78.5 F
San Fernando
Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022
-Advertisement-

REALITY—The ‘Real’ Thing

Encino Producers Take Prime Time By Storm With Fox’s ‘Boot Camp’ It is four hours into the first day of shooting “Boot Camp,” and already, one contestant is losing it. No matter that it took months for Jane Katherine, a 31-year-old leasing agent from Woodland Hills, to get here. No matter that she is a fitness enthusiast, seemingly well-prepared for the take-no-prisoners game of physical endurance in which she’s competing. No matter that the prize, if she wins, is $500,000. Drill instructors are barking orders at an ear-piercing pitch, belittling her and calling her names. And Katherine is curled up in the bathroom in tears. She wants out. “We thought we were geniuses,” said Eric Schotz, president and CEO at LMNO Productions, the Encino-based creator of “Boot Camp,” and the show’s executive producer. “We planned for every permutation. But the thing about producing is it’s the real world. Things happen.” “Boot Camp,” which premiered in March, is one of the latest in a swelling offering of reality TV series. Contestants vie for a $500,000 prize, enduring a kind of basic-training-on-steroids competition overseen by real-life Marine Corps drill instructors. At the end of each episode, the team votes out one of its own, and that player takes out another recruit, until only one is left standing. Shows like “Boot Camp,” which airs on Fox, are fast becoming favorites of network executives who see in the shows the opportunity for big returns on small investments because, unlike traditional primetime programming, they don’t have costly, big-name stars attached to them. But that doesn’t mean such shows are cheap or easy. Just ask Schotz, who spent years developing “Boot Camp.” “It cost a boatload of money,” he said. “We’re moving 120 people in Florida, and we shoot 24/7. That does not work easily.” Reality TV shows, once relegated to PBS documentaries and ignored by all but insomniacs and bookworms, have mushroomed into a white-hot genre that also includes documentary action shows like “Cops” and game shows like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” But it is programming like “Boot Camp,” offering big-money prizes to the contestant who is able to outfox competitors and allies alike, that are most often vying with traditional primetime dramatic series and sitcoms for audience share and advertiser dollars. And as they do, the programming has become increasingly complex. Executives at production companies like LMNO, which stands for Leave My Name Off, now find themselves juggling a complex web of action, interpersonal relationships and unforeseen circumstances to stay in the game. Schotz says that is part of the attraction. “That’s why reality is a producer’s medium,” he said. “Drama is a writer’s medium. This is all about execution.” It took about 120 people to produce “Boot Camp,” including 10 crews who shot nearly everything that happened in the swampy, snake-infested camp in Starke, Fla. There was a full-time helicopter, a full-service art department and a grip department to manage all the equipment. The producers chose to film in Starke because of its remote location. “We’re playing a game of elimination,” Schotz said. “You don’t want somebody to find out who won, so you try to go somewhere that’s difficult to be.” But if it is difficult to get to Starke, it is harder still to be there, and planning took on a kind of military precision. The area is home to rattlesnakes, coral snakes and water moccasins. There are alligators and spiders of every kind. “The number one issue was safety,” Schotz said. “We had medics there. We had evacuation plans for snake bite. You have no idea how deep we go. We were prepared for everything except (Katherine) quitting.” But precisely because it is so unpredictable, the human drama that plays out on these shows, complete with ambiguous alliances and Machiavellian conniving, really draws audiences. Shows like “Boot Camp” now compete on the same footing as sitcoms and drama series, often commanding advertising rates as high as those for programming with big name stars at two, three and four times the expense to produce, because they can get the same high ratings. “They are pretty much some of the most talked about shows on television, and they seem to be the highest rated series,” said Emily Weiss, media director for Saatchi & Saatchi, an advertising agency in Los Angeles whose major client is Toyota. In its first episode, “Boot Camp” drew more than 15 million viewers. And it has consistently beat critically acclaimed “West Wing,” on at the same time on NBC, among adult viewers 18 to 34. On April 25, Episode 4 won its time slot for all adults 18-34, as well as men 18-49 and teens, outperforming a new episode of “West Wing,” and “Drew Carey” and “Spin City” on ABC. Knowing that the players, as much as if not more than the game, would determine the show’s success, the producers focused long and hard on the recruitment process. They needed team members that would be able to endure the competition, but they also had to be compelling to viewers. “That’s what makes a drama,” said Schotz. “People you care about and people you care about very quickly.” LMNO began with a staggering 7,000 candidates, ultimately whittling the number down to 50 before choosing the final 16 players that kicked off the show. They were given batteries of physical and psychological tests in an attempt to determine whether they could withstand both the physical exertion and the emotional abuse dished out each week by the show’s four drill instructors. “We made videotapes and looked at how they did physically,” said Schotz. “And we looked for a mix. The key is to look for the motivation.” The players in “Boot Camp” must function as a team if they are to succeed with their missions, exercises that usually involve running, climbing, crawling and swinging through rough terrain. At the same time, they have to concoct strategies to keep from getting voted off. The little conspiracies that arise as they battle to stay one step ahead of the game are what keep viewers coming back for more, psychologists say. “We are this group species, and the two things you observe right away is competition and status and acceptance within groups,” said Brian A. Lickel, professor of psychology at the University of Southern California. “Anyone who’s worked in a corporation can identify with all those same themes.” “Boot Camp,” like other shows of its genre, films the players interacting in “real time” and intersperses it with fly-on-the-wall views of the subterfuge that also goes on behind their backs. That gives viewers the kind of perspective they almost never get in real life, but often wish they had. “Imagine you’re in a company and you find out that 40 percent of the people in your division are going to get laid off,” said Lickel. “Everyone would be constantly trying to figure out, do people like me? And that isn’t far from the truth of what happens. You get these evaluations, but you don’t hear what people actually think.” From the first episode, the female recruits banded together hoping that by uniting as a group against the men they could remain in the game. But when one of them, Recruit Coddington, was injured and unable to participate in the missions for a week, she began to alienate her fellow female teammates. In the episode that aired just before presstime, the women were seen huddling in the barracks to plan their strategy for the next vote while privately confessing that they were ready to sacrifice Coddington, which is just what they did. “What happens here is the ability to return to high school politics and vote out the person you most dislike,” said Tara McPherson, professor of critical studies at USC’s School of Cinema-Television. “Which of us in our work doesn’t have that fantasy?”

-Advertisement-

Featured Articles

-Advertisement-
-Advertisement-

Related Articles

-Advertisement-
-Advertisement-