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‘Intervention’ wins kudos, saves lives

Series grows from modest beginnings to major impact

When A&E asked GRB Entertainment to create a show about interventions, little did the production company know it would be creating not just a television show, but an entire social outreach program.

Sam Mettler, the show’s creator and executive producer, brought the idea for the skein to Robert Sharenow, A&E’s senior vice president of nonfiction and alternative programming, and a childhood friend of Mettler’s. Sharenow immediately thought the idea was perfect for A&E and signed GRB to produce it.

“GRB had a reputation for being buttoned-up and good partners,” says Sharenow. “GRB actually played a very significant role in the rebirth of A&E with both ‘Intervention’ and ‘Growing Up Gotti.’ That really speaks to the versatility of the company. They were both significant shows in the evolution of our network.”

Mettler, who recently ended his day-to-day responsibilities on “Intervention” and moved on to other projects, says that GRB has “a ton of trust in their producers, and that gives them the creative power to make an outstanding show.”

“Intervention,” as originally conceived, was not much different than what it is today: An addict’s family and friends come together to intervene in his (or her) life, forcing him to make some version of this choice: Get into rehab or lose your relationships. The addict agrees to participate in some sort of docu-reality program that will film him as an addict, but he doesn’t know an intervention is imminent.

“The show is very complicated and full of a host of moral and ethical dilemmas, and we’ve become pretty good at traversing them,” says executive producer Dan Partland, who came on after about 80 episodes. “We do our best to just capture these situations as honestly as we can. We want to be part of the solution. We don’t want a group’s participation in the show to make it harder for them to get help for their loved ones.”

Since its March 2005 debut, “Intervention” has covered all sorts of addictions, from drugs and alcohol to sex, shopping, gambling and eating. And the outcomes have run the gamut: Many people have recovered and lived to tell a happier tale. A few participants have died because they returned to their destructive habits, they had already damaged themselves too thoroughly or, in one case, by his own hand.

Happily, the standard outcome tends to be positive: “The statistics of the show are pretty astounding,” Sharenow says. “Everything on the show is very real, though, so we have real tragedy as well.”

It didn’t take long for “Intervention” to galvanize a community.

“?’Intervention’ is the first show I’ve ever worked on that spawned an entire outreach effort,” Sharenow says.

Using the skein as a springboard, A&E has launched a series of town-hall meetings across the country, working with major cable companies, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and local drug-abuse councils to talk about addiction and recovery options. A&E also has created the Recovery Project, an initiative to raise awareness that addiction is a treatable disease and that recovery is possible.

“Intervention” also launched a new category of reality TV: therapy.

“When we are telling stories about people who are troubled, we always approach it from the point of view of ‘What’s the therapy?’ first,” says GRB exec veep Michael Branton. “We don’t put these people up for display. We basically go in and figure out the best way for them to help themselves.”

More stories from GRB Entertainment at 25:
Triumphed over tragedy | ‘Intervention’ wins kudos, saves lives | GRB rolls with programming punches | ‘Lethal’ latest weapon for GRB | Key execs | GRB dealmaker thinks outside the box

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