Interview with Married at First Sight creative producer David Barber
Mon, 15 Aug 2016 11:13
David Barber, the creative producer for Red Arrow, the company behind the incredibly successful Married at First Sight format, was in South Africa recently to hold a series of workshops with Oxyg3n Media, the South African production company commissioned by A+E Networks' to make the South African version of the show for their Lifetime channel.
Here Barber answers some questions about the show and its worldwide success.
Married at First Sight has proved to be a huge hit with local formats all over the world. Can you tell us how many countries the show is in as a local version?
DB: Currently it has already been produced or is in some stage of production in at least 23 territories. Furthermore, with multiple seasons in a large many of these territories countries, that means over 45 different seasons.
What do you think is the reason for the show's success?
DB: Naturally, the radical nature of the idea is the initial thing that wows people but it is more than just that, of course, because so many countries see it coming back multiple times. I think people are intrigued by the authenticity of seeing ordinary people (just like them) embark on this extraordinary journey. It’s fascinating to simply watch a brand new relationship – brand new by the most unusual circumstances - simply develop naturally before your very eyes. Couples watch this together and see the shortcomings and successes in themselves reflected by the couples on screen – it can sometimes make for quite challenging viewing as a couple. Another beauty of the idea is the natural jeopardy of the experiment ‘can science help these people to find love?’ and so ‘who will stay together in the end?’ It’s a really compelling narrative hook. Married at First Sight is more than a reality show though isn't it?
DB: Absolutely. It has previously been described as real-reality which is a fair categorisation. The only things that are actually constructed is the initial blind marriage and the decision at the end. The rest of it is an authentic account of what happens to these couples during the experiment. Producers aren’t poking them with sticks to elicit a reaction or playing Machiavellian games behind camera to create dramas. The individuals are matched to have a propensity to fall in love with each other, not fight. They’re all courageous, quite a bit brighter than your average reality show cast, genuinely wan to find love and are also motivated by personal development rather than being on television. So, don’t expect to see them getting drunk and running around shouting with their underpants on their heads.
Can you tell us about the panel of experts that are required during the production and filming of the series?
DB: They vary from production to production, from country to country. The most likely panel you will find is a psychologist, an anthropologist and a sexologist. Ideally, part of their research, studies or working life will have centred on relationships. Some countries will also include a priest or culturally appropriate religious or humanitarian figure to balance against the others from a psych or socio scientific background. Some countries have gone super scientific with Neuropsychotherapists or experts using DNA and Genotyping. All of them are highly credible academics usually with many years of professional working experience in their respective fields. Just as importantly, they must believe in the experiment. In the end, it’s the experts who are conducting this test and so basically they are in charge, not the producers.
Even though it's a format and has to stick close to the original Danish show, are there any differences country to country?
DB: Not many and not significantly. Sometimes the tone is a bit different. For example, there’s a noticeable difference between the look and feel of the Danish and Australian versions. The Danish is quite serious and feels very documentary, yet the Australian version is almost technicolour in comparison and bouncing with life. But this can simply be a case of different cameras or grading used, the pace and style of editing, music used and probably more so the natural differences in peoples’ characters from country to country. The differences we see aren’t really format changes but rather that you might see, for example, different interventionist ideas experts might use to help the couples bond or improve their wellbeing in some way, so that becomes part of what you see on screen. The latter often comes into play in subsequent seasons when producers and experts will try to improve upon what they learned from the previous in hope of increasing the chances of love.
What version will the South African series follow most closely?
DB: Oxyg3n Media who are producing the show really like the original Danish programme, although with this being South Africa, I’m sure it will have a lot more life and colour without even trying! They really understand and respect the idea and are extremely committed to doing this the right way, to find experts who will, in turn, find the very best matches. They can’t wait to play cupid and see everyone in their version fall in love. I think anyone who applies and is selected will be in very good hands with Oxyg3n.
What has been the success rate for the couples staying married?
DB: It’s most often three couples, sometimes four who get married and most times respectively it’s two and three couples who decide to stay together. I’m so hoping to see a 100 per cent success rate on the South African version.
Why should people watch the show?
DB: The success rate speaks for itself! It genuinely is amazing television. Red Arrow is so proud of Snowman Productions for creating this idea and the success it has brought all of us. It’s utterly fascinating to watch something so authentic, with several years of marriage and all that it brings somehow condensed into not much more than a month. And every step of the way, that burning question of “will they, won’t they?”
Married at First Sight South Africa, which is currently in pre-production, is due to be broadcast on Lifetime (DStv 131) early next year.