The final word on Travel Channel (unless I think of more)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an entry on the blog about TV travel shows – how terribly uncreative and bland most of them are, in Britain and here, and how so many people still write to me about my show, Stranded, after four years.

Boy, did that stir up a hornets’ nest. I never expected so many of you to be that interested, frankly.

Well, anyway, there have been several developments since then. So here, quickly, before we all grow bored with the topic, is an update.

First, the blog generated another avalanche of belated support for Stranded from fans – bless you all; I only hope that level of allegiance spills over into the documentary I’m shooting currently – and also a steady level of disgust, apparently, with Travel Channel for canceling it. Not something that was intended, by the way, but I totally understand. There’s a general malaise out there these days. As TV viewers, we feel shortchanged by network executives who, after finally getting around to producing a decent show for once, axe it again almost immediately before it’s built an audience. Personally, I am still grieving the loss of Journeyman and Better Off Ted. Damn you, NBC and ABC respectively.

When it comes down to basics, my problem when I was filming Stranded was that I wanted to make an intimate travel experience that I shared with the viewers, revealing the ups and downs of a guy voyaging around the world alone, surviving on the kindness of strangers and exploring other cultures, other perspectives on life. Whereas the production company wanted to make a whiz-bang fast-paced adventure show.

Right there you can see the issue. Those two don’t go together well, and so the series behind the scenes became a constant battleground, with me on the one side seeking to make programs about people and cultures, and the producers on the other hand insisting on having lots of bungy-jumping and snowboarding and whatever else. I wanted spontaneity and living by the seat of your pants-type stuff; the producers insisted on planning everything down to the last detail, leaving barely any room for anything real to happen at all. In truth, I thrive and come alive in spontaneous situations. That’s my forte; it’s where I excel. So of course excessive planning was claustrophobic for me. I was forced to be an actor and often made to do three or four takes to ‘get a shot right’. Ultimately the American audience sensed the fakery and pretense of it all and tuned out.

At its core, the show was a great idea that could have worked – in fact, it did work to an extent, in that, when I got my way and did what I wanted to do, it was refreshingly different and very funny – but in the end it died as a result of too many unwanted cooks jumping on board and messing with the ingredients. There was also someone working with us who had severe anger issues and who could be a ferocious tyrant at times. That attitude, I noticed, seemed to generate so much fear and unhappiness among the staff and crew that the show felt doomed almost from day one.

In respect to Travel Channel, the general drift of the conversation seems to be, “What were they thinking, getting rid of one of their best shows ever and replacing it with one dopey series after another?” But since I don’t watch T.C., I honestly can’t comment on how dopey their recent series are, if at all. Then again, when you’ve experienced the cringing torpor induced by most travel shows over the years, you can understand anger mounting at a network when something really good and refreshingly original makes it into the schedules, only to be allowed to die on the vine.

A former executive from Travel Channel (and there are a lot of them these days, from what I hear) wrote to me commiserating with viewers’ disappointment that the show wasn’t better supported at the time. “I don’t think it ever got its due,” this person said. That seems to echo many people’s opinion. The email additionally assured me that there was no bad blood between me and the network at all, that was just a bad rumor. Most of the original management team and others had gone, so how could there be? Well, that’s something, at least.

One extra fascinating little snippet: it seems the show was axed in the end, not because of lack of devotion by viewers, but because it told the truth about the various locations, especially the bad ones. I didn’t know this, but apparently no travel network can allow that. Travel shows are exercises in PR, pure and simple. That’s why they’re so bland. If the producers want to go back and film in the same locations in future, they need to appease the local tourist office at all costs. That’s what killed Stranded: the perky little bugger was just too honest for its own good.  Of course, I’m kicking myself now. I wish I’d lied about everything – we’d be in season 9 by now.

So there you go. Who would have thought people would still remember? Not me, that’s for sure. And certainly not Travel Channel.Then again, with so much lame retardo rubbish being thrown at us on TV nowadays, as networks increasingly across the board try to pass junk off as entertainment and hope we don’t notice, maybe it’s not so surprising.

TV Swami – he proud and teary-eyed at fans’ support.

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