Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fear Factor Returns...With a Vengeance

'Fear Factor' is Back, But When? And What's New? Producer Matt Kunitz Gives Details

by Maggie Furlong

Joe Rogan's "very high on the list" to host the new 'Fear Factor,' according to Endemol North America chairman David Goldberg. He told 'EW' that producers haven't made any decisions, but they'll sit down with Rogan and see if he's interested. Goldberg also confirmed that NBC has already ordered 10 episodes.

Today's news that 'Fear Factor' will return to NBC after five years off the air came as a bit of a surprise -- guess the new higher-ups at the network were fans back in the day.

But there was very little information out there to report on, other than the fact that NBC and production company Endemol USA were ready to start doing casting calls.

We had a lot of questions: What will the show look like now? Are there new challenges in store? Will host Joe Roganreturn? And when will this new season premiere?

So we turned to executive producer Matt Kunitz to get the scoop. Before dishing about all of that and more -- including 'Idol,' 'The Voice,' 'Wipeout' and his new upcoming ABC show '101 Ways to Leave a Game Show' -- Kunitz giddily started the chat by saying, "I think you're the first person in six years that I've actually introduced myself to as Matt Kunitz from 'Fear Factor.' [Laughs] It's exciting!"

Keep reading for more, as well as scoop on their plans to make 'Fear Factor' 2.0 "bigger and badder."

What made you guys decide to go back to 'Fear Factor'?
It's something that when it went off the air, we always felt that we still had a lot of energy left. I think sometimes when shows kind of get to the end, you kind of feel like, you know what, we've been there, we've done that. But when we got into our sixth season, we felt like we really just started to get our pace. We'd brought in a new stunt coordinator, Pat Romano, who came from feature films, and so the work that we were doing was the best stuff we'd ever done.

So for us to be able to come back now and start it all again, with all the knowledge we have from those six seasons ... and what's really phenomenal is how far the stunt world has come in the last six years, technologically. Back then, if we dropped somebody, we'd drop them 8 feet to a line. Now we have the technology to drop them at full speed in freefall, and then stop them inches from hitting the concrete. It's things like that that excite us, because we know we can make it bigger and badder than it ever was before. And this was one of the baddest shows out there. For us to be able to take it to the next level is really exciting.

And this marks your return to working with NBC. I'm assuming the new brass is excited about the show?
Yeah, they're excited -- the new people are excited, but there's still a lot of people from the old regime that were there back in the day. The people in the online division, standards and practices, scheduling ... a lot of those people are still there. And market and promo ... this is like a dream come true for a promo department! So it's great to get a chance to work with the new regime, but also to work with old friends there.

And speaking of old friends, we're bringing back most of the creative staff from the firs go-round. My partner on this is David Hurwitz, who was with me every step of the way on 'Fear Factor.' He ate, breathed, slept 'Fear Factor' for six years, so it's exciting.

In the original article you guys put out, there was something about it being a lesser version -- I don't think that could be any further from the truth. Our mandate from the network is we can't bring it back unless this is going to be a better and bigger version.

Joe RoganSo the creative team will be back, but who will be hosting? Will Joe Rogan return?
You know, we just literally made the announcement of the show today, so that conversation hasn't been had yet with the network. We love Joe, and Joe was a huge part of the show, but we're not ready to ... we just haven't had the time to even sit down with the new brass and talk about that yet.

Is he something you would fight for? Or are you OK revamping that aspect of the show as well?
I think Joe's an incredibly important part of the show. I think Joe is somebody that ... he was there from day one. When there's the nostalgia of 'Fear Factor,' they think of Joe. He's definitely somebody that I would love to work with again.

Is there a target premiere date you're looking at?
All I know right now is that they're talking fall. So we're preparing for fall episodes, and we'll be ready.

