The first season of 5 Takes, a Travel Channel show, had all the right elements to attract its young target audience: interactivity, an exotic locale, energetic subjects, and a narrator with a voice suited for public television. Wait a second… That last part didn’t fit, and 5 Takes‘ viewers were quick to point it out in the discussion board on the show’s website. Since the website ran concurrent with the making of the interactive show, the audience wasted no time complaining – they did so immediately after the first show aired.
Michael Rosenblum, CEO of Rosenblum Associates, the New York-based company that produces the show, admits that viewer criticism of the narration snowballed: ‘Somebody said, ‘I hate the narrator,’ and then somebody else read that and said, ‘I hate the narrator, too. The narrator sucks.’ Soon five or six other people said, ‘I agree with what Charlie from Vermont says.” Although the couch critics didn’t specify why they felt that way, Rosenblum knew to take them seriously. The second show had a new voice – someone used in another Discovery show – but that didn’t work out either. ‘Everybody wrote back and said ‘No, no – that’s the MythBusters guy. We recognize him. Get somebody else.”
At that point, the producers decided to let the online audience feedback – what Rosenblum calls ‘a built-in focus group running at no cost’ – drive the show. ‘We became cognizant that, in a very strange way, we were in conversation with the audience while the show was being made,’ he says. That’s rare in the TV business, he furthers, since shows are often made so far before their air date that ‘by the time they air, there’s nothing you can do [to make significant changes].’
A third narrator was brought in for the third episode of 5 Takes, and his hip and edgy style worked for the duration of that season (the show is now filming its fourth). Since its first season started roughly a year ago, Rosenblum says the show has relied more and more on audience input. In the first season, the producers started asking for online feedback about where the characters should travel and who they should talk to, and Rosenblum says ‘people would write in and say ‘There’s this great café you should go to’ and ‘I have this cousin in Rome.” Now even the cast of the show is influenced by the audience, with hopeful 5 Takes travelers uploading videos to the show’s website. ‘Because the Web self-aggregates the naturally most popular, we can see quite quickly who the audience likes – we don’t have to pick up the Ouija board and say ‘Well, we should have the gay guy and the fat girl.” And the producers also don’t have to guess who the audience likes to hear narrating.