By Jay Bobbin
The Amazing Race has won so many Emmys for Outstanding Reality-Competition Series — eight, to be exact — it would be amazing if its makers didn’t reapply the formula somehow.
Actually, they tried last summer with ABC’s short-lived Take the Money & Run. Undeterred, they’re trying again this summer: In association with Oscar winners and Imagine Entertainment partners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, producers Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri launch the unscripted TNT series The Great Escape.
Described by host and NFL Network sportscaster Rich Eisen as “a mini-movie every week,” the new show takes contestants to undisclosed-in-advance locations (early episodes are set on Alcatraz Island and aboard the USS Hornet) where they’re given challenges they must conquer to win a big cash reward. It might not be the same as racing around the world over the course of a season, but Eisen believes it’s close enough.
“When I was presented with the opportunity,” he says, “it was a no-brainer. When you have people like Bert and Elise — who have hoisted almost every Emmy award in the reality-television genre — saying they’re going to do another reality program and try something new, [and] the other producers behind it include Imagine and Fox, the answer is, ‘Uh … sure!’”
Eisen also has known TNT programming chief Michael Wright “for years. When they all say, ‘Hey, are you interested in doing this?,’ it’s like, ‘Are you kidding?’ What a dream team and a dream scenario. I’ve never seen shoots like this in my life. I’m fortunate to work for the NFL Network, and every Sunday I see something dramatic. Now I’ve got 10 more weeks of drama, coming in a different manner, on Sundays. It blows my mind.”
Detailing the Great Escape concept, Eisen says, “Every Sunday, it’s a unique location that the people will be locked inside and race to be the first to find me. And whoever is lucky enough to do that wins a nice hunk of cash.
“They’ve come up with some really wild, unique-to-the-environment tasks for these teams to achieve in order to successfully escape. They have to go through four stages; they have to find a piece of what’s called the Great Escape Key at each stage, and when they put them all together, they find out where I am. Cameras are absolutely everywhere, following their every move, and it’s awesome to behold.”
Eisen also gets something out of being at the various locations, citing the USS Hornet as “an old aircraft carrier that used to pluck the astronauts and their capsules from the water. The first thing I saw when I got there were the white painted footprints of Neil Armstrong on the deck of the ship, to commemorate his walk from the capsule to his quarantine chamber after the first lunar landing. I mean, talk about a unique location.”
Covering football is like a reality show in its own way, Eisen reasons. “It’s equally unscripted, but uniquely different. The NFL Network has been great enough to let me seek this out, and I feel really fortunate. It does put a strain on the schedule, but I’m having the time of my life.”
The Great Escape premieres on TNT June 24 at 10pm ET and airs Sundays.
Photo: ™ & © 2011 TBS, Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Credit: David S. Holloway