ESTERO — Wolf became a local real estate agent after losing his job with Waterman Broadcasting of Florida in March. He's keeping his full-time job as a Realtor, but he's found another gig that's putting him on camera again in Southwest Florida.
Wolf was chosen to host a new TV series called "Florida Explorers," being developed by WGCU, a public station owned and operated by Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero. The series will highlight interesting people and places in this region — and elsewhere in Florida.
"I left the area for a while. I was in Nashville, Tenn., and I always wanted to stay connected to the TV business. I had some opportunities to get back into the news business, but when this opportunity came along it trumped that. This is exactly the kind of television that I wanted to be doing," Wolf said.
At its monthly meeting last month, Collier County's Tourist Development Council agreed unanimously to give WGCU $5,000 to help launch the series. The money will come directly from the tourism bureau's marketing budget, which is paid for by so-called bed taxes charged on hotel and other vacation stays in the county.
WGCU wants another $5,000 from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation's Arts and Attractions Committee to help it develop and sell a pilot program to corporate sponsors. A grant application was submitted recently.
WGCU plans to develop a 13-minute pilot that will be used to raise enough money for 13 half-hour episodes, or one season's worth of shows, said Barbara Linstrom, the executive producer of television and new media. Ultimately, there are hopes of making it an ongoing series.
"It's really to motivate people to kind of take on a tourist mindset and to explore their own region and enjoy it — and to celebrate all there is to do here and to find really interesting stories," Linstrom said.
The new series is modeled after the highly successful "Tennessee Crossroads" that's been on the air for 25 years. According to the show's website, it "travels the highways and byways of Tennessee, highlighting the personalities, crafts, places, foods and events that make Tennessee special and its character unique."
The show in Florida will feature "the real Craig," a more relaxed and less-serious Wolf than the one behind the news desk reading from a teleprompter, Linstrom said.
Collier's Tourist Development Council got a peek at what the show might look like at its November meeting with a short video clip led by Wolf, who tosses his suit jacket into the sand on a local beach and flips on a pair of dark sunglasses before setting out on his first adventure.
"The way that I look at it is I've been a story-teller on television for 25 years. But this opportunity gives me a new chance, or at least a chance, to tell good positive stories from an entirely different perspective," Wolf said.
WGCU has assembled a local team of talent to help produce the show, including Joan Wood, a former director and supervising producer with National Geographic Children's Television.
Film crews have been out several times already, shooting footage across Southwest Florida for the new show. The reaction to Wolf around town has been great because so many people remember him from his days as an NBC-2 TV anchor, Linstrom said.
"We want to get Craig to do some adventurous things," she said.
Wolf said he's up for it.
"Our plan is to definitely have this be a host participation series," he said. "I have a little bit of daredevil in me. I've done some crazy things and I don't mind doing them again, all in the spirit of having fun and telling great stories about Southwest Florida."
His adventures will include going on a powered paraglider, kayaking and scuba diving. Each episode might have four or five stories that run for two to three minutes. The program will focus on history, the environment, dining, resorts and inns, and arts and attractions.
"We are really hoping that some corporate sponsors will recognize the value of it and help fund it," Linstrom said.
The estimated cost for the new show is $17,000 per episode.
"Our mission is to entertain and enlighten people and to engage them in their community. So it seems just like such a natural fit for us," Linstrom said.
At last month's Tourist Development Council meeting, some members questioned spending $5,000 in county money on the pilot show, but after learning more about the actual production costs and how it could boost tourism locally their concerns eased.
Jack Wert, the county's tourism director, explained how the pilot might be used in various ways to promote the destination. That will include using footage for it on the tourism bureau's website, YouTube and other social networking sites, and maybe even on TV commercials.
"We have found in the past that the public broadcast viewer is certainly our type of visitor and so we get a lot of mileage," Wert said. "We've used public broadcasting almost every year when we are promoting within Florida."
WGCU's signal covers a five-county area, so the program will reach TV viewers beyond Lee and Collier counties.
David LeRoy, co-director of TRAC Media Services based in Tucson, Ariz., and a consultant for WGCU, said most public stations do some kind of talking head show, but it's rare to see them do the type of enterprise production that's planned with "Florida Explorers."
TRAC Media specializes in audience research for public television and the company has cobbled together a consortium of public stations that are looking to do more local programming, which is key to their survival, LeRoy said.
He recommended that WGCU develop a local program similar to "Tennessee Crossroads."
In TV, when a local program is a hit, it can usually be a hit elsewhere, he noted.
If "Florida Explorers" is a good show and successful in the local market, there are expectations that it will be picked up by other public TV stations across the state.
"It could garner a significant audience," LeRoy said.