The second season of “Yukon Men” premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel. The producer of the show, about a remote Alaska town, is a lifelong Rockland resident whose production company is based in Pearl River. In 2012, we spoke to Alan LaGarde about the exciting series, which had just premiered at the time. Read the article by Karen Croke below — and don’t forget to watch “Yukon Men” tonight at 10!
Pearl River producer Alan LaGarde’s show ‘Yukon Men’ is a survival of the fittest
By Karen Croke
The new Discovery Channel show “Yukon Men,” follows a group of rugged citizens of the town of Tanana, Alaska, a remote outpost 150 miles from the nearest civilization. There are no roads in or out. Just lots and lots of ice and snow. And wolves. And grizzly bears.
The series follows a handful of the town’s 200 residents as they battle one of the harshest winters on record. When the main water lines are about to freeze in town, no one turns up the thermostat.
Here, someone has to head out on a dog sled to cut down trees to fuel the fire that keeps the water flowing.
So how Pearl River’s Alan LaGarde found himself right in the middle of Tanana, sleeping in a hunter’s cabin and staving off the extreme cold in a sleeping bag, eating moose meat is something of story in itself.
LaGarde, the executive producer of “Yukon Men,” lives in Pearl River. He was born in Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, raised in Monsey, and graduated from Spring Valley High School. So what does a guy from Rockland know from the Yukon?
“I’ve been going to Alaska for more than 15 years,” says LaGarde, a former NBC news anchor who has made several other reality-based series for cable, including “Ghost Lab” for Discovery and “30 Days With Morgan Spurlock” on FX.
“I have spent a lot of time with the people in the Yukon, sleeping in a tent at 50 below, checking traps at 60 below, so even a guy from Rockland can learn a lot about life in the Yukon.”
And that, he says, is the appeal of the show. LaGarde knows cable is chock full of series that take place in Alaska, from “Ice Road Truckers” to “Gold Rush,” but he says audiences will really relate to the people in “Yukon Men” for one simple reason:
“I think people love to see stories where it’s man versus nature, where people live a true lifestyle and beat the odds,” he says. “There’s something ruggedly romantic about this lifestyle. I’m certainly prejudiced, but I think it’s documentary television at its best. I also think it’s something people wish they could do — to survive on their own … no supermarkets, no malls, no movies — you have to catch your food, cut wood to have heat — people are impressed and fascinated.”
The no roads, no malls, no hotels is no exaggeration. LaGarde says he and his crew spent subzero nights huddled in tents or in remote hunter’s cabins waiting to get footage.
“When you are out on expeditions for the show … you never know where you are going to sleep,” he says. “Usually it’s a tent. If you are lucky, you may wind up near a very rustic survival cabin that has a stove in it. They are tiny, with four-foot ceilings, but they feel like the Hilton after being out in the frigid cold.”
It’s also not easy filming on location when the temperatures dip to 50 and 60 below zero. “We had to attach hand warmers to the cameras just to keep the electronics working,” he says. “It was sheer force of will that the camera guys were able to keep shooting through otherworldly conditions.”
After spending five weeks filming on location, LaGarde has flown back and forth between Pearl River and Alaska every few weeks.
“I wish people would not paint reality TV with such a broad brush,” he says. “The genre ranges from competition shows to talk shows to more documentary programs like ‘Yukon Men.’ For me … it’s all about telling great stories with interesting characters.”
LaGarde’s Paper Route Productions has been behind other reality-based shows where the conditions were a lot less forgiving, such as A&E’s “Paranormal State” and “Brothers on Call,” which follows two brothers as they run their handyman business in New Jersey.
In Tanana, there are lots of characters, as well, including Stan Zuray, a former Bostonian who has lived in Tanana for 40 years. When he’s running low on meat, he gathers up his teenaged son Joe, some of Joe’s friends and they head out to bag a caribou, which makes high school seem tame by comparison.
“The people are amazing; the main characters, their families … they are some of the most incredible people I have ever met,” LaGarde says. “They know things about survival that most people couldn’t even imagine. They are smart, funny and fearless. The audience won’t be able to get enough of these people or their way of life.”
Photo of Alan Lagarde: Tanya Savayan/The Journal News
Photo from “Yukon Men”: Discovery