Arts, Film & Music

What We Watch: John Gerbig, Producer and Director

John Gerbig is a producer and director at Wisconsin Public Television. John’s days involve collaborating with colleagues at WPT, as well as with partners from statewide organizations. For the March issue of our member program guide, Airwaves, we caught up with John to learn more about his top public television picks.

Interested in receiving Airwaves in your mailbox? The Airwaves program guide is mailed to supporters who contribute $35 or more to Wisconsin Public Television. Learn more about WPT membership at

Can you tell me a little about what your work is like on a daily basis?
Sometimes I’ll spend the entire day in my office working on budgets and schedules, or logging footage and writing scripts.  The next day, I may be scouting a new location for an upcoming production, or sitting in the control room directing a multi-camera shoot. And the following day, I might be out on the road with a videographer gathering footage or collaborating with an editor on the final cut for a project I’ve been working on for weeks. 

More often than not, however, my days consist of a combination of activities and involve working with a number of very talented people here at WPT, as well as within the various organizations we partner with, including the Wisconsin School Music Association (WSMA), the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Overture Center for the Arts and the UW Varsity Band, to name just a few. 

UW Varsity Band Spring Concert

What is your favorite part of your job at WPT?
What I like most about my job is the variety.  Over the past 20+ years, I’ve produced and/or directed concerts (The Final Forte, UW Varsity Band Spring Concert, State Honors Concerts), political events (State of the State Address, Governor’s Inauguration), news & public affairs programs (Here & Now, various debates), kids programming (Get Up and Go! Day), cultural events (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration, Wisconsin Remembers 9/11) and sports (UW Badgers football, basketball and hockey). 

But it’s not just the variety of programs – it’s also the variety of roles I get to play on many of these productions:  producer, director, editor, writer, videographer.  I feel extremely fortunate to be able to work on such a diverse array of productions and to have the opportunity to interact with so many of my colleagues in the course of taking these various projects from initial concept all the way through to broadcast.  Seeing a production come together, and knowing that you helped design, create and shape it – and had a lot of fun doing so – is extremely rewarding and satisfying.

If you had to pick, what are your favorite PBS shows – and why?
I really like Live From the Artists Den.  In addition to being a great-looking program with very high production values, I think it does a wonderful job of showcasing and integrating the venues into the performance.  The fact that the locations they feature are typically not your traditional concert halls or arenas just serves to reinforce the notion that the performance you’re seeing is special and unique.  And that, in turn, provides the perfect context for incorporating interviews with the artists into the production. It just all works together really well.

And what are your must-watch WPT shows?
Again, I really enjoy WPT’s great variety of music productions, from specials such as Percussion at Birch Creek to series like 30-Minute Music Hour.  There are many extremely talented artists in Wisconsin, and making their performances available to a statewide audience is something I think we do very well.  I especially enjoy the programs that are part of our Young Performers Initiative. Celebrating the extraordinary achievements of gifted musicians such as those featured in Wisconsin Young Artists Compete: The Final Forte serves not only to recognize their talent, passion and dedication, but also highlights the essential role the arts play in all our lives, as well as the critical importance of arts education to the youngest members of our communities.

Watch “Wisconsin Young Artists Compete: The Final Forte” 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 14 on-air and online. For more information, visit

Finally, what’s your favorite thing about public television?
My favorite aspects of public television – whether it’s nationally-broadcast PBS programs or locally-produced shows here on WPT – are quality, variety and positive messaging.  Be it dramas, documentaries, concerts, specials, you name it. Across the board, public television presents quality programs, with consistently high production values, first-rate acting and writing, and stellar shooting and editing. 

And there really is something for everyone – from innovative children’s programming to award-winning science and arts-related series and some of the most acclaimed historical dramas and narratives on television.  And unlike many programs you find elsewhere, which seem to revel in and reward negative traits like greed, ego, conceit and selfishness, public television tends to concentrate on the positives in our world – the best of what we are and what we can be.

So whatever your age and whatever your interests, you can always find something worth watching on public television.

Celebrate African-American History Month with WPT!

A female college graduate smiles in a still from "Tell Them We Are Rising" Any day is a great day to recognize the many contributions that African-Americans have made to American history and culture. But February offers special opportunities to celebrate  and recognize African-Americans, both famous and not-so-famous, who have made a difference.

Read on for a selection of upcoming programs airing on WPT – and don’t forget our many offerings available anytime online.

Continue reading Celebrate African-American History Month with WPT!

WPT’s “Little Man” Featured in PBS Online Film Festival

Wisconsin Public Television is pleased to announce that the animated story “Little Man,” produced by our motion graphics designer Philip Ashby, has been accepted into the 2017 PBS Online Film Festival!

From July 17 to July 28, you can watch all 25 films included in the festival. Viewers are also encouraged to vote for and share their favorite films to win the “Most Popular” award.  And, for the first time ever, a distinguished panel of eight jury members will select their favorite film of the festival for the “Juried Prize”. Join the conversation online with #PBSFilmFest.

