[04/20/10 - 12:15 AM]
Interview: "Deadliest Warrior" Executive Producer Gary Tarpinian
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

Ever thought what a battle between two powerful forces such as the Navy Seals and Israeli Commandos looks like? Or what would happen if Attila the Hun fought Alexander the Great? Then the series "Deadliest Warrior" is the show for you. When it debuted last year on Spike, approximately 1.7 million viewers tuned in to watch and, with a little assistance from the internet, were also able to interact with the creative forces of the show to give input and feedback on what was working with the show and what was not. As the second season kicks off tonight with a battle between SWAT and GSG9, fans are in for a wild ride with more historical matches with great weapons and, as Executive Producer Gary Tarpinian told our Jim Halterman last week, a good story along the way. Tarpinian also talked about how the show landed at Spike, creating the matches for the show and how interaction with viewers via the web has made a huge impact on the show.

Jim Halterman: What was the model that you followed in creating the show?

Gary Tarpinian: I've always loved history, warriors, weapons, the great battles and we've made shows like that for many years for Discovery and History. The challenge was how do we do these topics to get the younger audience interested? We came up with a format in which we were covering the same ground of weapons and history, where did these people come from, how did they fight, what were their weapons and how did they work. It's the same stuff we'd talk about if we did something ten years ago for The History Channel. It certainly has worked and proved my point, which is if you tell a great story, people will watch and listen.

JH: How did the show end up on Spike?

GT: We had not worked with Spike and didn't know if they were that interested in this type of non-fiction so we originally went to networks like History, A&E, Discovery and Nat Geo and they all said no. We were very frustrated because they all said they wanted things to appeal to young men and I kept thinking 'This is the perfect show! What's wrong with you people?' It was my agent who suggested Spike. He said they wanted the same kinds of shows as Discovery and History but they want them on steroids. The rest is history, no pun intended. We were initially discouraged but it could not have worked better because Spike really allowed us to do our thing. When we first brought the project to them one of the things they said was 'we want the show to be really edgy, have attitude and match the expectations of the people who watch Spike.' We asked 'What is the perfect Spike viewer and they said 'All the people who saw [the motion picture] '300' more than once. Those are our viewers.'

JH: Spike programming is definitely geared towards the guys but are there women watching, too?

GT: Yes, they are, believe it or not. I think it might be 65/35 or 70/30 but we actually have females watching and I think part of the reason is we do tell a good story and you get to know the warriors.

JH: The first season did so well for the network. What kind of tweaks did you make for the second season?

GT: Believe it or not, we want to get better in a lot of areas. We all believed in the show but the response online was sort of unprecedented for all of us and for Spike as well. We had shows that are now watched by close to a million people online. Our average show was getting 10-40,000 comments! A lot of comments for other shows are 'Dude, that girl is hot' or 'When is that show airing again?' People were sending us 3-4 pages of very thought-out notes. We were getting lessons from our viewers! What that said to us is that our viewers are really watching this very carefully and don't want us to bullshit them and want everything we're saying and doing to be as accurate as possible. For season 2, even though I thought everything was honest and straightforward in season 1, we re-doubled our efforts to be as historically and technically accurate as possible.

The tests are better and the equipment we're using to measure the results is even better. The quality of the experts has gone up and, most important of all, if the weapon was made of bronze, we make it out of bronze. If it was made out of iron, we make out of iron. The other thing we did is we've done shows in the past where we couldn't even show any blood. Now how the hell do you do the Battle of Waterloo or Gettysburg and you don't have any blood? You end up with a very sanitized version of history. Spike said 'You can show guys getting cut up and bloody and explosions if that's part of the story and it doesn't feel like we're just doing it for the sake of it.'

JH: The match-ups are pretty imaginative. How do you come up with them?

GT: A lot are from history but there are a few I'm really excited about, too. Of course, we're going to the do the classics like the Romans versus the Turians. Prior to Season 2, we went and compiled the stats and 10% of our viewers wanted us to do Romans versus Turians so that was a no-brainer. We also came up with ideas based on things that will be more edgy and outrageous. One of my personal favorites was the Nazis versus Vietcong. What appealed to me is they both were enemies of the United States. It's sort of like these ultimate bad guys in the eyes of many Americans. We also have a cool one with Jesse James and his gang versus Al Capone and his gang.

JH: You've also really bridged the gap between the show and the Internet to great effect. Can you talk about that and how that came about?

GT: It's pretty amazing. It got to the point where we had so many comments and so many questions we really wanted to let our viewers know online if a question was a good question. Even though you might have thought we didn't get it right, let me explain why it is right. So, Spike came up with 'The Aftermath' show, which is this 15-minute show [on the web] that follows each episode and we have a couple of the experts from each side and we talk behind the scenes how we made the show and we answer a dozen of the best questions we get online.

The 90-minute special "Deadliest Warrior Season 1: Back For Blood" airs tonight at 8:30/7:30c followed by the second season premiere of "Deadliest Warrior" immediately following at 10:00/9:00c on Spike TV.

  [april 2010]  


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