HARTINGTON (AP) — When they agreed to be the subjects of a television show, Erin and Ben Schroeder wanted viewers to get a realistic look at their lives as small-town veterinarians.
They wanted viewers to see the dirt, the blood and the manure and that not every case has a happy ending.
“We wanted things to be authentic and real,” Erin Schroeder told the Sioux City Journal.
The husband-and-wife veterinarian team from Hartington are bringing more of that reality to TV in season two of their show, “Heartland Docs, DVM,” which made its premiere Saturday on the Nat Geo Wild channel.
This season will show a few more family moments with Ben, Erin and their teenage sons, Charlie and Chase, but viewers still will get plenty of time following the vets as they care for animals brought in to their Cedar County Veterinary Services clinic or on the farms that surround Hartington. None of the cases are staged, Ben said.
“Everything we shot, we can say we really did this,” he said. “The best stories have been legitimate emergencies.”
Those familiar with the show have watched Erin tear up during difficult cases in which an animal isn’t going to survive. It’s not an act.
“The emotions are so real. It kind of tugs at your heartstrings,” Erin said, adding that tears still well up in her eyes when rewatching those season-one scenes.
That realism and emotion are reflected by the pet owners and farmers who call on the Schroeders, who hope the show portrays a way of life viewers from big cities can appreciate.
“This is really just sharing a slice of life from rural America,” Erin said. “We hope to tell these beautiful stories about the Midwest.”
The message seems to be resonating, at least a little.
During a trip to New York City to promote the show, Ben said a hotel bellhop studied him closely when they checked in.
“Later that night he said, ‘I love your show,’ ” Ben said. It was cool to be recognized from the show, he said, but even cooler knowing that someone living in the nation’s biggest city enjoyed watching a show about vets in rural Nebraska.
Back home in Hartington, it’s business as usual, although the Schroeders do get approached at basketball games by kids who want to have their picture taken with them. The couple, who gained notoriety for restoring a couple of historic buildings in town, are community members, parents and coaches like everyone else. They just have an eight-member TV crew following them around some of the time.
A newspaper story about their restoration work a couple of years ago caught the eyes of television producers, who began calling to gauge their interest in starring in their own show.
“I hung up on the first couple. I thought I was being scammed,” Erin said.
Glass Entertainment, which produces other home remodeling shows and “The Vet Life” on Animal Planet, convinced them their interest was legitimate. Nat Geo Wild was interested in their story, and just before Christmas 2018, the Schroeders were told the show was a go.
They shot season one last year from March to June. Before season one ever aired, the channel signed on for a second season, and filming ran from August through March. The fall and winter filming will allow viewers to follow cases different from those seen in the spring and summer months of season one.
The 12-hour days of shooting can be grueling, Ben said, but seeing the end result is fun for them and their clients, many of whom have been good sports about being interviewed on camera or entering and leaving the clinic 10 times so the film crew can get a desired angle.
If a client doesn’t want to be filmed, he or she isn’t. The Schroeders, often with help from Charlie and Chase, treat livestock, cats and dogs, exotic animals and wildlife, so there is no shortage of material.
“They’re only shooting a small portion of what we’re seeing,” Erin said.
When they took over Ben’s father’s practice a few years ago, Ben and Erin never envisioned this. Because the show has been so much fun, they’re willing to run with it as long as the producers and viewers are interested.
“I think every day we wake up and say, ‘Is this for real?’ ” she said.
It might not seem so for them at times. But for their viewers, the show is as real as it gets.