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Travel show host finds a TV home trekking the globe

British show emphasizes adventure in tourism

By Kevin Drew
CNN

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"Globe Trekker" host Megan McCormick in New York
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The road less traveled is a lot of fun, but taking any path to a new destination will do just fine, says Megan McCormick.

As one of the hosts for an international travel show, McCormick has drawn on her love of going to new places as well as her ability to take risks to be a fresh voice for a popular, yet unconventional weekly program.

"The adventure takes you," McCormick says of her philosophy for venturing into the unknown.

Such an attitude fits well with the television show McCormick and others host. Inspired by the Lonely Planet Travel Guides, the Pilot Productions show -- called "Globe Trekker" in the United States and "Pilot Guides" in the rest of the world -- has been airing its brand of adventure travel for a decade.

After five years experience as one of the hosts for the show, McCormick has no problem pointing her self-deprecating sense of humor back on herself.

"If you've seen any of my shows, you'll see those moments of panic where I have to convert the exchange rate from whatever currency it's in to dollars, and there's always a moment of panic," laughs McCormick.

Show strives to be 'off the beaten path'

London-based Pilot Films and Productions began producing its travel show for worldwide broadcast 10 years ago as "Pilot Guides."

In the United States the program originally was shown on the Discovery Channel. In 2002 the show was renamed "Globe Trekker" for the U.S. audience, and moved to weekly broadcast on PBS.

A typical episode has a host and camera crew traveling to a country and playing the part of a discoverer of a new place.

Whether hiking across a countryside or enjoying a local festival, "Pilot Guides"/"Globe Trekker" hosts provide a look at local culture and activities that go beyond lying on a beach.

The show has three types of viewers, says Ian Cross, Pilot's executive producer and managing director: the active traveler, the potential traveler and the armchair traveler. Based on viewer feedback, the show's appeal cuts across various ages, he says.

The show is now broadcast in more than 40 countries and on every continent, says Maud Nahmias, who works in sales and marketing for Pilot. Estimating how many people watch the show is difficult, Nahmias says, but the channels it is shown on have a total audience of 30 million viewers.

"We always try to be off the beaten path," Nahmias says. "We've always gone for the independent-minded traveler."

The success of Pilot Productions' travel shows rests on the heavy emphasis on pre-production research into countries, Cross says. The shows are intended to be fun but not talk down to viewers, he says.

The photography is another hallmark of the "Pilot Guides" and "Globe Trekker" shows: Stunning landscapes and unusual angles are typical in each broadcast.

"I often think that they should have the camera filming the madness of what the crew are going through to get some of these shots," McCormick says. "These camera people are amazing -- strapped from the helicopter, hanging out, or on the front of a big four by four."

The show's appeal also rests with the presenters, Cross says. The hosts are sincere people viewers can relate to. American McCormick joins Englishman Ian Wright and American Justine Shapiro as one of the three primary hosts. A total of seven hosts are used for the shows.

McCormick says she enjoys watching Wright's interactions with people he meets, and Shapiro's heart-felt emotions.

"I enjoy watching Justine when she gets really angry about something. Because you do get angry when you're traveling."

Changing news industry caused career change

McCormick's own road to being a travel show host has been a winding one. After graduating from college she worked in Japan as an English teacher and then at MSNBC in TV production.

It was while McCormick was at MSNBC that the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, and she says she began reassessing her career as a journalist.

"It was a hard time to start in news when you felt really idealistic. I photocopied the Starr Report; that was it," she says. "I was just really disillusioned, I said, 'Well, that's it; I'm going to go traveling again. I know how to live on three dollars a day.' "

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Megan McCormick explores a tea plantation in the Hill Country of Sri Lanka.

After traveling through Asia, McCormick returned to the United States to search for work and learned of Pilot's search to add a host for its rotation to its travel program.

With no before-camera experience, McCormick says she looked at the audition as an opportunity to pursue her ambition of being a TV producer. To her surprise, she was offered work as a presenter.

McCormick says it was her personal travels throughout Asia and Europe that helped her get the job as a TV travel show host.

"I had a lot of respect for them when they did hire me because I thought, Well, they're hiring someone who loves to travel, not somebody who has just acting experience."

Her initial contract was one show, she says -- a trip to India. While she was in India she was offered more work by Pilot. Five years later, McCormick has traveled to Asia, Africa, Europe and even her back yards of New York City and New England to film "Globe Trekker" episodes.

Looking back, McCormick shrugs at giving up a full-time job to take work that had little more to promise than one episode and an adventure.

"It never occurred to me to not give it [the job] up. I couldn't look at that as being particularly courageous. I think I was more nervous when I first moved to Japan and I found myself living in this small town."

Support remains in a down-market world

Cross says keeping the program fresh in an increasingly competitive global TV market is a challenge for the Pilot shows.

"It's television; it gets harder each year," Cross says. "Reality shows have made it difficult for us. TV is moving more and more down-market.

"Audiences are fickle, but the support for the show is still solid," he says.

As for McCormick, she says she would like to pursue TV producing possibilities. While she has slowed her hectic work pace as a host for "Globe Trekker," she also quickly says she's devoted to the show.

"I'm addicted to it," she smiles.

Predicting the long-term future is a little more difficult for the traveler-at-heart.

"If my dad were asking me what my five-year plan was, I would probably have something more serious that includes graduate school," she says. "But, the reality is, I'd love to work toward that kind of life where you're traveling.

"I've always had this big dream that I want to buy a yacht and learn to sail and live on it. How I'm going to afford this dream, I don't know," she says, laughing.


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