The poorly kept secret of unscripted TV is that it is, in general, rather scripted. Ari Mark and Phil Lott, co-founders of production company AMPLE, are looking to affix that “un-” back where it belongs.
“Our generation, you’re at a point where you want to believe in things,” Mark tells Variety. “Everything in your life is fake, and especially in our genre.”
AMPLE has several shows in the works and on the air, like “Cold Case Files” for A&E and “Hacking the Wild” for Discovery sibling Science Channel, but “Cooper’s Treasure,” a co-production with Amblin TV for Discovery that premieres April 18, is perhaps their most ambitious project.
See, “Cooper’s Treasure” follows treasure hunter Darrell Miklos in his attempt to follow clues to possible hauls seen from space by Original 7 astronaut Gordon Cooper. But no one on the series — not Mark, or Lott, or even Miklos himself — knows yet whether Cooper’s clues will lead to any kind of success.
“It was a competitive situation,” Marks says of the bidding process for the show. “And we made the decision to go with Discovery, and part of the reason we did was because we were like, ‘Are you guys sure you’re okay with making this show this type of way?’ And they said, ‘No, that’s the show we want, we want to make it that way.'”
Amblin TV leapt at the chance to blend space exploration and treasure hunting into a single show. “Usually these relationships become, ‘Oh, let’s just slap all these people’s names on the show to get attention,'” Mark says. “But I have to say, I can’t believe how cool and helpful they’ve been.”
“There’s nothing quite as terrifying as a producer who’s been brought up the way we have to hear, ‘Oh yeah, Steven [Spielberg]’s watching it now,'” Lott adds.
In 1963, Gordon Cooper broke the record for longest solo spaceflight, logging just about 34.5 hours above the earth. During this journey, he couldn’t help but notice certain features that hinted at possible sunken treasure in the South Caribbean, and he took copious photographs from orbit to study back on the ground. Decades later, Miklos became friends with Cooper, who showed him his research. The two began collaborating, and Miklos eventually came to see Cooper as a father figure. Cooper died in 2004, but Miklos continued to attempt to piece together the work Cooper had done — a quest that continues to this day.
And if Miklos or the others are overly worried about how failure in their quest might affect the show, none of them seem to be outwardly sweating the prospect. “A lot of these shows, they won’t lean into the multidimensional aspect. It’s so much more authentic,” Mark says. “Which is sometimes really scary and hard, because at the end of the day, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if you’re going to fail.”
There are signs that may auger some sort of success, though. The three recall sitting on a Florida beach, watching a thunderstorm roll in. “I said, ‘Do you think Gordon’s here right now?'” Lott says.
Miklos picks up the thread: “I was like, ‘I dunno. Gordon! Throw one down for me!’ Next thing you know, whack! This huge bolt of lightning comes right down!”
Mark senses the incredulity, responding with a quick, “We have it on camera.”
(Pictured: Darrell Miklos, Jerry Roberts, Ari Mark and Darryl Frank on stage at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif. on Jan. 14, 2017.)