On some unscripted shows, the fans’ involvement virtually extends to becoming consultants.
Take the case of “MythBusters,” the long-running series on Discovery Channel.
“When we first started the show, no one quite knew how it was going to work,” said Dan Tapster, the show’s longtime executive producer. “We had a title and two excellent hosts, or hosts we thought were going to be excellent.”
Those hosts, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, were both experienced special-effects artists with a knack for building almost anything — and then destroying it, either through stress-testing or a big explosion.
At first, nobody knew who they were. For the pilot episode they were supposed to strap three military-grade rockets to the roof of a Chevy to see if it could become airborne. But the Air Force wouldn’t sell them rockets.
They were a classic odd-couple pairing. Savage’s boyish enthusiasm usually got him into trouble, while Hyneman’s taciturn nature and bushy mustache concealed a taste for fast motorcycles and C4 explosives.
“What quickly happened was a key core fan base latched on to the show, and a lot of the changes were a result of how the audience related to Adam and Jamie,” said Tapster. “As Adam’s and Jamie’s personalities came to the fore we could make the show more character-driven.”
Online discussion boards sprang up, such as Annotated MythBusters and MythBusters Results, that examined each test on the show, often challenging whether the myth had been “busted” as claimed. In response, “MythBusters” began revisiting myths, using suggestions from fans in the broadcast.
“I believe we are the only show on television that does this,” Savage says.
The episode airing this week will feature the show’s third attempt to determine if the ancient Greek scientist Archimedes actually built a “solar ray” that set enemy craft on fire using reflected sunlight.
A fan will even appear on camera to ask the “MythBusters” to revisit the myth.
He is President Barack Obama. Despite his well-known aversion to watching TV, he’ll tell the hosts he sees the show with his daughters.