The new prime time TV

02 Oct 2006|Lee Shupp

I’ve watched two episodes of a show called “Survivorman” this past week, and I’m hooked. It’s a show with a pretty unusual premise: the host, Les Stroud, is dropped in the middle of the wilderness with no food, shelter, or equipment, and he has 7 days to make his way back to civilization, using his survival skills to stay alive. Les is given only the clothes on his back, a few primitive tools, and the film gear that he needs to film his adventure singlehandedly.

As someone who spends lots of time outdoors, I really like the show, because it is expanding my knowledge of how to survive in adverse circumstances. As a futurist I find the show really interesting for several reasons:

Tivo found the show for me. It’s close enough to other shows that I like that Tivo recorded it without my programming it. I probably would not have found the show myself. The show is not a prime time show (TiVo found it at a 2 am time slot) but it might as well be, because I ignore prime time programming to watch it.

It has very niche appeal. I can’t imagine that lots of people will enjoy watching a guy filming himself in the wilderness trying to survive. This is not the next big hit a la “American Idol.” Instead it represents the end of Chris Andersen’s “Long Tail” of niche programming that can thrive in a world of small niche markets, very different from the mass appeal of TV show from the past.

It is very low budget. The production costs are as minimal as can be imagined. A film crew films Les the first day to set up the adventure, then goes home, leaving Stroud to film the rest of the adventure himself. He carries over 50 pounds of film gear, and has to set up everything himself. He looks visibly exhausted in the video, especially on days four through seven. It’s much more real than “reality” shows, and shows the importance of user-generated content.

Les is not a hero. He’s a little guy, with a receding hairline and aging body. No casting agent would touch this guy. He’s not the typical buffed dude with killer abs and deep emotional conflicts. But that makes the show work; you end up rooting hard for him as the underdog fighting a vastly superior Mother Nature.

Les makes mistakes. It is by no means a perfect show. His mistakes cost him, sometimes dearly. He doesn’t always make it out of the wilderness without help. The show is not scripted, not a fake “reality” show: it shows a human being doing the best that he can in adverse circumstances, and making lots of bad decisions.

I hope that more shows like “Survivorman” come into my world. Mainstream TV is too predictable and boring for me; it’s great to see something unpredictable and fresh.

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