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Dec 28, 2023

SCETV Goes Wild for Nature Show

Lynne Cope Hummell

Photography By

Lynne Cope Hummell
The show features South Carolina wildlife of all descriptions–bugs, snakes, fish, mammals, crabs, bullfrogs and–everybody’s favorite–alligators.

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Coastal Kingdom added to lineup

It’s a sunny and mild day in early November when the Coastal Kingdom team hop into a pickup truck at the Spring Island Nature Center to venture a mile or so to the morning’s filming location for the local TV show.

The trio–Tony Mills, Rob Lewis and Rachel Walman–are heading to a pond on the property that will make a good backdrop for the day’s topic: alligators.

Tony Mills handles a young alligator who will be released after filming. 

Traveling with the humans is a young alligator, secure in a covered container. The 3-foot gator had been captured for research the day prior. After filming today, he will be released into the pond on Spring Island where he was found.

Upon arrival at the chosen venue, the three scurry about to set up the camera and props. 

Mills, host and primary writer of the show, and Walman, production assistant, finalize talking points for the segment while Lewis, director and videographer, checks the lighting, positioning, and background.

In the midst of unloading the skeleton of an adult alligator head, Mills stoops down, plucks a blade of grass, and pokes it into a small hole he noticed in the ground. 

“That’s got to be a tiger beetle in there,” he said gleefully. “If he latches onto that piece of grass, the grass will move–then we can pull him out and look at him.”

This simple gesture speaks volumes about Mills and his fascination and passion for all things in nature. He is curious, excited, and eager to share his abundant knowledge.

Mills and Lewis met in 2009 while moving an aquarium. Lewis and his wife, Beth, had donated some fish and the tank to the Whale Branch Middle School classroom of Mills’ then-girlfriend and now wife, Kathryn Madden. 

As they carried the aquarium, the men began to chat. Lewis, a producer/director for Beaufort County government’s County Channel at the time, said, “I’ve always wanted to do a nature show.” Mills replied, “Me too!”

So began a partnership that has resulted in Coastal Kingdom.

Mills, host and primary writer of the show, and Walman, production assistant, finalize talking points for the segment while Lewis, director and videographer, checks the lighting, positioning, and background.

“At The County Channel, I was responsible for creating content for air,” Lewis said. “I pitched the idea of the show to my boss, Scott Grooms, and to our county administrator at the time. They were all for it! I also started distributing those episodes to SCETV while I was at The County Channel.”

The first episode was filmed and aired later in 2009. A total of 33 episodes have aired since then.

In January 2023, Lewis joined ETV Lowcountry as an executive producer and director. It was through his new job that a new arrangement for the show came to be. 

Beginning this month, Coastal Kingdom will be broadcast on SCETV stations across the state. 

Holly Bounds Jackson, director of content and operations for ETV Lowcountry, explained how the show came to migrate to the network.

“The show previously was a partnership between The County Channel and Spring Island,” Jackson said. “Now the arrangement is between SCETV and The Spring Island Trust. The show had always belonged to The County Channel and we aired it. But this new arrangement is that the show belongs to SCETV entirely.”

Jackson eagerly welcomes Lewis as a coworker (“He has a great sense of humor, which makes the workday enjoyable”) and acknowledges his passion for the show and its content.

“The truth is I’ve wanted Rob to join me here ever since I started in 2018,” Jackson said. “I’ve always appreciated his eye for creativity. I knew if he was here, he’d have more time to focus on the show, which is his passion. … It’s a big win for both of us.”

The show features South Carolina wildlife of all descriptions–bugs, snakes, fish, mammals, crabs, bullfrogs and–everybody’s favorite–alligators. Plant life, seasonal changes, and the many varied habitats of the Lowcountry are included as well.

“One thing that I think is important about this show is that it’s 100% regional, and by that I mean it’s about HERE,” Mills said. “It’s not about other parts of the world. People anywhere in South Carolina can turn it on–or for that matter in coastal North Carolina or coastal Georgia–they can turn it on and learn about what’s happening right where they are.”

Part of the fun of discovery for viewers is Mills’ charm and spontaneity, his child-like excitement when he talks about local creatures in their habitat. These moments are not always planned.

“Tony is so good at finding the small things that are so interesting–like that tiger beetle,” Walman said. 

Mills has worked in the field of environmental education for 30 years, including 21 years in research at Savannah River Ecology Lab. He currently is the education director for the Spring Island Trust and teaches its Master Naturalist Program. 

Mills also leads field trips for nature groups, hosts teacher workshops, and leads educational programs for students. His passion for nature–and for sharing what he has seen and learned–is contagious.

Lewis films and edits every episode and serves as producer and director for the broadcast. The Charleston native worked as a news photographer after graduating from the College of Charleston. 

The third star of the show is Walman, who joined her teammates in 2015 as a production assistant. She works with Mills to make sure he covers on camera all the points made in the script they’ve written, helps Lewis with filming details (including alerting him to landscape workers approaching as filming began near a golf course), helps with post-production aspects of the footage, and manages the website.

Walman, a native of Pittsburgh, also is a communication specialist for the Spring Island Trust. Her duties include developing and distributing educational and environmental materials and producing nature videos, as well as assisting with education programs.

The team works well together on what is a labor of love for all three individuals. 

“This show is about what I do–the things that I do for my job but also in my free time,” Mills said. “This is what I love to do–so it’s just kind of amazing to get to do what I want to do, and then have it filmed to make a show!”

Lewis nodded in agreement, then said, “And how lucky was I to find Tony, whose enthusiasm comes through on camera every time we film. It’s just a really great partnership and Tony is really good at what he does.”

While the knowledge Mills shares is phenomenal, equal appreciation must go to Lewis, who visually captures the subjects intuitively and with sharp focus, from tiny bat teeth to slithering snakes to a 60-pound red drum and a leucitic baby alligator.

Jackson is as excited about the new broadcast arrangement as the Coastal Kingdom team is.

“I so believe in this program and these talented professionals,” Jackson said. “In the upcoming series, they will showcase wildlife living in the ACE Basin, Port Royal Sound, Spring Island, and Nemours Plantation.”

Jackson applauded Mills as being “a true ‘natural’ naturalist. He has a real gift on camera.”

Indeed, he does. The show has won three Southeastern Emmy Awards, all for on-screen talent–meaning Mills.

The show has also garnered six Telly Awards, including a Silver (first place) Telly for videography–meaning Lewis.

In a presentation for the Spring Island community last year, Mills highlighted a primary goal of Coastal Kingdom: “We want the next generation to understand the value of local habitats so we can do the best possible job of protecting them,” he said.

The half-hour show is scheduled to broadcast weekly on Wednesdays, beginning Jan. 10, at 7:30 p.m. on SCETV stations. In Beaufort County, it will air on WJWJ-TV. Once the six new episodes are broadcast, they will repeat on SCETV on a schedule not yet determined, along with prior episodes of the show.   

Episodes are available also at

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