In the celebrity-filled promo for the new, national PBS series "Family Travel with Colleen Kelly," Lionel Richie jokingly gives this family travel tip: Leave the kids at home.
That won't ever happen on Colleen Kelly's show, though.
Kids are the focus of the popular PBS travel show, hosted by Kelly and coproduced by Tricia Fusilero, both of Mount Prospect.
Together, they've catapulted their local series into a national one. This weekend, "Family Travel with Colleen Kelly" debuts nationally and will ultimately be broadcast on more than 250 stations.
Locally (each PBS station has its own schedule), it'll air on WTTW at 10 a.m. Saturday, following the stations' Saturday morning children's programming.
"People are really looking for information, and there really isn't a place to go on TV for family travel information," said Kelly, the mother of two girls ages 8 and 11. "I think people are receptive to the show because, a) I'm a woman, and b) it's public television."
Public television does put higher standards on the programming than other networks, Kelly and Fusilero said. Commercialism is not allowed, eliminating the paid travel plugs often seen on other networks.
That frees Kelly to provide unbiased suggestions on fun things families can see and do together in more than a dozen different cities, ranging from Los Angeles to Holland, Mich. It also includes tips for families traveling with grandparents or special-needs children.
The first season of "Family Travel with Colleen Kelly," which aired last year on WTTW only, was an instant hit. The ratings even sometimes beat the network's popular "Check, Please!" show, Kelly said.
PBS wanted to make the show national, but first Kelly and Fusilero shopped it around to different networks. One network executive asked if they'd be willing to manufacture some family travel drama on camera, making it more reality-styled ("What if one kid gets lost on a train, and you panic while trying to find him?"). They decided to stick with PBS, which they said was true to their vision.
"It's strict, but it's good," Fusilero said. "It has to go through a lot more levels of approval now ... but there's no product placement at all."
The new season airing this fall takes them everywhere from Montreal to the Caribbean, and even a family camp in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
"(The show's) not about me and my kids. It's about the other families. I'm just the guide. I'm just asking questions," Kelly said, adding that local families are often featured in different cities.
While it might seem like a sweet gig, Kelly and Fusilero insist that it is hard work. For one thing, they're always traveling with at least six people plus children. Then there's uncooperative weather, occasional motion sickness and the challenge of capturing kids' natural reactions on camera.
"We either get great kid reactions, or kids hiding behind their parents' legs. It can be a challenge," Fusilero said. "But we want real reactions from real people, not actors."
Kelly started her career in a totally different field -- she was the first female district manager for Heineken. She transitioned to TV with the help of Fusilero and Kelly's sister, Catie Keogh, both of whom had worked in film production.
Together, they created NBC's local lifestyles show, "24/7." Keogh won an Emmy Award as the show's host, and Kelly earned an Emmy nomination for producing it.
A few years ago, Kelly and Fusilero branched off and created Travel Film Productions LLC, which put Kelly on camera and led to "Family Travel with Colleen Kelly."
Kelly does have a celebrity connection -- she's the third cousin of the late Princess Grace Kelly.
"It's a great heritage but no inheritance," Colleen joked.
Kelly's and Fusilero's long-term goal for "Family Travel with Colleen Kelly" is to get it aired internationally. With so many people from outside the U.S. visiting here with their families, they see an international market for their show.
"It could really show off America," Kelly said.
-- Jamie Sotonoff
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