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Politics

Tampa’s Spectrum Productions eyeing sixth Emmy

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Published:   |   Updated: June 11, 2014 at 11:42 PM

— Five times, Spectrum Productions of Tampa has heard its name finish the phrase that everyone in the industry longs to hear:

“And the Daytime Emmy Award goes to ...”

Spectrum hopes to add a sixth Emmy to its trophy case during the 41st Daytime Emmy Awards beginning at 8 p.m. on June 22 in Los Angeles. It will be broadcast live online at www.daytimeemmys.net.

As with three of the earlier awards, this one would honor the company’s work with famed Nat Geo Wild “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.”

Spectrum, nominated for 18 Daytime Emmys since it was founded in 1989, has helped create a foundation for new efforts to grow the local movie and TV production industry — a task now assigned to the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission.

“They are a cornerstone of our production community and have been for quite some time,” said Dale Gordon, executive director of the commission. “Spectrum proves that, with or without incentives, if a production company’s work is good, they will be successful.”

Spectrum’s production team travels the world to film the shows that have brought them accolades and then returns to Tampa, where more than two dozen employees skilled in every aspect of production — from script writing to graphic design — mold footage into award-winning programming.

“We do it right here in Tampa,” said Guy Nickerson, the CEO and founder of Spectrum. “I think residents are shocked to learn that so much quality programming comes out of this city. But it does. Some of the most talented individuals in this business live in Tampa and thankfully work with me.”

Spectrum has worked on television programs with such A-list talent as Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood and Marisa Tomei. But Nickerson said his favorite star will always be Jack Hanna, and not only because Hanna figures in more than half of Spectrum’s Emmy wins.

It was Hanna who picked Nickerson’s company from obscurity almost two decades ago.

“I’m lucky to have met Jack,” Nickerson said. “He gave my career the juice it needed. I owe him everything.”

Hanna, who gained fame hauling exotic creatures onto TV talk shows as director of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, is equally complimentary of Spectrum.

“Guy Nickerson and his team are absolute down to earth hardworking people,” Hanna said. “That’s what I like about them. When that is combined with their tremendous creativity, you have a company that can win time and time again.”

He credits Nickerson’s leadership and recalls the days when Nickerson was working out of his house.

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“Now he has one of the finest companies in the world that does what he does,” Hanna said. “He built his company on work ethic. He is the American Dream.”

A self-described military brat, the 49-year-old Nickerson says he is from nowhere and everywhere. As a child, he spent time in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Florida, Washington and Virginia. In Virginia, he started his production career as 16-year-old studio camera operator for a local Christian television station.

Next was a job as a studio camera operator with Jacksonville’s ABC affiliate.

“That was my college education,” said Nickerson. “I learned on the job.”

Two years after moving to Jacksonville, he took a job at News Channel 8 in Tampa. The pay was better, he said, but the schedule — including nights and weekends — was not.

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In 1987, Busch Gardens Tampa welcomed two panda bears from China named Ling Ling and Yong Yong. The theme park asked Channel 8 if any of its camera operators could do freelance marketing work. Because of his schedule, Nickerson did.

“Busch Gardens liked what I did and hired me to film other animals for other marketing videos. And I was making more money working two days a week for Busch than I was five days a week for Channel 8.”

In 1989, Nickerson decided it was time to venture out on his own. He quit his TV news job and founded Spectrum, a name inspired by his surfboard’s brand.

Busch Gardens was his bread and butter. It’s how he met Hanna, who was in a sponsorship deal with the theme park for his first national production, “Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures.”

Launched in 1993, the show teaches children about wildlife through Hanna’s trips to their natural habitats.

“Guy Nickerson was the total package. He could film, edit, knew how to tell a story and brought real creative energy to the job,” Hanna said. “I’m still shocked that we found him. We’re the lucky ones.”

Nickerson produced 240 episodes of “Animal Adventures.” It ceased production in 2005 but continues in syndication. Locally, it airs Sundays at 4 a.m. on News Channel 8.

When Hanna decided to start “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” he stuck with Nickerson. The nationally syndicated show debuted in 2007 and follows Hanna and his family around the world in search of amazing animals, unique cultures and conservation initiatives.

“Hanna put us on the map,” Nickerson said. “He led to all the other successes.”

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This year, “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild” has been nominated in the Daytime Emmy category Outstanding Travel Program. The show airs at 5:30 a.m. Saturdays on News Channel 8.

Three of Spectrum’s earlier Emmys also were awarded for seasons of “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.” The other two were for the Discovery Kids channel television movie “Saving a Species: The Great Penguin Rescue” and for the Discovery Channel series “Jeff Corwin Unleashed.”

Spectrum is also the creative force behind the popular “Swamp Men” on Nat Geo Wild and “PlaneXtreme” on The Weather Channel.

Besides wildlife and nature programming, Spectrum’s resume includes animated series, hidden-camera shows and marketing videos and commercials for Disney, Nickelodeon and SeaWorld.

And in the days leading up to the Emmys, Nickerson will be pitching three new programs to television networks — a makeover series, a travel show based on tattoo artists and a crime scene investigation competition series where every day people try to solve a crime first.

Nickerson said he hopes to cap off a successful week of meetings with another Emmy win.

“The old cliché of just being happy to be nominated is true. But winning does make you even happier.”

pguzzo@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7606

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