By Frances Figart
Although her name might suggest otherwise, Linda Midgett is a larger-than-life producer who is tackling unprecedented topics and rapidly becoming known for her groundbreaking television work.
An Emmy award-winning writer and show runner, Linda has a proven track record of developing critically acclaimed series. She has supervised more than 600 hours of programming for networks such as NBC-Universal, The History Channel, PBS and Investigation Discovery.
But success has not come easy. As the female founder of Midgett Productions, a boutique company based in Charlotte, NC, since 2005, Linda has surmounted innumerable challenges to get her innovative series on the air.
Most recently, her hit motorcycle adventure show, Neale Bayly Rides: Peru, finally saw the light after three years in the making, airing on the SPEED Channel in June of this year. The Asheville community found this show of particular interest because our own Dr. Laura Ellis was on the team of BMW motorcyclists riding through challenging South American environments. (WNC Woman covered this in our August 2013 issue.)
The series’ star, Neale Bayly, is a philanthropic adventure traveler who has explored much of the world on two wheels, riding across 45 countries in 35 years, often at the helm of adventure expeditions. The three-part series he and Linda conceived culminated at a remote orphanage, which was the beneficiary of the program.
Spawning a series
“I got the idea for the show when my husband brought me an article he’d read on Neale while at the chiropractor,” Linda recalls. “He walked in our home office, dropped it on the desk, and said, ‘This is your next series.’ I looked at the picture of Neale and was immediately intrigued, and only became more so once I read the article about his travels in Peru.”
Linda initiated a meeting with Neale, and they met one night for dinner. “We really clicked, and it turns out we had the same idea more or less of how to turn his travels into a TV series,” Linda said. “From that first meeting, we were both one hundred percent engaged with making our dream a reality.”
The first step was getting a “sizzle reel” made to show to networks. Linda and Neale were able to pull that off within six months.
“I sent Neale and a producer and team to Peru to film the journey,” she says. “We turned that footage into a sizzle that I then shopped to more than a dozen networks. Some of them loved it, but the series didn’t fit their brand. Other networks turned it down for a variety of reasons: ‘too soft,’ ‘not interested in international travel,’ ‘too intelligent,’ you name it.”
Linda admits the initial rejection was discouraging, but says she’s used to being turned down when pitching shows: “It’s just part of the game.”
Finally, after two years, Fox’s new SPEED channel said they were interested.
“Then there was the hard work of getting BMW onboard as a sponsor, and the involved process of getting the other sponsors onboard,” Linda says. “In all, it took about a year to get the financing pulled together and to get Neale Bayly Rides produced.”
Then, one of the biggest challenges Linda faced was getting the show insured.
“The irony of having networks say it was ‘too soft’ (meaning too altruistic, not enough excitement and stakes): the insurance companies totally understand that what we were attempting was quite high-risk. So much so that they didn’t want to insure us,” Linda explains. “I was fortunate to work with an agent in LA who figured out a way for us to affordably insure the production.”
So finally, thanks to Linda’s tenacity and commitment to the project, they got to Peru, where, after years of hard work, the entire cast and crew had an amazing filming experience.
Linda is the true star
When you speak to Neale of Linda, you can see he is visibly in awe of her conviction to press forward with what is right. “My friend and partner for this time, she has been truly amazing throughout the most intense struggle to put something decent on television and continues to impress me on a daily basis.”
Neale believes that “while the cast made a big commitment to be on television as part of an exciting show, to put in an effort like Linda has done this past three years is the stuff heroes in the making need to read. She has worked tirelessly throughout this time, leaving a very successful career to focus full-time on Neale Bayly Rides, and the mission of making good television with heart.”
Dr. Laura Ellis relates to the fact that “Linda is a full time mother and wife as well as a producer. She works tirelessly at all of those things and I admire her work ethic.” Cast members along for the adventure with Laura and Neale were North Carolina entrepreneur Troy Rice and Bahamian-born minister James Johnson.
In Troy’s opinion, “Linda assembled one of the most professional TV crews on the planet. Without them this show would have never been the quality show it turned out to be.”
James knew Linda from college, and describes her as “an amazing artist, incredible story teller and all-around great person. Linda has tons of integrity and is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met,” he says.
And speaking of that hard work, Linda’s past credits as co-executive producer include Starting Over, the syndicated daytime reality series produced by powerhouse Bunim-Murray Productions; The History Channel’s groundbreaking series, Gangland; and Investigation Discovery’s FBI: Criminal Pursuit. A graduate of Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, Linda’s first job was with Christianity Today magazine.
Though she enjoys producing adventure entertainment, Linda doesn’t shy away from difficult topics like poverty and mental health. In 2012, she produced The Line, a riveting documentary commissioned by Sojourners that told the first-person stories of Americans in poverty. The film is available at TheLineMovie.com.
Her other independent documentary work includes Through My Eyes, which tells the stories of teens struggling with suicide, depression and eating disorders. Through My Eyes was awarded the national Voice Award for excellence in mental health programming.
Building on the success of Neale Bayly Rides, Linda is expanding Midgett Productions with a new office in Charlotte. It’s going to be fun to watch what this star female producer will do next!
Frances Figart is a travel writer and editor who recently relocated to Asheville from Central Kentucky. Learn more at her website, FrancesFigart.com.