Chicago, and Miami, even Las Vegas. We have, of course, produced programs about Milwaukee's neighborhoods and significant events --
but never a full-scale history.

In 2000, we were just beginning to produce and broadcast programs in glorious high-definition. And here we were with a man who is our generation's preeminent expert in Milwaukee history. We should do something with John, I thought! But would he be interested in turning his book into a television project? And if we he was, would we be able to raise the necessary funding to do it right?

I was delighted, shortly thereafter, to meet John and a talented video historian named Claudia Looze, and found out they were thinking exactly what I was: it was time to make a feature-length television version of "The Making of Milwaukee," and the only place it made sense to produce such a program was public television -- Milwaukee Public Television.

When you consider the continuing need for public television, THE MAKING OF MILWAUKEE provides a great example. Yes, cable offers some channels that focus on history, and commercial stations cover the news of the day. But a detailed, five-hour history of our hometown from its very beginnings to today? If Milwaukee Public Television didn't produce it (and didn't couple it with a complete curriculum package for schools and libraries) no one would. It was up to us!

If you've ever watched the credits roll at the end of a television program, you know the medium requires lots of personnel and lots of teamwork -- and that means adequate funding to do it well. The budget for THE MAKING OF MILWAUKEE, the television production, was a half-million dollars, the largest for any mini-series we have ever attempted.

So John and I and our colleagues at the MPTV Friends began to raise the money, looking for foundation and corporate support throughout the area. It took about five years, but we did eventually find the necessary funding to finish the project.

Now THE MAKING OF MILWAUKEE is complete, it's entertaining and educational and beautiful to watch, particularly in HDTV.

The miniseries premiered in October on MPTV-10 and MPTV-HD, and the response to it has been remarkable! Everywhere I've gone over the past few weeks, people have been raving about it. On the nights when it first aired, it was the highest rated among all programs on all PBS stations nationwide! That's quite something.

THE MAKING OF MILWAUKEE will be shown many times in the coming years. Its next broadcast will be over three nights, December 3-5, on MPTV-10.

We couldn't have done it without the underwriters: the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and its Halbert & Alice Kadish, Paddock, Luedke-Smith, Otto Borchert Family, and Catherine & Walter Lindsay Funds; the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; the Koeppen-Gerlach Foundation; the Faye McBeath Foundation; the Northwestern Mutual Foundation; the David & Julia Uihlein Charitable Foundation; We Energies; the Joseph & Vera Zilber Family Foundation; the Pollybill Foundation; the Douglas & Eleanor Seaman Trust; CG Schmidt; and the MPTV Friends. Additional promotional support was provided by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Just a little bit about the principal players.

John Gurda is a Milwaukee native and has been studying this town for nearly 35 years. He's written 15 books, including histories of Milwaukee-area neighborhoods, churches, and industries; the third and updated edition of his "The Making of Milwaukee" has just been published to accompany the release of the television series. When he's not working on his books, John is lecturing, guiding tours, and writing a column on local history for the Journal Sentinel. John is also an eight-time winner of the Wisconsin Historical Society's Award of Merit. He is the writer and on-air host of THE MAKING OF MILWAUKEE.

Claudia Looze is an award-winning video director who's worked on a number of programs for MPTV, including the wonderful MILWAUKEE BETWEEN THE WARS and OUTDOOR WISCONSIN. She has her own production company, too. As director of THE MAKING OF MILWAUKEE, she was responsible for tracking down much of the historic video, the old photos and rare film that help enrich the series.

MPTV veteran Bill Werner has conceived of, produced, and directed hundreds of programs on our stations over the years, from THE MILWAUKEE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA broadcasts to 4th STREET FORUM and everything in between. This month's Milwaukee Magazine is their "Best of 2006" edition, and in it Bill is named Milwaukee's Best Television Producer for the role he has played on THE MAKING OF MILWAUKEE and other programs.

The original score was composed by Maurice Wininsky of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and it is striking. Milwaukee actor James Pickering provides the narration, and he is outstanding. Hats off, too, to our curriculum development team chaired by Milwaukee educator Beverly Cross; you can access their work through the website designed by StarkMedia: www.themakingofmilwaukee.com/.

Additionally, these MPTV staff members played significant roles in the production, working on such aspects as editing, animation and graphics, videography, sound, and designing scenes and costumes for reenacted segments: Michael Garvin, Gail Grzybowski, John McKay, Jeffrey Moorbeck, Joseph Sankey, Anthony Wood, and Thay Yang.

I am so proud of the work of my colleagues at MPTV on THE MAKING OF MILWAUKEE. They've created a miniseries you should not miss.

Ellis Bromberg
General Manager