Last year at Emmy nomination time Deadline took a look at Antiques Roadshow, PBS’ long-running treasure hunt series that had been nominated 11 times in the Outstanding Reality Program Category during the last 12 of its 18 years on the air. (That includes noms in reality TV’s former Emmy categories, Non-Fiction Program Series).
The Roadshow team hoped last year’s split of non-competition reality shows into two categories — structured and unstructured — might open the field for a Roadshow win. Instead, the show went on to lose out again in 2014, this time to ABC’s Shark Tank in the structured category.
With its 11 series noms, Roadshow holds the record as Emmy’s biggest loser in this reality category. But there’s another longtime nominee that’s been waiting in the wings for 6 long years: Discovery Channel’s “science entertainment” series MythBusters.
On the air since 2003, the show that debunks or validates folklore (yes, elephants are apparently afraid of mice), challenges the plausibility of movie illusions and examines Internet truthiness has won series nominations for the past 6 seasons but no statuette— even though this is probably the only reality series President Obama has asked to appear on (he did, in 2010).
Could this be the year for MythBusters?
Dan Tapster, Mythbusters EP/showrunner, jokes that the Mythbusters creative team has long commiserated with Roadshow about their always-a-bridesmaid Emmy status. Like Antiques Roadshow reps, he believes that last year’s new “structured” reality category better places Mythbusters in competition with comparable shows.
“Prior to them coming up with that distinction, our category was the category for shows that (Emmy) wanted to give a nomination to but couldn’t figure out where to put them,” said Tapster, who has overseen Mythbusters for Sydney, Australia-based Beyond Productions since 2008.
Denise Contis, EVP of production and development for Discovery Channel, calls Mythbusters a show about “curiosity”. She can’t offer a guess why Mythbusters has yet to achieve an Emmy series, but says she is “”very hopeful this year, for both nominations and a win. I think it’s a fantastic show that epitomizes at its core what Discovery tries to give our audiences. It’s quality visuals, it’s quality execution — and is of value to people’s lives”.
And what would Emmy recognition mean? “In the end we’re in a ratings business, not an awards business,” Contis says, referring to the TV biz in general. But, she adds such recognition provides a moment when you can really “pause and celebrate” with a show’s hardworking crew.
For his part, Tapster busts the myth that every TV producer will predict a selfie win at Emmy time. “Within the team, we’ve come to accept that for whatever reason we are great at figuring in the nominations seemingly destined not to win,” the executive observes. But those nominations matter: “In terms of a show’s longevity, it does influence the network. (They think) we’re onto a good thing, let’s kind that going. I just hope we get that nod”.
While not expecting a series win, Tapster and Contis say Mythbusters has felt the pressure to up its game each year to remain competitive in the expanding and increasingly sophisticated reality TV arena.
Last August, in response to softening ratings, the series wrapped its Season 15 by axing 3 of its 5 hosts, Kari Byron, Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara. Tapster admits that the show has had to surf the ups and downs of trends in reality programming.
“Everything in TV has peaks and troughs,” says Tapster. “Mythbusters happened at a time when ‘actual’ entertainment was getting really hot. It rode that crest for several years. Then around 2006, a movement started where reality TV became much less about celebrating things and much more about laughing at them. The idea that you would commission shows that have an aspirational aspect was really stripped away.”
Tapster and Contis are hoping Mythbusters’ family appeal and education-as-entertainment content is back in vogue in reality TV. Contis says the intent has always been to place content over “false drama” such as participant meltdowns or onscreen squabbles between hosts. “Style over substance is never a good formula,” Contis says.
Even with a trend toward quality over sensationalism, Tapster acknowledges the show must keep up with the increasingly sophisticated production values — and social media techniques — now employed by virtually all reality shows.
“The trend is to go big on stuff . . . some of the big players are recognizing that factual TV when done well can be of very, very good quality, and to do it well often requires big budgets,” Tapster says. For Mythbusters, Contis says that means using “really cool higher resolution cameras,” creating new and better drones and stepping up the integrated graphics.
Tapster does have hopes for the cinematography team for Outstanding Cinematography for Reality Programming category (presented at the lower-profile Creative Arts Emmys), “Our camera guys are absolutely extraordinary,” he says.
Tapster describes with satisfaction an Emmy Awards ceremony a few years back when Mythbusters hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage presented the award for Nonfiction Editing at the Creative Arts Emmys.
“They showed a clip of (something) we had just filmed, a high speed shot with a car going 350 miles an hour, corkscrewing through the air with these giant rockets on the end of it,” Tapster recalls. Even though the clip was shown about 3 hours into the ceremony, Tapster says the audience applauded, “something they hadn’t done all evening. In some ways it was as good as if we had won”.