By Paul J. Coyne, Executive Producer
Hello, Cellmates! After a few weeks away from the blog to deal with other work matters, having left you in the hands of my trusted and talented colleagues, I return with a few numbers I think you might find interesting.
But first, this week's episode of Beyond Scared Straight takes place in Fulton County, Georgia. I can't believe we are already at the end of another season! We've definitely saved the best for last.
A few weeks ago, we met teen Shakial, who got to share some emotional moments with his inmate brother. We knew ahead of time that his brother was there so we knew what to expect. This week, Corey, a 16-year old car thief, suddenly becomes distracted when he discovers his stepfather among a swarm of inmates in a cellblock. We had no idea his stepfather was in the jail and the scene that plays out will tear at your heart. To Corey, his stepdad is not just another prison number.
Let's talk about numbers this week. I've never been very good at math but there are some numbers that I have really become attached to.
We have now been on for 6 seasons and will be airing our 7th season this summer. When we shot the pilot for the series (lovingly called episode #0), although we believed in the project, we had no idea whether we would get the green light to turn it into a series. Even though it was one of the best pilots I had ever been part of, one just never knows in the TV business.
The saying is that "TV exists to sell soap" and by that I mean if the network can't make money from commercials and ad space, they aren't going to keep a series on the air for long, regardless of how well-made and worthy it is. It's that money that keeps them in business. We knew our documentary series was going to be raw and graphic. Is that the kind of show that would draw advertisers? We had no idea.
While we were developing it, we also weren't sure we could sustain the same basic storyline over many, many episodes. Basically every episode is about telling kids to stay out of jail. When we realized the limitations of that, we knew we had to make something different from the original, Oscar-winning SCARED STRAIGHT! from the 70's. That film focused mainly on the inmates revealing, for the first time to American audiences, how truly terrifying prison can be. That's what was novel and groundbreaking about it. But there was virtually no backstory on the teens.
It seems obvious now, but I felt from the beginning that the "story" in each episode was really going to be found in the teens changing. There would never be a major evolving story within the inmates or deputies. Although the inmates are electrifying, they are usually the same the first time we meet them as they are when they are led back to their cells. The kids have the story arc - they go into the jail as delinquents and, hopefully, come out transformed.
The decision was made to make it a show about the teens, not a show about prison, as was the original film. That way, every episode would have fresh stories to tell. If you watch the way the show is edited, so much of it falls on shots of the kids listening, as opposed to shots of the inmates talking. That's because it's about what's going on in their minds, not about what's being said to them.
When our first episode premiered, we kept our fingers crossed that someone would tune in. I had an incredibly strong feeling that we were going to be a hit - usually a sure sign that we would not be! I took to Twitter that night and was shocked to see that half of the top trending topics related to the episode. I held my breath all night long.
When we got the ratings the next day, we were floored.
We premiered to 3.7 million viewers, making Beyond Scared Straight A&E's most-watched original series premiere. Ever. Not only was it a ratings hit, it also made history at the network. (I once worked on the lowest rated premiere ever at ABC, so this was a nice contrast.)
Overjoyed, A&E sent us all a big batch of cupcakes to help us celebrate. That made us even happier.
The top of each cupcake had a letter on it, spelling out the phrase "CONGRATS BSS - BEST LAUNCH - WE'RE NUMBER ONE - LOVE AE XOXO".
I bit off part of a "B", rearranged the cupcakes and sent a picture back to the network vice president. The cupcakes now spelled out, "MORE SEASONS PLEASE XOXO".
As we wind up our sixth season of Beyond Scared Straight, I want to extend words of thanks to our many loyal fans. You have reached out to me on Facebook and Twitter and many of you have told me you have watched the series from the very beginning and have never missed an episode.
Since we began, we have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles to 28 different prisons or jails, and have worked thousands of hours in the field, in our offices and in our edit bays. Over the years, we have employed over a hundred different people on the series. Eight babies have been born (or are about to be) to members of our staff and crew. There have been seven marriages. We have had four Halloween costume parties.
And here's a little bit of trivia - by the time the last episode of next season airs, the more graphic version of the word "poop" will have been spoken 68 times on our series. I know my mom is proud.
It is humbling to know that our series has reached millions of you and has become a trusted part of your weekly viewing experience. I wish I could return the favor and stare at you all for one hour each week.
Incredibly, at this point, we have seen almost 475 teens go through the jail tour experience. The vast majority of these teens have changed for the better. That means those teens won't be creating victims, spreading disrespect and anger or creating conflict within their families. We can count the number of teens on our series but the ripple effect of their changed behavior is truly infinite, and that's the most impressive number of all.
We have already filmed all of the episodes for next season. I think it's our best season yet which, in my humble opinion, is really saying something. By the time those episodes finish airing, we will have created 68 episodes of life-changing television... so far.
So never let it be said that texting by way of cupcake is not an effective (and delicious) mode of communication.
Thank you for sticking with us, for watching, and thank you in advance for coming back this coming summer.
I knew I could count on you.