On May 31, 2000, Survivor premiered in the United States. The season finale drew a record 51 million viewers. Eight years and 16 seasons later, it is still a top 20 show and airs in over 100 countries.
One of the questions I’m asked most often is: ‘How do you keep Survivor fresh after all these years?’ Keeping it fresh is essential to staying on the air, but before we get to the twists and turns that are often associated with doing so, there are two other elements that I would suggest are crucial to any show’s long-term success:
You must have a great premise and strive to stay true to it. The premise of Survivor: a group of strangers are forced to live together while voting each other out of the game. This is what the audience expects to see and you must give it to them every single time. That’s true for every successful show. When you tune into CSI, you expect to see a murder committed, and then watch the CSI team figure out who did it.
It’s so tempting to want to break form and do something radically different. ‘What if, instead of the Survivors voting themselves out, we let the audience at home vote them out? It works for American Idol!’ This is not a twist – it’s a change in the format of the show and you now have a different show. You have to stay within the ‘box’ you’ve created.
Another essential key to any long-running show is excellent execution. In the hands of someone other than Mark Burnett, Survivor might never have made its mark. Those first few seasons, he set the bar high and constantly encouraged us to work at our highest level. The philosophy stuck. To this day, we approach every situation as though the entire series depended on it.
The audience can feel it when you are not working hard enough, and I believe it is one of the main reasons shows begin to fade. The storytellers just don’t care enough anymore.
So, once you have a great idea and you execute it well, then all you have to do is keep it fresh and you’ll be on the air forever!
So, here we go, the top five things every show needs to do to stay fresh…. (Drum roll, long pause….) Okay, who are we kidding here? There are no rules for keeping a show fresh. Some ideas work, some don’t. It’s that simple. Nobody is a genius all the time. Which is why we always start… at the beginning. A great premise, well executed.
Maybe that’s the problem with most current American television. We’re spending too much time trying to keep it fresh when we should be striving to just make it good.