In this animated story, “Little Man” brings to life the words of Steven Rodriguez. While enrolled in the First Wave Hip Hop Spoken Word and Hip Hop Arts Learning Community at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rodriguez composed a poem inspired by his younger brother nicknamed, “Little Man.”  He speaks to his brother’s struggles with discrimination as a Mexican American and tries to infuse his brother with a sense of hope for the future. He also discusses his experiences being born to a drug-addicted mother, and being a struggling — but dedicated — college student.

In a Q&A with PBS, Ashby discusses why he was inspired by the words of Steven Rodriquez and the creative process behind his animation.

“My creative process usually starts in my sketchbook. After I hear the voice track or read the script, I start doodling and what usually flows through my pencil is a character or a scene that evokes the atmosphere of what I experience with the piece,” Ashby explains. “Once I have a sense of the art direction I create a storyboard, which helps me think about scene transitions and the flow of the visual story.”

Speaking about his choice of color in the film, Ashby says: “The life circumstances of Steven and his brother are bleak. I wanted to express this by creating a dark environment with no light entering this space. By putting the characters onto a black background, I wanted the viewer to sense their isolation and desperation.”

“Little Man” premiered on Wisconsin Public Television in 2016 in an episode of Wisconsin Life.

“I hope the viewers find an appreciation for Steven’s art, which is sincere and authentic,” Ashby says. “Urban artists like Steven share personal expressions that give us an honest look at areas of our community that are unknown or ignored by most of us.”

Read the full Q&A.

Escape, Create & Celebrate at Quilt Expo This Fall

Join the ultimate quilting adventure and meet Sewing With Nancy’s Nancy Zieman during Quilt Expo 2017: Sept. 7-9 in Madison!

Presented by Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) with Nancy Zieman, Quilt Expo is designed to capture and revitalize the creative quilting spirit. The expo features a 10-category quilt contest, vendor mall, stage presentations, informal lectures, sit & sew and hands-on workshops, nationally known celebrity presenters, appearances by Nancy and raffle prizes.

Advance registration for the expo is now open, which means you can register early and save $2 per admission ticket, workshop and lecture. Plus, registering early means you can take advantage of limited-quantity opportunities, like the brand-new Quilt Expo VIP package! Continue reading Escape, Create & Celebrate at Quilt Expo This Fall

Director’s Cut: “From Mass to the Mountain”

This week on Director’s Cut, I welcome Kurt Sensenbrenner and Colin Sytsma, the creative team behind the documentary From Mass to the Mountain.

Watch the trailer:

From Mass to the Mountain – Official Trailer from Kurt Sensenbrenner on Vimeo.

The film’s protagonist is Father Wally Kasuboski, known in Panama as “Padre Pablo.” Though he has lived in Panama for the last 28 years, he is a native of Ripon, Wis. – also Sensenbrenner’s hometown, which is how the filmmakers made the connection with their subject. Their engaging documentary shows how Padre Pablo became the catalyst for bringing clean drinking water and infrastructure to a poverty-stricken region of eastern Panama.  Continue reading Director’s Cut: “From Mass to the Mountain”

See Holy Hill and Other Scenes From Around Wisconsin’s U.S. Open Golf Course From the Air

The Basilica of Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians is just one of the landmarks of Southeastern Wisconsin that golf fans around the world will become familiar with during this week’s U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills Golf Course.

Fly alongside the beautiful basilica, over Old World Wisconsin and along the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in this beautiful clip from Wisconsin Public Television’s Wisconsin From the Air. Want more? Click here to watch the full show on-demand!

Director’s Cut: Noah Hutton and “Deep Time”

This week on Director’s Cut, I’m joined by director Noah Hutton to discuss his award-winning documentary Deep Time. Deep Time explores how the oil boom, one of the biggest in recent history, has affected a small community in North Dakota. 

Watch the trailer:

Hutton’s first film Crude Independence, executive produced by Jonathan Demme, also dealt with the oil boom in North Dakota. He has dedicated a big part of his young life to telling two stories about this hot-topic issue and industry. You’d be well served to watch one of them this Friday night.  Continue reading Director’s Cut: Noah Hutton and “Deep Time”

Director’s Cut: Mac Smith and “Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood”

This week on Director’s Cut, it’s all about family, as director Mac Smith joins me to discuss Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood. It’s a solid film about a world I admit I knew very little about. Smith, a Hollywood sound professional, took on this passion project to tell a poignant, insightful and heartfelt story.

Poster for Scouts HonorThe full-length documentary looks at the competitive world of drum and bugle corps, where performers must be offered a contract in order to be part of the team.

Smith knows his topic well; he was a Scout himself. The experience was so enriching that, years later, he dedicated a couple years of his life to telling this story.

Continue reading Director’s Cut: Mac Smith and “Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood”