Over the past decade, Reality TV has literally taken over the airwaves. And with so many ideas already exhausted, it was only a matter of time before network producers set their sights on our nation’s prison system as the backdrop for a new show.
“We were looking for something gritty and realistic,” said one network executive. “I mean, how many seasons of American Idol and The Bachelor can you have?”
But coming up with an idea that’s fresh and exciting wasn’t easy. Producers toyed with prison-themed spin-offs of shows that were already popular, but projects like Dancing with the Guards, America’s Next Top Model Prisoner, and Cell’s Kitchen never made it off the drawing board.
Other ideas showed greater promise but also greater risk. The Amazing Race Riot and Extreme Takeover: Prison Edition drew massive enthusiasm from a focus group of convicts, but both ideas made prison authorities nervous. Network execs also had high hopes for So You Think You Can Escape and its companion show, Project Runaway, but both shows were scrapped when the first round of contestants vanished during taping.
In the end, producers went with two shows whose themes were already perfectly suited for a prison environment; Fear Factor and Survivor.