Charleston producer is 'Born to Explore': New ABC-TV series to take travelers far beyond beaten path

John Barnhardt visits with the Tiwi aborigines of Australia's Melville Island. At right, an old croc is taught new tricks on Australia's Adelaide River.

Adventuring among the crocodiles, rainbow serpents and camel whisperers, John Barnhardt is discovering that a traveler's destination is not so much a place, but a new way of seeing things.

The Charleston-based film and TV producer has just returned from Australia following an exacting 20-day shoot, but there was little time to spend with friends and family. He was off to New York almost immediately.

"It's exhausting," Barnhardt said in a brief interview last week. "But I feel like I am the luckiest person to be where I am now."

Which is to say two months away from the premier of a new ABC-TV series -- his own.

Created by Barnhardt and host Richard Wiese, "Born to Explore" debuts Sept. 3 in the network's 10 a.m. time slot.

"ABC has picked up 26 episodes of the show, which will be part of its weekend adventure block, " Barnhardt said. "We hope to inspire viewers to travel and do things they would never do, to explore all these different places and learn from the people that live there. To really understand what kind of life they lead. Hopefully, they will take something back from the experience, like I have."

Barnhardt, 39, came to Charleston from Colorado in 2001. A graduate of Colorado State University, he taught at Trident Tech for seven years. His firm, Barnfly Productions, is based in Mount Pleasant.

Five years ago, Barnhardt and Wiese worked on "Exploration with Richard Wiese," another proposed exploration show with Linton Entertainment -- a national distributor owned locally by David Morgan.

"It didn't go anywhere," recalled Barnhardt, chief of Barnfly Productions. "Then two years ago we tried again. Richard wrote a book called 'Born to Explore', and we decided to make a video/pilot off of it. We shot the pilot in Manteo, N.C., then ended up working with Linton Entertainment again, and it clicked. Richard and I are co-creators, but in building the crew it became a collaboration involving all of us."

In their sensibilities and styles, Barnhardt and Wiese have dovetailed nicely during a five-year friendship.

"I knew immediately that John was different from other cameramen that I had worked with in that his passion for filmmaking was quite evident," said Wiese, an explorer, naturalist and author based in Westport, Conn. "He approached every shot and situation as art and made me feel as if I were on a film set. I used to kid him that when he was not filming that all he did was talk about filming or different shots that he would like to try.

"Exploration shows are not easy, as the physical and character landscape is always changing. I have always admired how John takes other crew members under his wing and tries to be a mentor. It's hard not to want to work with a guy who is passionate and generous."

As co-field producer, director, supervising editor and cinematographer, Barnhardt's workload will be substantial.

"We will be traveling once a month, ranging from 5 to 25 days each time. And you have to always be ready to leave on a moment's notice."

For now, devoting his energies almost exclusively to "Born to Explore" is a given.

"It has helped me free up my time to only focus on one thing and not 20 projects like I did before," Barnhardt said. "Showing these cultures, getting the audience inspired to go explore themselves, is our emphasis.

"But this experience also has taught me to be more appreciative of my friends and family."

Reach Bill Thompson at 937-5707.