New tugboat reality series has North Shore roots
John Selvick from History Channel's "Great Lake Warriors" stands by his boat. Some North Shore residents are involved in the show, which premiers July 19. | Photo by Scott Gries
Great Lake Warriors
Airs 9 p.m. Central Time on July 19 on History Channel
Updated: July 18, 2012 11:56AM
GLENCOE – Thousands of tons of steel loaded with millions of dollars worth of cargo – all floating on inland seas that Mother Nature has a nasty habit of whipping into a lethal tempest.
The intrepid men who captain and crew the tugboats that push and pull all of that cargo through the Great Lakes must have some remarkable stories to tell.
And very soon, History Channel audiences will do better than hear them. Through amazing footage captured last fall and winter, they’ll ride along as Captains John Selvick, Ted Long, Mike Ojard, Gerry Dawson and Stan Dawson put their boats, and their crews, through their paces.
The new series, “Great Lake Warriors,” begins at 9 p.m. Central Time on Thursday, July 19, and a couple of Glencoe and Winnetka residents can’t wait.
“This is the mental version of giving birth,” said Jonathan Towers a week before the show’s debut. “You’re on pins and needles. You’re putting on a show and you don’t know how people in the audience are going to feel. You’re sort of roaming around the back of the theater, pacing back and forth.”
Fifty-two-year-old Towers, of Glencoe, founded Towers Productions in Chicago in 1989. He is executive co-producer of the “Great Lake Warriors” series along with Jim Campbell, a 50-year-old author, writer and producer who has family in Winnetka.
Both men believe the series presents winning characters in a dramatic setting, and they hope History Channel will be interested in adding to the series’ initial eight episodes.
“I think it will be a real revelation for lots of people about the tugboat life and the tugboat culture on the Great Lakes,” Campbell said. “We have a great show that is set in the heartland, right in the Midwest.”
Comparisons to the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” are unavoidable, but Towers and Campbell said “Great Lake Warriors“ has its own panache.
Filming took place on Lake Michigan, including Calumet Harbor in Illinois; Gary and Burns harbors in Indiana; Milwaukee, Oak Creek, Sturgeon Bay and Marinette, Wis.; and on Lake Superior, including Duluth-Superior Harbor and Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada.
“The lakes are really a character unto themselves,” Towers said. “I got, as a producer, a great insight into what makes these [tugboat operators] tick. It’s not just a career for them. It’s a mission. They rise to the challenge.”
Towers also said the captains selected for following in the reality series are a special breed – scrappy, small businessmen who are fighting for their economic and physical lives as they ply the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes, after all, are not exactly tranquil ponds, especially in winter.
They’ve swallowed about 6,000 vessels and claimed 30,000 lives, according to a series premiere press release from the History Channel.
Towers, who lives with his wife, Ariel, and is a father of three, said the show’s debut is a milestone for Towers Productions, which he started 23 years ago in his then Lincoln Park apartment with a $10,000 cash infusion from his parents.
“The History Channel, they’re the kings of what’s going on. The whole industry is trying to be like them,” he said. “And this is the biggest show we’ve ever produced in terms of its ambition as a series.”
“Great Lake Warriors” was produced for History Channel by Towers Productions in association with Campbell’s firm, Compass Point Productions. Also executive co- producers are George Houde, Marty Bernstein and Joseph Boyle. Executive producer for History is Matthew Ginsburg.