TBS on April 1 will resurrect popular reality competition series, Wipeout, 13 years after it first debuted on ABC. The 20-episode series, hosted by actor/WWE superstar John Cena and comedian Nicole Byer, will feature a group of teams attempting to navigate through an extreme obstacle course that will test participants’ endurance and stamina, according to the network.
Wipeout creator, showrunner and executive producer Matt Kunitz recently talked to me about the timing of the show’s return, how this version of Wipeout differs from the original format, and what the prospects for future seasons of the competition series are. Here’s an edited excerpt from our conversation.
Picture This: Why bring back Wipeout now?
Matt Kunitz: Of all the shows that I've done in my career, this is the one that I sort of always knew was going to come back. We premiered originally in 2008, right after the recession when America was in a little bit of a slump. We came out with this silly and quite frankly, mindless show that you could just watch and forget about all the troubles in your life. It was perfect timing after the recession and it brought families together. Flash forward 13 years later, and we're coming out of a similar kind of psychological slump where Americans have been trapped in their homes dealing with COVID for the last year and are looking for different ways to be entertained. We're coming back and it's the same kind of thing -- it doesn't matter how bad your day was, when you tune in to Wipeout for an hour you can just laugh, forget about the troubles of life and just have a good time.
PT: Today’s television environment has changed over the past 13 years since Wipeout first launched. Are you concerned about reaching those viewers who might have seen the show previously as well as drawing in new viewers in such a crowded TV environment?
MK: When we first came out there were basically four channels and now there's probably 400, so it is very different. How people watch television is also very different. Having said that, we have a robust plan to find those viewers. While we may not have 18 million people tune in for any particular episode, we will find viewers through social media, through streaming, through multiple airings of the show on TBS. So while I think that viewers will come into the show from different directions, we'll still get those viewers. We’re getting a tremendous promotional platform with the NCAA [college basketball tournament] that is going on right now, and I think that's a very similar audience. TBS has put a full court press into promoting the show, so I'm not concerned about awareness. TBS has done everything they could to set us up for success.
PT: How does this version of Wipeout differ from its previous iteration?
MK: When we started talking about this a year ago with [TBS, TNT and truTV EVP of unscripted] Cory Henson, she said, ‘if we're going to bring it back, it needs to be bigger, bolder and edgier than it ever was before.’ I said to her, ‘bigger and bolder generally means more money,’ and they were willing to put the money into it. The evidence of that is the star power that we’re bringing to the table in [series hosts] John Cena, Nicole Byer and Camille Kostek. It really freshens the show to have this new, comedic talent come in and give their take on it. The only thing that’s the same are the big balls, because they're so iconic -- other than that, everything's changed. It'll be a completely fresh course and it'll be a completely fresh look from the way we shoot it. Technology has advanced leaps and bounds in the way that we shoot -- we now are shooting with drones, 360-degree cameras and underwater cameras that just didn't exist back in the day. That makes it much more of an immersive experience, which for the viewer I think will be a lot more fun. This season features all teams -- so it could be a mother and a son running the course together -- and that adds a whole new dynamic. So it's going to be very fresh, but there also will be familiar elements like the big balls.
PT: There seems to be a resurgence of reality competition shows on television. Is that pandemic-driven or are there other factors involved with the genre’s growing appeal?
MK: I think that television is cyclical so yes, we are seeing a resurgence of game shows and reality competition shows. I think that the timing of that is good for us, but I think the primary thing is that people are looking for an escape, and Wipeout is going to be the perfect escape for them.
PT: What are the prospects for a second season of Wipeout, and what other projects are you working on?
MK: We're absolutely in discussions about a second season. Ratings will be the ultimate decider on whether there's a season two and we should know that in the next two weeks, but we've actually started casting already for season two and we are actively starting to design the season two course. While Wipeout has kept me busy, I'm also in a long-term deal with Lionsgate, and we're continuing to develop a slate of content. At the beginning of the quarantine we were fortunate to have sold three shows -- one to HBO Max and two to Fox -- that were in active development. I can’t really say exactly what those shows are yet because they haven't been announced, but I'm keeping busy. While Wipeout is incredibly important it is just part of my focus at this point.
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