“Adam is the guy. He’s not really so much playing a character,” says exec producer Sam Reich, president of Big Breakfast and head of video at CollegeHumor.
“Years before he invented ‘Adam Ruins Everything’ we had a nickname for him: Opinionated Adam. Behind his back, a couple cast members started a blog called Opinionated Adam where they’d write down all of the most opinionated statements Adam threw down on a daily basis.”
Conover, who calls himself an “information sponge” who reads every issue of the New Yorker and listens to podcasts in his car instead of music, owned those quirks and incorporated them into his comedy. After reading an article about the advent of engagement rings, he built that information into his standup routine, and eventually into a sketch for CollegeHumor.
“The other [CollegeHumor] writers were in the habit of making fun of me for being so didactic and going off on these long rants about things I knew nobody really cared about,” Conover says. “To stave off the other writers from making fun of me in the writers room, I wrote them making fun of me into the script. That ended up being the comedic engine for the whole series. I’m giving information, but I’m constantly nagged by the other characters.”
The video was an instant hit, generating millions of views and great press for CollegeHumor.
They did another. And another. Then they shopped it around.
“We pitched it everywhere from Comedy Central to CNN,” Reich says. “While we all really believed in this show, there was a lingering doubt in our minds in terms of what network would be the right fit. Thank goodness TruTV was revamping at the same time and believed this fit into their new brand ethos.”
|The Christmas episode of “Adam Ruins Everything” examines the story of Santa Claus.|
TruTV was seeking programs that fit the tag line: Funny Because It’s Tru.
“We knew from ‘Hack My Life,’ which was early on in our evolution, that our audience liked take-away information that was sharable and snackable,” says Marissa Ronca, TruTV’s head of programming. “When we saw the shorts Adam was doing for CollegeHumor, they seemed to fit very well as an extension of what we’d been doing with our programming.”
“Adam Ruins Everything,” which will be submitted in the informational series or special category, immediately resonated with viewers.
“From the premiere it started to grow week-over-week, something you rarely see these days with any show,” Ronca says.
Even casual viewers know this show cites its sources right on screen.
“That was all Adam,” Reich says. “I remember a couple of producers thought it wasn’t necessarily a good idea because it made the show seem overly academic. But the advantage is you don’t have to take our word for it.”
The show even publishes an online bibliography for each episode.
“Nothing goes into our scripts that our research staff doesn’t fact check and review,” Conover says. They have seven writers and five researchers, from academia and journalism, on staff.
Getting world-class experts to share information is another hallmark of the series.
|“People are so cynical about the media right now they don’t trust anything they hear. Anything that is commercially supported has to be fake.”|
“We were really lucky in our first year to get some great people,” Conover says. “We got the eminent security expert Bruce Schneier and Elizabeth Loftus, who is a landmark researcher in the field of false memories. I’ve had psychology students go, ‘Oh my God! She’s a rock star! I can’t believe you got her on your show!’ They really helped give us legitimacy.”
The show also exposes how bad information spreads and what makes us susceptible to believing it. “One of our goals is to show people how to be a little more skeptical of what they’re told and to check the source of their news source, as it were,” Conover says.
He believes critical thinking skills are more important than ever in the “fake news” era.
“People are so cynical about the media right now, they don’t trust anything they hear. Anything that’s commercially supported has to be fake. I’m really proud that we stand as a counter example of that,” Conover says.
“We’re able to do our research and tell the truth, and do so in an honest and forthright way. We let the audience in on our process — here’s how we do our research. It really is proof positive that honest, educational, informative, factual media can survive and thrive in a media ecosystem that everyone is so worried about.”
The “just the facts, ma’am” modus operandi also helps when people disagree with their findings.
“The cool thing is that instead of arguments being these poop-slinging things — ‘You’re biased, you’re full of crap!’ — I can say, ‘Which of our sources do you disagree with? You know where we got our information. Where do you think we made our mistake?’ And the person can say, ‘Well, this study only sampled this group and should have sapled that group,’” Conover says. “Now we’re having a civil conversation about the facts and not an emotional argument.”
Reich admits their ultimate goal is to encourage critical thinking. “Ideally, if you watch enough of the show you’ll respond to marketing differently, or you’ll respond to a fake news article differently because there will be a critical voice in the back of your head — a little Adam if you will — going, ‘I don’t know about that. I better do the research.’