John Burke’s first memory of the great outdoors was on a family vacation to Three Lakes, Wisconsin. He remembers hiking in the woods and chattering when his father said, “Shhhhh…” That moment was revelationary for the then-second grader. “I could hear my dad’s walking stick in the pine straw, wind in the trees, water lapping on the shore,” Burke says, remembering a sense of wonder from all the sounds of nature he’d been missing.
These days Burke gets to continue that communion with nature through his “dream job” as host of the Vegas PBS show Outdoor Nevada. The second season debuts May 10 at 7:30 p.m. on Vegas PBS (Channel 10) and continues every Wednesday at that time. (It also can be streamed for free online.)
During the season’s 10 episodes, Burke explores Nevada in a Land Rover named Penny. In the season debut, “Desert Treasures,” he visits Gold Butte National monument and sails through a Jean Dry Lake Bed. Subsequent episodes take him and the viewer birdwatching in Amargosa River, mountain biking on the Old Spanish Trail, following the Kokanee salmon migration in Taylor Creek and more.
Producer Fabiana Ubben is most excited about the season’s penultimate episode, “Common Ground,” in which they spend the full 30 minutes visiting tribe members of Nevada’s four Native American nations. Each episode is typically broken down into multiple short segments, so by devoting a full episode to a single subject, the show is able to dig deeper. Season 1’s special episode, about the Reno cattle drive, has earned the show a nomination for a regional Emmy award for “historical/cultural documentary.”
Even though his strong handshake makes him appear to be the natural outdoorsman, Burke is actually an LA-based actor. (Google “True Blood newscaster” and you’ll see him get his spine ripped out by a vampire.) He has fallen in love with this “beautifully wonderful strange state" and its “little odd spots,” such as a tree in the Mojave that has rubber ducks hanging from it or the desert rocks that move themselves. He has also found that traveling to a location is as enjoyable as the destination: “With convenience store coffee, beef jerky and the open road, I could go all day.”
As a non-Nevadan, Burke invites a local audience to discover its state along with him. He’s more relatable as a host than he would be if he were a super-athlete. “I’m not an expert rock climber, I’m just a journeyman,” Burke says. “If viewers see me and relate, it’s my hope that they’ll get off the couch and go do it for themselves. I want to this to be interactive TV.”
Outdoor Nevada Vegas PBS, Channel 10, Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m. or vegaspbs.org/outdoor-nevada.