Yet another Alaska reality TV show debuts this week. But unlike dozens of previous shows featuring inept gold miners, snowmachine chases of drunken criminals or former governors trying to stretch out their 15 minutes of fame, the latest show promises to put the real back into reality TV. It could even be educational.
The new show features faces that may be familiar to Juneau viewers.
The program “Alaska Treasure Hunters” features four Juneau men as they explore and search for long-forgotten historic sites.
The program has been well over a year in development and production.
It was inspired by the popular Juneau Hidden History Facebook page that Joe McCabe and Brian Weed started five years ago.
“To bring it to TV and actually show these things, it’s kind of Alaska’s treasures,” Weed said. “It’s a part of Alaska history that a lot of people don’t realize is still there.”
Weed said he rejected previous offers for a reality show because potential producers wanted to focus on the usual reality TV nonsense.
“‘We want to make sure there is a lot of drama in your group to show that this is something people want to watch,’” Weed said of one of the show pitches. “And then we get the questions like ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’, ‘Have you seen aliens?’ Just off-the-wall questions.”
“A couple times I hung up on them where I was like I want nothing to do with this kind of show because there’s plenty of those shows that make Alaska look bad,” Weed said.
Weed, who serves as the historian for the group, said it’s not really a reality show. Instead, he calls it a “docu-follow.”
The places and historic events are real.
The dialogue is not scripted ahead of time, and there is no manufactured drama among the cast.
“I’m a retired rock climber, retired Juneau mountain rescue guy,” McCabe, the group’s safety officer, said. “I bring some mountain experience, a lot of rock experience and rescue stuff.”
Greg Taylor is the jack-of-all-trades outdoor survival expert who keeps the group headed in the right direction.
“I kept us from getting lost even though we knew where we were going to begin with,” Taylor said. “I keep track of the GPS and coordinates.”
Adam DiPietro is a mountaineer with a background in geology and engineering.
“Brian knows roughly how old the mine is based on the history of it, the logs and what you can find in the archives,” DiPietro said. “But I can take it and I can measure how much rust has actually occurred, how much oxidation and back-calculate to figure out – based on the rate of rusting – how old the object is. There’s two different schools of thought to figure out how old something is.”
A fifth cast member, who was unavailable for an interview, is the group’s scout and bear guard, Weed’s dog named Kat.
The pilot episode features a search for the lost Rocker Mine, which undercuts the popular myth of Joe Juneau and Richard Harris as the first white men who discovered gold in the Juneau area in 1880.
According to the group, gold was actually discovered 13 years earlier by a man named Fred Culver.
“He died before he could come back and really stake a claim and actually get super rich,” Weed said. “This is us looking for Culver’s mine based on all the data, facts, journals that we can get a hold of. We’re tracing back to the — hopefully — location of the lost Rocker Mine.”
“It was nice,” McCabe said. “We did some interviews with a lot of local folks here to help us out. It was a pretty cool process.”
“Some epic adventures, too,” DiPietro said.
Weed says there also were some items — not shown in the program — they discovered from Culver’s period that could not have been left by Juneau and Harris.
It’s only a pilot program. Whether or not it becomes a regular series depends on this week’s ratings and social media response.
Weed said the show’s not just about exploring old mines in the Juneau area.
If the show gets picked up as a regular series, then they plan on traveling around Alaska exploring old military installations such as World War II internment camps and old Nike missile defense bases, ghost towns, old Native village sites and petroglyphs, Southeast Alaska fox farms, shipwrecks and plane crashes and abandoned gold dredges and trains.
“Alaska Treasure Hunters” airs 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Wednesday on the Travel Channel and then repeats 10 a.m. Sunday. It’ll also be available on the Travel Channel website and Hulu.
See the Forum@360 about Juneau Hidden History that aired in July 2016: