John Brenkus is co-chief executive officer at LA and Washington-based BASE Productions, but he’s also the host of the prodco’s show Sport Science. In the Fox Sports Net series Brenkus gets choked out by a mixed martial arts expert, thrown in the air by an NFL superstar and bit in the arm by an attack dog, all to test the limits of sports stars. Brenkus spoke with realscreen about his take on the economy’s effect on indie prodcos and how far he’s willing to go in the name of science (and entertainment).
So I just watched you get choked out and thrown up in the air. Why are you the guinea pig for these experiments?
This year we wanted me to be the human crash test dummy. We were testing who chokes harder, a deadly python or a mixed martial arts athlete. I had to take one for the team. I’d never been choked out before; it was definitely scary to me. It’s tough to [come] home from work and say, ‘Guess what happened to me at work today, honey.’ There are 13 episodes and there’s probably something in every episode where I’m getting abused in some way.
I see you use stunt men in some experiments. How do you decide which things you’re going to do and which you will get a stunt man to do?
In terms of us determining if I do it or if somebody else does it, running into the outfield wall rose to the level of ‘We need a professional to do it.’ We would put me into the more dangerous stuff because my partner [Mickey Stern] and I are the creators and executive producers, and I’m the host. I feel like there’s less liability involved if I’m doing something and get hurt than if somebody else does. Just for variety in the show we need to make sure other people do stuff too and it’s not just a one-man thing.
In the dog act I’m wearing the dog suit and I’m [thinking], ‘How do I know the dog’s going to bite my arm? How do I know he’s not going to bite my face?’ And the dog trainer says, ‘Well, he shouldn’t.’ There wasn’t a level of certainty.
How has the strategy changed for BASE from 1992 until now?
We’re obviously a much bigger company now. The buyers are really responding to the kinds of programs we’re doing. When you’re just starting out the trick is to get in the door, and when you’ve grown to the size we are now, a lot of buyers come to us and people know us for a particular style and great storytelling.
The sense is that broadcasters are commissioning less because of the economic downturn. How are you feeling the effects of the economy and what do you think is the general effect on factual producers in the US market right now?
I think that broadcasters are just doing business with known quantities more. They’re less willing to take the big gamble right now. We certainly have not seen a decline in programming because we’re doing business with quite a few outlets. I just think that in terms of making the big gamble, places might be a little hesitant because this is not the economic climate [for it]. Creatively, though, they still need to generate programming that is going to rate in number. If it doesn’t generate a number they’re not going to generate the ad sales so they really need to go with a lot of trusted companies. Fortunately we’re on the list with quite a few places that want our programming. It’s a hard climate to break in but I think the value that we as a company end up bringing is certainty from the buyer that they’re going to get amazing production value for a reasonable budget.
Season two of Sport Science debuts this weekend on FSN.