Student journalists of the Entertainment Coverage class were given the opportunity to interview Neal James of Animal Planet’s “Call of the Wildman” on July 31.
Laden in his Kentuckian accent, James advised the students over conference call, “stay off drugs and alcohol to go see the places out there. It can really work your adrenaline glands. If you go outside, jump off a cliff. Pick up a snake. There are a lot of wonderful things out there that charge the endorphins in the brain. Go out and experience the open.”
According to PopTower.com, James is Ernie “Turtleman” James Jr.’s (the star of “Wildman”) right-hand man and because of his long-distance telephone service, is also qualified as Turtleman’s secretary. James takes the calls from businesses and homeowners in need of the Turtleman’s expertise with their “critter problems.”
The job “fell into his lap” after the Turtleman invited him to play the banjo while he waited to catch a turtle so that those watching would have something to do.
Through 15 years of producing “Animal Talk,” a talk radio show to help people with their pets, instructor Jamie Flanagan’s radio contacts gave students the chance to ask questions to this reality TV star.
“It’s exciting and you get nervous,” Katt Gonzalez of Grand Ledge High School said. “Even though its on the phone because it’s someone famous and they can have a lot of influence. You get nervous they’re going to be mean or something like that.”
After viewing an episode of “Wilman” the night before, questions included a focus on dangerous moments and the aspect of dramatization.
“They put a disclosure at the end of the program about dramatization,” James said. “The fear factor has to be there involved before the person will watch it and feel like they’re there and experience it with you. The dramatization is all about being afraid.”
Students also asked about the fan response to the program airing at 10 p.m. on Sunday nights.
“There were a couple of comments when we first came out throughout the Facebook fans on Animal Planet because they didn’t understand,” James said. “They were talking about the hicky hillbilly and they’ve never seen such a ridiculous thing in their life. But for the most part people are supportive.”
Even though James’ email is “completely full” and phone “rings off the hook,” he gave the class ways to reach him on Facebook, Twitter and even his personal email and home phone number.
“It’s what journalist and reporters do,” Flanagan said. “It’s doing a little research on the topic and talking to someone in the entertainment industry. I thought it was pretty interesting because the guys are portrayed as dimwitted rednecks, and he is very down-southy, but he had a level of understanding about it. I thought that was interesting that he gave them a little peek of behind the scenes stuff. Its a real world experience for them, it was important for that.”
James even left a challenge for the young journalists.
“My challenge to you guys as students of journalism is to find out what the audience wants to see. What would be interesting to somebody that may have a different mindset than you? Challenge yourself. There’s where the beauty of television is.”
SAMANTHA VANHOEF / THE UPSTART