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Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri NEWS

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Thanks sooo much for the interview info. I loved seeing it.
 I love how Elise came up with the idea, and Bertram connections could make it work.
And Yay to CBS for seeing the potential.

Emmys: How 'The Amazing Race' Fights the 'Been There, Done That' Syndrome
After 22 seasons, 850,000 miles and close to 100 countries -- and after winning nine of the 10 Emmys for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program -- what hasn't it done?

Published: June 20, 2013 @ 1:10 pm
This story appears in TheWrap's EmmyWrap Reality Issue.

It has happened before, and it will surely happen again. The brain trust of “The Amazing Race” will be sitting around a conference table in the show’s headquarters, located conveniently close to Los Angeles International Airport, when one of the newer staffers will come up with an idea.

“We have people who’ve been here since the beginning, and then we’ll have new people come onto the staff,” said Elise Doganieri, co-creator and co-executive producer of the CBS show with her husband, Bertram van Munster.

“The new ones might not have seen or remember every episode, and they’ll say, ‘Oh I have a great idea for a challenge!’

“And we have to say, ‘Nope. We’ve done that.’”

Of course “The Amazing Race” has done that, and been there. After 22 seasons of racing around the world, after 850,000 miles and close to 100 countries and who knows how many bungee jumps and tricky clues and eating challenges and roadblocks and detours and U-turns and fast forwards, and after winning nine of the 10 Emmys that have been given out for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program, what haven’t they done?

And as the era of reality television moves through its second decade, “TAR” is hardly the only show to have that problem.

“Survivor” host Jeff Probst can get through most shows uttering phrases he's already used dozens of times; “Dancing With the Stars” pros like Karina Smirnoff and Derek Hough are probably sick to death of easing a new clumsy celeb through the Paso Doble.

There’s a reason the singing shows are playing musical chairs with their judges -- because when you’re going into double-digit seasons on a show whose format is more or less set in stone, what once seemed novel can start to feel downright pedestrian.

“Keeping it fresh after 22 seasons is a real challenge,” Doganieri told TheWrap, as she and van Munster sat in their production offices surrounded by props and souvenirs from a decade’s worth of global excursions. “There are only so many things you can do, but we have to keep trying to find ways to do it differently.”

“To keep it fresh comes in many different forms,” added van Munster. “It comes in little tweaks, little mechanical tweaks. But it is also the fascination with what are you doing, what are the challenges.”

It’s a tricky balance reality producers must strike -- trying to figure out how much you can change the format that drew viewers to the show in the first place, or how long you can keep it the same before it reaches its sell-by date. While van Munster insisted, “The format doesn’t need to be changed -- it’s been good since the beginning,” Doganieri took a more nuanced view.

“We like to keep the format of the show true to what it has been since Season 1,” she said.

“There’s always a roadblock, detour, pit stop, fast forward, route marker. But sometimes it’s nice to spice things up a little bit and throw the contestants off, so they’re not going into Season 23 thinking, ‘I know what to expect.’ You try to keep the show fresh without changing the format.”

On a travel show like “The Amazing Race,” another problem is that if you go to Paris, you’d better show the Eiffel Tower; if the teams are racing through Sydney, viewers probably want to see the Opera House in there somewhere. “You have to hit the iconic buildings and places and statues,” Doganieri said, “but maybe we’ll be in a scout car and see something you’re going to find in the Let’s Go: Europe book. This is stuff that’s way off the beaten path, the stuff that makes it fun.”

One example from van Munster: “We were scouting in Azerbaijan, driving down some back alley because the driver couldn’t find his way at a market. And what do I see? I see a Russian car filled with apples. The trunk is filled with apples, and the entire back seat and the front, except for the driver’s seat. Filled with 1,700 kilos of green apples. I said, ‘Back up the car -- what is this all about?’ It turns out they have a group of apple salesmen that drive to the market once a week, that come 100 miles from the interior. So we did a challenge with that.”

Even as they prep the show’s 22nd and 23rd seasons, van Munster said he still scouts every location. He and Doganieri are a hands-on producing team on a logistically complex show.

Their LAX-adjacent offices have rooms for planning, rooms for editing, rooms for meetings -- but also an on-site travel coordinator, a person who just handles visas for the contestants and the 70 crew members who hit the road with them, and others to deal with security (which countries should we avoid this month?) and the legal fine print that must be met by a game show that gives away a $1 million prize.

And they do it on a budget that van Munster said was cut significantly by CBS a few years ago. (That means if the race goes through Europe, which is expensive, they have to find cheaper places to save money elsewhere on the route.)

“It’s like planning a military operation,” Doganieri said. “The producers go a week or so in advance to the country the contestants are going to, and they have their checklists: make sure the clue boxes are in the right locations, the safety checks are done, the security team knows what’s happening and where we’re going.”

If the contestants have to make a long drive in a place like India, van Munster added, the production will station ambulances at intervals on the road, just in case of emergency.

“We contact hospitals in the cities and countries where we’re operating,” he said. “We know the names of the doctors and the surgeons. We know the helicopter operators, the numbers of the helicopters we’re using. We know the records of the pilots we’re using.” They also know that if they’re going back to somewhere they’ve been before, they need to find a twist -- though to hear Doganieri tell it, she’d just as soon map out a course full of uncharted territory.

