With over 140 interventions since its premiere in 2005, "Intervention" opened season eight last week with the case of Linda, whose addiction to Fentanyl (a drug 100 times stronger than morphine) is not only ruining her life but also severely affecting the life of her entire family. The A&E reality series is as popular as ever with strong ratings as well its first Emmy win this year for Outstanding Reality Program. Our Jim Halterman talked to Executive Producer Dan Partland about the success of the show, how he personally works at not getting too emotionally attached to the stories and how it felt to finally be validated with the prestigious Emmy award.
Jim Halterman: I mean this in the best way when I say the show is emotionally exhausting. Is it the rawness of the stories that is responsible for the success of 'Intervention?'
Dan Partland: I think it's popular because it deals with some of the most vexing questions for any family which is how do you protect a loved one who is engaging in self destructive patterns? I think a lot of people tease the show about how depressing it is. I even do. It's got a lot of very dark colors but it is really uplifting because it offers a solution.
JH: Backing up, when you were first creating the show, did you know that audiences would turn up and embrace the show as they have?
DP: I don't think anyone knew what the audience reaction to the show would be. I think everyone knew that we'd be putting something on the air that was really different and shows something that isn't usually seen. As a documentary, when you're putting something on the air that people haven't seen before you know that it tends to be high stakes. I don't think anyone could have predicted that the show would have the ability to be so surprising after 100 episodes.
JH: How much time do you generally spend with each subject to get a full episode?
DP: We spend about a month working on a story in the field. Of that, we're only shooting for a short period and then we'll work on it in post-production for about eight or ten weeks.
JH: And how much footage do you end up with?
DP: It's actually a pretty low ratio for this kind of documentary show. Most of them are between 70 and 100 hours of material.
JH: 'Intervention' also focuses on the people on the periphery of the subject. Was that a plan when creating the show or did that happen more organically?
DP: It was always clear that we would need more perspective than just the perspective of the addict to tell the story. Over time as we came to learn how to tell these stories we took our inspiration from the recovery community, which basically acknowledges that usually an addiction doesn't exist in a vacuum. It usually exists because of its emotional pattern and the one within the family. We encounter and see addicts who claim that they don't have a problem so, obviously, that disappoints the rest of the family but that's when we find it to be a good story when you have an addict is saying 'I don't have a problem' and a family that says 'I think our son/daughter/brother/husband is at death's door.'
JH: With Linda's story in the season premiere, how did her story come to you?
DP: With almost all the stories we do on 'Intervention' we come to an intake process where family members submit to the show through our website. We get about 1,000 submissions a week and we pour over those and we find the stories that are the most interesting to us. Linda's story was typical in that way. It came in through the website from her family members, who believed she had a problem. They turned to the show for advice and how to do the intervention.
JH: The subject basically is told that it's a documentary but they don't know it's for 'Intervention' in case they are aware of the show, right?
DP: Yes because if you're willing to participate in an intervention then you probably don't need one.
JH: In general, is there a common thread that all addicts have or are they all different that there isn't one?
DP: I don't like to make general comments on addicts and addiction because that it is not my specialty. My specialty is documentary film. Of course, we come to see a lot in doing this many episodes and this one area of content and I think that the most common thing that we see is a pattern of someone who has experienced some kind of trauma � usually as a child � and the child frequently doesn't know how to process that trauma. Consequently their psychology on those traumatic events is in parts of the brain, which at a point later in life sometimes are triggered and manifest itself in this compulsive behavior. One thing I would say that we see and the common trait among addicts is selfishness. Frequently one of the things that allow the addict to be an addict is they don't see the impact of themselves on those around them.
JH: After doing so many episodes, how do you and your team handle what you see day in and day out?
DP: It's a difficult show to work on. It's very challenging on a lot of levels not the least of which is the way it challenges your own emotional and psychological health. I think everyone who works here has a great deal of compassion and it's a part of their jobs as documentary filmmakers. You have to not invest so much in a story that it is hurtful to your own sense of your self. Everyone has to take care of themselves. My perspective in working on the show and feeling responsible to our staff is we definitely make therapy available to staff who are feeling particularly challenged by the material and that happens regularly and we want our people to be emotionally healthy to be able to come out on the field on this show.
JH: What are some of the other subjects coming up this season?
DP: There is a lot of unbelievable stuff coming up. There's an unbelievable story in Greg, a 50-yr old from North Carolina who is addicted to morphine and Internet scams.
JH: And how did it feel to win an Emmy this year for Outstanding Reality Program?
DP: It was huge. I think that the show has grown steadily in popularity since it originally went on the air five years ago and I think it was met with a lot of skepticism when it first came out whether this material could be handled in the way that was dignified and appropriate and not sensationalized for the sake of ratings. I think for a lot of us who have been working on the show for a long time the Emmy was the sort of final piece in the quality of the show being recognized.
"Intervention" continues its eighth season tonight on A&E at 9:00/8:00c.