With the success of its reality series "Intervention," A&E was bound to expand its scope to create other projects that would give an equally heavy dose of reality in a different arena other than addiction. When "Hoarders" premiered earlier this summer, audiences were taken into homes where people had been hoarding items for years, even decades. Like the aforementioned show, the cameras does not just dwell on the amount of hoarding done but also provides an in-depth glimpse into their lives, how they came to live this way and how it effects the people around them. Executive Producer Andy Berg spoke with Jim Halterman recently about the origins of the series, how they find the hoarders to profile and what the plans are to follow-up down the line.
Jim Halterman: The show seems to have become a companion for "Intervention." Was that the intention when you helped create it?
Andy Berg: It definitely fits into the A&E brand's real life drama but I don't think I set out to make the series a companion to 'Intervention.' It actually started as a weekend blog called 'The Big Fix,' where we would flip this house and the idea started with a cleaning crew which did clean-ups and there was a big before and after so we did a pilot with this group of people but we didn't wind up moving forward with it with them as characters but one of the things they had done was clean up a hoarder house. We looked at that and thought that was really fascinating and what could we do with that but it's been a 2-year process to get where we are today.
JH: The first season did really well. How did it feel seeing that the audience was just as compelled as you and your fellow producers were?
AB: We make lots of shows and you hope people come to them and you hope that you're doing something that people want to watch so it's definitely nice and rewarding for me personally as an Executive Producer working in the business for a while to create something that people want to tune in to.
JH: Since the show is still fairly new, how do you go about finding the subjects?
AB: Season one was six episodes plus the pilot and those were harder to cast because there was no show on the air yet. The production company did a good job with working with mental health professionals, organizers and different web support groups looking for stories and they found some good ones. For the second season, there was a casting link on our website where people could submit stories and the production company was getting calls from people looking for help. It's been a lot easier for season two. I'm pretty particular about what we move forward with, even diversity of story, age, race and the geographical area.
JH: Is there a consistent psychological thread that you see with the hoarders you've covered on 'Hoarders?'
AB: Working on the show I've seen a few things that seem to be commonalities. It is definitely a mental illness and different psychologists and psychiatrists deal with it in different ways. It's not a matter of being lazy or dirty; usually there is some depression or other addictions that are a part of it. Sometimes hoarders are children of hoarders so there's a question about whether it's hereditary or not. A lot of these people have compulsive shopping problems and a lot of times you see there's a loss of a parent, child or husband where they're trying to fill an emotional void and they fill it with things instead of relationships. There's an inability to make decisions like 'where do I put it?' or 'where do I keep it?' And then there are emotions attached to objects. They can't just throw it away because it has a meaning to them. Things that you and I might toss like a tissue or bottle cap might be garbage but it has a meaning. With Augustine, one thing that is important about the show that we don't push too much but we offer six months of follow-up care for everyone who is profiled on the show. We pay for them to either see a psychologist, psychiatrist, professional organizer or have a maid service come in; whatever seems to be the right thing for each particular person. It's up to them to take advantage of it. Will Augustine go get help? We're going to try and her daughter is going to try but Augustine was interesting because she didn't show a lot of emotion but there's a little breakdown at the end when she says 'I think I'm going to cry. Those people were so nice.' You can see she's in pain. She says 'It's nice to have someone finally care for you.' She's in there somewhere.
JH: You've been doing this for a bit of time but are you still shocked at what you see like finding dead cats that had been buried until piles of junk.
AB: Yeah, the dead animals are always shocking. In the first season, we had a food hoarder and that was pretty shocking. I'm a little desensitized working on it everyday but, on the flipside, not every hoarder is necessarily a dirty hoarder. We have someone who has spent half a million dollars on collections of things in season two so he's collected 55,000 beer cans and he was a stamp collection, thousands of baseball cards, beanie babies�so they're not all dirty. Every hoarder is different.
JH: Did you know when you were developing the show that a lot of the focus would fall on people who were in the hoarder's world?
AB: Yeah, I think if you want to make a comparison to 'Intervention,' when you watch that show you see what addiction does to other family members and that's really relatable. Most people I know know someone who has a substance abuse problem - either a friend, former roommate or a relative. I think the same thing is true with hoarding. The impact on the family cannot be underestimated. It really tears people apart. Not only children who are still living in the household but adults who want to help their parents but don't know where to turn.
JH: The family members also seem to help inform you on the back-story of the subject if the subject is emotionally closed off.
AB: Augustine's episode started a little different. Most of them have two stories woven together but in this case she was one of the worst. There are stages of hoarding and she was a stage five, which is supposed to be the worst case. What I thought was fascinating about the story was her son, Jason, who basically had to move out when he was a teenager and live with his sister and then escaped the whole problem by moving cross country. He hadn't been back in four years so he knew how bad it was from talking to his sister and he wanted to give it one more attempt to help his mother. I think that was the story I really liked in that episode because he's a relatable character so it was particularly moving to hear his and his sister's stories.
JH: Will we see some re-cap episodes in the future to get updates on the past subjects on the show?
AB: It's something that everybody is interested in and it's something we're talking about right now. 'Intervention' does follow-up specials and we're talking about if that's the way to go or should we do it on A&E's website. It's in the works.
"Hoarders" airs right after "Intervention" every Monday at 10:00/9:00c on A&E.