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Bruce Reichert

The Outdoor Idaho host talks about Idaho City, O'Leary's Saloon and Zorba the Greek

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Bruce Reichert, host and executive producer of Idaho Public Television's Outdoor Idaho, turns 66 years old this month—but don't expect to find him anywhere near a birthday cake.

"I try to be out deer hunting or walking in the woods. I make a point of it. I've stopped celebrating birthdays," he said. "I've been a late bloomer. I'm doing things now that a lot of people would probably have done 10 years earlier. People who count their years? That's not a good thing."

Reichert may not celebrate his own birthday, but he has reason to be proud of Outdoor Idaho's, which entered its 33rd season this month with an exploration of Idaho's "Middle Earth," taking cameras deep into Gem State caves. Looking at the slate of upcoming programs, it is clear Reichert and his colleagues aren't resting on their laurels, which are plentiful: hundreds of national and regional awards, including Emmys and Edward R. Murrow prizes.

It was a rare opportunity for Boise Weekly when Reichert—reluctantly, at first—agreed to a sit-down interview.

For the record, you're not an Idaho native.

I like to say that I came to Idaho with my pants on. Our family came to Boise from Minot, N.D., when I was 10. I came from a very stable family. When I think of my upbringing, I think of Leave it to Beaver. I remember when I and my brothers were kids, we would go out into a field with our bows and arrows, convinced we were exploring the vast wilderness.

What Boise schools did you attend?

Sacred Heart Catholic School. I left home when I was 14 to go to a Catholic seminary in Oregon for five years. I don't talk too much about that.

I hope you know I can't leave that topic just yet. How important is faith in your life?

Let's put it this way: I'm a recovering Catholic. I'm a fairly spiritual person. I certainly understand the power of religion in people's lives, and I know how exciting and safe I felt when I had a vision of a world that included a personal god.

I'm guessing that in your life's work, you have found yourself in places—particularly in Idaho—where you may have sensed the presence of a higher spirit.

When I was growing up, I would sit off to the side at my desk in grade school so my guardian angel would have a place next to me. I don't know if it was the Leave it to Beaver or Catholicism, but I knew I was special. I feel sorry for people who don't intrinsically know that about themselves. While I certainly have my doubts about angels these days, I'm still infused with this, because it was a part of my young life.

Ultimately, you attended the University of Oregon.

I got a basic liberal arts degree; majored in history. I was preparing to go to law school, took the LSAT exam but went to Europe for a while. Ultimately, I said to myself, "Self, the world doesn't really need another lawyer." That came shortly after I had read Zorba the Greek. I came back to Idaho. Eventually I was going to head up to visit a brother at a ranch in Montana. I camped out in Idaho City on the way and wandered into O'Leary's Saloon.

I know where you're heading with this, and you certainly weren't heading to Montana.

The bartender told me he was leaving town the next day and that I should tend bar there. I knew nothing about bartending. I met Pat O'Leary, we hit it off, and I told him that I would stick around for a few weeks. That was 1974.

You've been an Idaho City fixture ever since. How long were you behind that bar?

About two years. Then I started teaching school part-time; I ran the county newspaper, Idaho World; became a part-time librarian while I built a new library; and a group of us would put on some pretty good stage productions. I wouldn't call us hippies, but we had a different view on life and thought Idaho City was pretty special.

And during all those years, you were building a house—the same home you're living in now.

I started in 1978 and, to some degree, I'm still working on it. It's a vertical log cabin. When I moved in it didn't have windows, so I put in stained glass windows because, believe it or not, it was cheaper.

Were your first few Idaho City winters interesting?

I certainly learned the value of insulation. Eight-inch lodgepole is not great insulation.

Many of your life experiences, particularly storytelling, seemed to be the perfect combination of qualifications to do Outdoor Idaho.

I'm blessed with what I do.

That said, I know it's very difficult to craft good nonfiction television, which is increasingly rare.

It's all-consuming if you want to do a good job. No question.

I'm sure I'm not the first to tell you this, but the first time I saw Outdoor Idaho a couple of decades ago, I was stunned at the production value, which stacks up against any broadcast affiliate in the nation.

That speaks well to the people I work with.

It's the continuity of that quality that is most impressive.

Every single one of our shows could probably win an award.

And usually does.

I believe that if given a chance, most everyone rises to the occasion.

Do you ever look at your ratings? I know they're impressive and Idaho Public Television's numbers are consistently among the highest in the nation.

Let's just say that I hear about them.

Let's talk about the mechanics of Outdoor Idaho. I'm presuming you do your camerawork first.

Yes. We shoot footage before a script comes in.

Do you storyboard your programs?

Let me give you an example. I just got back from a four-day trip into the Sawtooths—16 miles in, 16 miles out—to trace the headwaters of the Boise River as part of a full program we're producing on Idaho's headwaters. So, if you were to come into my office, you would see a pretty big piece of paper that says, "Program in December" at the top and large categories: Snake River, Boise River, Salmon River and St. Joe River...

That sounds like the frame of a storyboard.

We went out into the Sawtooths and a number of other treks, did our interviews and plenty of shooting, brought the material back, ingested it into our computer and took transcriptions home. Then we try to figure out the timeframe to tell each headwater's story, but our journeys inform those stories. A lot of our journey to the headwater of the Boise River will be about how we got there. We had a hell of a time getting there. Our journey into the headwater of the Selway included a pretty good discussion between an outfitter and a retired district ranger about wildfire decisions.

Let me pause you there. Can I ask your personal opinion on our current national strategy to let wildfires burn?

I live among large ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. I'm a big believer in managing forests. I have a hunch, especially after this past year, that it's going to become a lot harder for Idaho's environmental community to push for leaving forests alone from management. I think it's one of the reasons why people are so angry with the government.

As we lose another generation of people who effected significant change for wilderness, I'm wondering if they're being supplanted by young folks with equal fervor.

It's a problem. The young people who I think would be pushing for wilderness are usually on a mountain bike or hiking but I must tell you, when we hiked into the Sawtooths recently, through Atlanta, we saw just one other person hiking by himself.

Speaking of engagement on wilderness issues, Outdoor Idaho has always walked a very delicate line and never advocates.

I don't like to preach to the choir. It's most challenging to walk a fine line.

Yet politics continues to weave its way into the wilderness fabric, and you seem to have found a sweet spot where we all coexist.

I think I'm most proud of that.

At any given time, how many Outdoor Idaho shows do you have in pre- or post-production?

Five or six.

What does your Outdoor Idaho wish list look like?

You're looking at it [Reichert points to a page of titles of upcoming Outdoor Idaho projects].

There are about 10 topics for shows on this list, and they all look great. How about your own bucket list?

You're still looking at it.

I'm presuming you'll be checking these off sooner than later. How about your personal bucket list?

I want to stay healthy.

What's your secret?

For one, I don't worry about getting old.

How often do you commute from Idaho City to Boise?

Three or four times a week. I used to do it every day.

I would be remiss if I didn't take you back to a previous comment—you were talking about Zorba the Greek.

That was a long time ago. When I got out of college, presumably thinking I would be going to law school someday, I was bumming around Europe, selling my blood for money. I ended up on the Island of Crete.

I must share with you that my editor told me he has an uncle who lives in Greece and he watches Outdoor Idaho online. In fact, he never misses it.

Wow. High praise. We hear from people all over the world.

After 33 years of Outdoor Idaho, how do those shows stack up in your mind's eye? A scrap book, a diary, a Rolodex?

It's more than 300 shows. Sometimes I'll look at a show I haven't seen in a long time, and I'm almost always pleasantly surprised.