“We have a nice little ceremonial thing that starts off each season,” she said. “Bertram and I sit in what we call our War Room, which is the room where we put up all the creative on the walls. We have a giant map of the world there, and we sit in front of it and talk about where we want to go and where we don’t want to go.”

She laughs. “I always want to go to the most random, bizarre places, and Bertram is always, ‘How are we going to get into and out of there?’ I would love to go to Easter Island. I don’t know what we would do there, but I would love to go.”

“You can fly to Easter Island,” said van Munster calmly. “I just looked into it, as a matter of fact. The problem is you fly there, and then you walk around for a few hours, and then you have to get on the same plane back. And it’s a long flight.”

“But places like that fascinate me,” Doganieri said. “We would love to go to Antarctica. We still haven’t gone to Israel. The list has 50 to 100 more countries where we want to go. We need more seasons. If we keep getting picked up, we will get to all those places.”


Frequent Flier
The Drama of Travel, Made Into TelevisionBy ELISE DOGANIERI
Published: July 1, 2013

Q. How often do you fly for business?
A. I used to fly all the time, probably about six months out of the year. Now, it’s about twice a month. When we’re filming I can fly every other day and go to nine or 10 countries in three weeks.

Q. What’s your least favorite airport?
A. Heathrow. If you’re switching planes, it can take forever to get to your gate.

Q. Of all the places you’ve been, what’s the best?
A. I love Asia, especially Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. Asia is just very culturally rich, and anyplace I go on the continent is fascinating.

Q. What’s your secret airport vice?
A. I catch up on movies. I think my record is four movies during one flight.

MY very first international trip was on TWA back in 1990. I went to Madrid and went backpacking with my college roommate for about five weeks. I went with $1,000, and we lived on wine, cheese, bread and chocolate. That trip changed my life.

I met my husband, Bertram van Munster, about five years later, and we both loved travel. I remember talking about how travel always has a lot of drama and how you can build relationships. I still keep in touch with people I met on my first trip abroad. So long story short, “The Amazing Race” was born somewhat from our own real love of going places.

I do talk to seatmates on occasion during my trips for the show, but I don’t really tell them exactly what I do. All I will say is that I work in television and I’m traveling for business. Even that takes a while for me to admit. First, I’m very private and where we travel for the show is a secret until it airs. Even my parents have to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Traveling for the show is a lot of fun. It’s also a lot of work since the logistics are crazy.

But I’m privileged in that my business trips are really out of the norm. My husband and I have a lot of maps of the world in the office, and we try to pick places to film that may not be travel destinations for most Americans.

I’ve had some amazing experiences.

I remember flying from Adelaide to Coober Pedy, Australia, which is the opal capital of the world. I was on this tiny Cessna with four other passengers and one pilot. I decided to take flying lessons when I got home because I couldn’t help thinking what would happen if this one pilot passed out. Fortunately, he didn’t and we wound up filming for one week in underground homes called dugouts, which really are a lot nicer than the name implies.

I was in Botswana in a plane called a Caravan. We were flying over the Okavango Delta while herds of elephants ran throughout the bush. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Flying into Reykjavik, Iceland, was like landing on the moon. Even though it’s only five hours from J.F.K., it’s like no other place on earth.

We took off at night and arrived in the morning to the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen. I’ve also flown apparently to the end of the world when I flew to Punta Arenas, Chile and then onto Ushuaia, Argentina, where I had my passport stamped “The End of the World” on Isla Redonda Tierra del Fuego. That was very cool.

Aside from finding places that are not usual destinations for many Americans, we try to keep things local or culturally significant regarding the challenges that our contestant teams have to perform.

People really seem to enjoy sky diving and bungee-jumping. I went bungee-jumping for the first time in New Zealand during season two. It’s called the Nevis Bungee Jump and you drop about 440 feet. I must have stood on the ledge over the gorge for about five minutes. I knew if I didn’t do it I would regret it. So I did it. I couldn’t even catch my breath to scream. I was out of my mind, but I would do it again.

Sky diving is another story. I told myself I would do it once, and now it’s off my to do list, but more power to our teams and every other person out there who thinks that it’s fun. Jumping out of a perfectly good plane makes absolutely no sense to me.

By Elise Doganieri, as told to Joan Raymond.

Apparently Phil isn't the only producer who does the tasks filmed for TAR. That's good to know.

And I can confirm that Elise really doesn't tell people she produces TAR; when I met her and Phil at TARcon 3 a decade ago, I didn't know who she was except that she came to the event with Phil (and they were standing together); I didn't realize it was Elise until later when I saw someone else's posted photos that identified Elise in some of their photos.

Bertram hs been nominated by the Directors Guild of America for Best Director of a reality show.

--- Quote ---Directors nominated for reality shows include Matthew Bartley for "The
Biggest Loser," Neil P. DeGroot for "72 Hours," Paul Starkman for "Top Chef," J.
Rupert Thompson for "The Hero" and Bertram Van Munster for "The Amazing
--- End quote ---,0,1474391.story#ixzz2pyDA3iwx


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