Pit Stop –
Singapore Q: Tell us your feelings about being nominated so many times for the Emmys?
The Amazing Race (U.S.) has an impressive trophy trove. The series has been nominated for a total of 54 Primetime Emmys (with 13 wins) so far, making it the reality TV series with the most wins in Emmy history. 2012 also marks the 10th year of Emmy nominations and the 4th consecutive year the show has received seven nominations. Adrian Lim and Kelvin Ong meet Bertram van Munster, the series’ co-creator and executive producer, in Singapore, for this exclusive update on the award-winning global franchise.
A: Well, the nominations are always a tremendous honour for us. Everybody works so hard and it’s not my nomination, it’s everybody’s. People all over the world associated with the show, all over Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, Russia. Every time the show gets nominated, I get texts from people all over the world: “Yeah! we got nominated, we got nominated!” So you bring all these people together from all these different walks of life, different languages, different countries – Siberia, South America, Asia – and they’re all part of it. So it’s a great feeling in itself. Q: There are so many versions of The Amazing Race now. As EP, how much control do you have of the various versions out there? A: We have a lot of control because we assign the people that are guiding these productions. For instance, here at activeTV, a company that Michael McKay and I share – we control the creative in Asia Pacific, in Australia, in Israel, and some other territories where the show has been sold. We produce the shows ourselves so we control the casting, the creative and the finances. Q: The show is very dependent on locations. Do you ever find yourself in a situation where the format is licensed to a broadcaster who for various reasons, fail to feature as many locations as desired? A: No, it has never happened. When I lay out the race with CBS in America for example, I lay it out as original as I can, and (suggest) where all the planes might fly, then I go to the network and I say: “This is the plan. Do you like it?” And in most cases, they do.
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Q: Since the show is very location-driven, the associated costs will be high as well. There were some criticisms about product placements coming in to support budgets – what are your thoughts on that? A: Well, somebody’s got to pay the bill at the end of the day, and we hope that the people that want the product placements will want to listen to us and do it as subtly as possible. You don’t have to rub it in somebody’s face. It’s not necessary. But very often, people (sponsors) think: “If I don’t see my product crystal clear, people won’t know.” But that’s not true. People see everything. I believe that the more subtle you are, the more powerful the message is. One of my big sponsors in the U.S. is Ford Motor Company. I sit down with the guys from Ford and CBS, and we talk about how we can do this in a way so we don’t rub it in somebody’s face because it gets embarrassing sometimes. There’s a learning curve in Asia on how you do product placement. But there are other ways of doing and I think we are little by little educating ourselves and educating the rest of the world on how to do it. And I’m sorry to the guys who are offended by the product placements (laughs). Sometimes we are too! Q: Tell us about how you clear locations when secrecy is such an issue for this show? A: The beautiful thing is everybody signs a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and people stick to it because it’s almost like a sport to stick to it. If they don’t stick to it, they’d spoil the game. And of course you can never really enforce these kinds of non-disclosure agreements.
Q: What do you think of format copycats? A: I’m concerned about it too, and it’s bad for business. Too much of a good thing is… (pauses) and then you get all kinds of gradations of quality also. People think: “Oh I can do this.” But a show like The Amazing Race is a very complex show, very difficult to do if you want to do it right. I mean a lot of people can play an instrument. Some people can play the saxophone really good and other people can barely play it. So it’s not good. People have to come up with their own ideas. Q: Can you give me a clue as to the magnitude of the production crew involved for a typical The Amazing Race show?
Bertram van Munster
I’ve been going around my whole life as a filmmaker, not just for The Amazing Race but for many other shows – so I’ve a lot of great connections around the globe and have had them for many, many years, and that of course makes it much easier for me to produce a show like this. When we started the show, I had done another show for Paramount Pictures that was also around the world and I set up an entire global infrastructure to produce a show like The Amazing Race. So we were light years ahead of everybody else. At this point I can call anybody in Siberia, or in South America or Australia, Europe or inside the Polar Circle. By now, we know everybody. We’ve been to over a hundred countries and we’ve made a lot of friends. Q: Is it fair to say that the locations are suggested with the ease of clearance in mind? A: Yeah. But you know, my personal philosophy is that we’re a guest in every country we go to. I’m a guest of the culture, of the religion, and of the people. It’s a very noncontroversial relationship. You make friends that way, and that’s how we do it. Q: Do you work with tourism boards to promote the culture of the country you go to? A: Our experience is that it’s not very effective. There’s only one country that I know that has been very effective and that is Switzerland. They’re very good. Most tourist boards have little or no experience (in this genre). They give you a lot of lip service because they just don’t see how incredibly important is what we do. They think: “They’re coming anyway, why would we support it?” We get support from some tourism boards though but generally it’s not very effective. It’s an urban show but we also showcase the cultural side of the country but people don’t want to cooperate with us. It’s their loss really. I think they’re just missing an opportunity, that’s all.
A: On the one we produce out the U.S., I have between 60 and 70 production people travelling with me. Then we hire per country around 150 people. So it becomes a pretty large crew. By the time it’s all said and done we have over 2,000 people working on one race around the globe, and everybody gets a cheque in their currency, so a salute to the accountants! (laughs). It’s a big operation. Q: Any concerns about shelf life and viewer fatigue? The show has been running for ten years. A: I see in Asia they’re running the show five to six times a day. Every time I put on the TV I see The Amazing Race. But you have to also realise not everybody has seen the show. If you have millions and millions of people that haven’t seen the show so yeah, you can repeat it. Shelf life, I don’t know, I can’t see into the future. But we’re going into season 22 now, which is something of historic proportions – there’s no question about it. But it means that there’s a demand for it, and the audience likes it, and I want to thank the audience for that. I also think why the show can go on is because it’s really original and every episode is like a handmade show. It’s not like “ok we go into a studio, here’s a microphone and every week we have someone singing.” Every show is completely different from the last. That helps in the longevity I think because it’s always original because you never know what you’re going to see the next week. By no means am I knocking the other shows but in terms of a true reality competition, it appeals to a lot of people that can sit on the couch and not have to be the ones eating bad food or having to go to Siberia and be in the snow or being in Africa in unbearable heat. Q: Upcoming versions in the Ukraine and Israel. Can you share a little about that? A: We’re gearing up to do a new version in Israel for Reshet Television and we are producing six episodes for the Asian leg of the Ukrainian version.
Q: Do you feel that the genre of reality TV is overdone?
Q: Of the four common “types” of reality formats – singing, dancing, food and to a certain extent dating shows; where do you see these four types heading?
A: Look, I think there’s room for everybody. But that’s a lot of derivative movement going on and it gets a little old I think it’s bad for business and people better start thinking and developing better ideas. I do think yes, it’s always easy to buy something that has a proven track record in another form. It’s very tricky for the buyers to buy really new concepts that have not been proven.
A: I could see a degree of fatigue in the song and dance department. I must say the shows are pretty good and very entertaining. But at the end of the day, everything is cyclical. It may all stop and one day The Amazing Race will stop. But twenty years from now, somebody may have a brilliant idea and says: “Why don’t we do The Amazing Race again?” So it’s cyclical. TVAplus
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