Yeah, the biggest thing for us is the development of a stunt takes months and months. There's so much research and development that goes into any stunt we do. You can't just say, "Oh we're gonna hang someone from a helicopter and drop them on top of a train and then the train is gonna go through a wall of fire." The amount of time, energy and money and resources that goes into that stunt ... you have to be planning those three months in advance. That's what makes this show particularly difficult, and I think that's why people were not able to easily copy it. I think I can honestly say there has not been another stunt show on television that's come even close to what we do on 'Fear Factor.'

You've been working on 'Wipeout' -- has its success made you want to go more family-friendly with 'Fear Factor' 2.0, or do you think it'll skew grosser and more headline-grabbing?
It's interesting because the reason Scott Larsen and I created 'Wipeout' was because we realized that 'Fear Factor' was an incredibly popular show with families. It's really rare. If you look at the TV landscape, there are very few shows -- you can count them on one hand -- that kids and parents actually want to watch together. It's 'American Idol' and 'Wipeout' -- what else is there? So yes, this is a family show. It will be crazy, it will be gross. The thing I always said about 'Fear Factor' then, and it's gonna be the same now, is that yes, it's crazy stunts, yes it's gross, but there's no violence, there's no cursing, there's no nudity, so it is a good, safe show for the kids to watch, too.

'Wipeout' hosts with creator Matt Kunitz (3rd from left)

I always loved the celebrity episodes -- I mean, Todd Bridges and G. Gordon Liddy onscreen together? Epic. 
Wow ... you really were a fan! That was one of the first conversations we had with the network, was if we come back we should do a celebrity episode. We're in discussions on what that would be, and how we would do that, but that's definitely something that you can look forward to.

If you could hand-pick today, who you would love for a celeb episode?
I would love to have the Kardashian family on a celebrity episode. The whole family though -- it's gotta be the whole family. I think that would be fun. They're very relatable, and because that family is multi-generational, that would be fun to see that, too.

'American Idol'Besides your own shows, what reality shows do you think are doing it right these days?
Clearly 'American Idol' has figured out something, right? You can't complain about 'Idol' -- it's amazing the longevity of that show and their ability in the tenth season to come back stronger than the season before, so props to 'American Idol.' I started watching 'The Voice,' I enjoy 'The Voice.' I think it's really hard to do a new music show and be fresh and different ...

You've definitely tried it! 'The One' on ABC didn't work out so good ...
[Laughs] Exactly! Boy you do your research.

It's my job. Do you think you had bad timing with your take, and maybe 'The Voice' is just right show, right time?
But if someone said to me a year ago, "Do you want to do another music show?" I would've said, "No way! [Laughs] I'm not going up against 'Idol' with a music show!" So to see 'The Voice' do well, to me it was a surprise, and good for them. I'm a huge fan of reality shows doing well, because when reality shows do well, it's good for the business.

'101 Ways' host Jeff0 SutphenSo you have high hopes for your new show, '101 Ways to Leave a Game Show'?
Oh absolutely. You know, the thing about '101 Ways' is, to me, it's another big family show, but it's different. It's pretty unique in the sense that it is a traditional game show, so we have questions and answers, but if you get one question wrong, we have 101 ways to spectacularly eliminate you from the game show. I haven't seen anything like it ... it's the perfect kind of summer show.

I always liked Whammies. You know, no whammies, no whammies, stop?
Yeah, I would say that times a thousand. I'm at the set now and literally I'm standing on top of a 300-foot cliff where, if you get the question wrong, you're going to be blown off the cliff with a fire hose. And that's only one of 101 ways. Every single episode, every single elimination is completely different.

What's your biggest fear?
Hmmm ... I'm not afraid of heights. I discovered that on 'Fear Factor' when I would test stunts once in a while. I would say it's probably anything to do with water and drowning. When we do some of these water stunts, even on '101' ... you get the question wrong, and we have them all standing on the edge of a dock, and each of them has a 200-pound anchor sitting next to them. Whoever gets the question wrong, the host kicks the anchor, the anchor goes into the ocean and pulls them under ... that would freak me out! I don't care that I know of course there's safety mechanisms and underwater divers that are gonna release me ... none of that matters to me. Just the thought of being pulled underwater freaks me out. [Laughs]

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