August 28, 2009 at 07:34 PM EDT

I’m about half-way through the six-part, 12-hour The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, and it has more moments of American beauty, adventurousness, eccentricity, and surprise than anything we’re likely to see on television for a while. This is the real reality TV.

If you think you’re tired of the Ken Burns formula — long, leisurely examinations of American phenomena (baseball, jazz, the Civil War) set to mandolin strumming — well, so did I. Until I started watching this:

The National Parks starts on Sept. 27, and my prediction is that word-of-mouth will start right after people get a load of the opening episode, and that this man, charismatic park ranger Shelton Johnson, will become a bit of an overnight star:

Believe me, you’re in for a treat. If you want to watch an extended preview, check this out:

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