I have a confession to make: I’m hooked on reality TV.

No, not the kind that passes for entertainment on the major networks.

I’m talking about “Garden Thyme,” starring twin sisters Donna Sawyer and Dianne Senechal, with their grass-stained overalls and their thick Down East accents. Donna lives in Limington, and Dianne is on the Board of Selectmen in my hometown of Buxton.

I’m talking about “The Proud Liberal,” starring a very scraggly, very opinionated Al Simon, also of Buxton.

I’m talking about “Saco River Chronicles” and “Saco River Soundstage” and “Men of Fire” and all the other homegrown programs that make Saco River Community Television must-see TV among the 8,200 Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout Buxton, Standish, Hollis, Waterboro, Limington and Limerick.

And last but not least, I’m talking about Patrick Bonsant, the station manager who makes it all happen from a converted vegetable stand just down the road from Poland Spring’s bottling plant (which donated the property) on Plains Road in Hollis.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had, absolutely,” said Bonsant, who commutes from Portland and worked previously on public-access channels in Portland and Gorham. “I never dread coming out here.”

Make no mistake about it – it’s not exactly a state-of-the-art broadcast operation.

The annual budget, fueled with Time Warner franchise fees by the network’s six member communities, is a meager $110,000.

The equipment, to be charitable, teeters on the brink of obsolescence – the tripods are shaky, only one of the three Sony V2000 hand-held cameras (circa 2002) works, and the computer servers that tether the station to the surrounding town hall meeting rooms are scheduled for long-overdue replacement next week.

“We’ve had to dip into our emergency account for that, which is dangerous,” Bonsant said. “We’ve spent $95,000 out of about $150,000 (in the reserve account), which is more than half.”

Yet somehow, Bonsant, his two part-time employees, the occasional intern and an army of volunteers manage week in and week out to make the public-access channel, at least in these parts, a welcome alternative to the blather that passes for entertainment elsewhere on the cable dial.

“I love how empowering it can be,” said Bonsant, sitting in the not-so-quiet of the studio/soundstage/all-purpose room a few feet from the loudly humming computer servers. “A local voice that might never get heard, might never connect with someone, has the chance to make that connection with people. Those voices might not necessarily be for everybody, but I do try my best to put the widest array of voices out there.”

It shows.

Al Simon showed up one day flanked by a “huge guy wearing a tank top” and announced to Bonsant, “We have something that we want to get off our chest!”

“Really? You guys look interesting!” Bonsant replied.

So began “The Proud Liberal,” Simon’s series of 29 (and counting) left-leaning rants on everything from sports to local, state and national politics.

Another time, a local viewer stopped by to ask if Bonsant might consider running the “Men of Fire Gospel Music Hour,” produced by an all-male evangelical group by the same name in the western Maine town of Norway. It has aired each Sunday morning since.

Then there’s “Saco River Chronicles,” on which you might hear interviews with anyone from Scott Lansley of Maine Taxpayers United to Mark Persky, the onetime legendary disc jockey for WBLM radio. And “Saco River Soundstage,” on which you might hear anyone from slide guitarist Chris Clark of Standish to the Gorham-based bluegrass band Jerks of Grass.

But if there’s truly a hit show in this eclectic local lineup, it’s “Garden Thyme,” born back in May 2009 when “Miss Dianne” picked up a Sony and taped her sister, Donna, explaining the intricacies of her favorite garden-soil mix.

Some 80 episodes later, “The Girls,” 65, are public-access celebrities – and not just in these parts.

The show, laced with the sisters’ sardonic humor and we’ll-ask-anyone-anything interviewing style, has been picked up by other public-access channels throughout Maine and as far away as Michigan, Texas and California.

“We cannot go anywhere – either one of us or two of us,” said Miss Dianne in an interview Thursday.

“We have people run out of hair salons after us. We were over to Windham and one of the women ran through Walmart until she caught up with us. She said, ‘I just want to tell you I love your show!’”

Truth be told, it’s not just the twins’ expert gardening tips that keep viewers like me coming back. It’s their endless banter with fellow gardeners all over Maine (see this month’s “Haying with Ma Moulton”), their ever-improving camera skills and, of course, those accents rooted in their days growing up in the midcoast town of Swanville.

Many think the Down East drawls are exaggerated. They think wrong.

“We don’t see that we have an accent! We don’t see it at all!” insisted Miss Dianne. “You have the accent!”

Where it all goes from here is anyone’s guess.

Just last week, three-plus years after the last 10-year franchise agreement with Time Warner expired, Bonsant and the Saco River Cable Committee finally got an audience with the cable giant’s lawyers to start hashing out a new contract.

Of particular concern to Bonsant: the “capital grant” from Time Warner that the station relies on to replenish and upgrade its old equipment.

The $260,000 from the old agreement is long gone and Bonsant hopes for a little more than that this time around to keep things humming for another decade or so.

“We’re not asking for anything extravagant,” Bonsant said. “All we’re asking for is the basic, current models of cameras, tripods, lighting and other equipment that will enable local people to get their message out there.”

Listen up, Time Warner – the man’s earned it. And if you don’t believe me, just ask one of his biggest stars.

“People would be blown away if they knew the things he does, the amount of work he puts into that station – sometimes with his own money,” said Miss Dianne. “He’s a wicked good station manager.”

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]