About a year before my father died, our family staged a by-the-book intervention to try to get him to stop abusing Valium. While we ultimately failed in changing his behavior I remember finding the process in and of itself a huge success. For us. Just telling him what his addiction was doing to us was both liberating and empowering.
And as a screenwriter and journalist I also found the whole thing so inherently dramatic that I wrote an article about interventions for Washingtonian magazine and even pitched a screenplay to one of the networks.
That's why I understand the popularity of reality programs that feature interventions -- whether it's or Stacy and Clinton swooping in on the office worker wearing heavy metal band T-shirts to work or a team of family members and a camera crew ambushing a crack addict -- people are watching.
Is that thrill of watching someone be confronted about their bad behavior our finest quality? Perhaps not, but when executed properly by people who know what they are doing and truly care about the outcome, it's great television.
A new show is in the works from the producers of TLC's Cracking Addiction that will attempt to tackle all kinds of out-of-control behavior coupling SWAT team tactics with expert therapy. Dr. Phil McGraw, his son Jay McGraw and Eugene Young of Ghost Mountain Productions are putting together this new show that will widen the circle of extreme behavior, confrontation and support. (Full disclosure -- my daughter is involved in the program's pre-production.)
"We're developing this show to do interventions on people who are behaving badly -- people who are runaways, people who join cults, people who join gangs. Their families are concerned and have no control and no power to get to them," says Eugene Young. "People with extreme obsessions... crazy hoarders, guys returning from the war with PTSD who are going on binges or are homeless." He adds that this show will be based more on behavior than addiction per se.
Sometimes people are bipolar, or are teen runaways lured into prostitution, or are behaving badly at college -- binging on alcohol, not going to school, becoming sex-addicted - these are all things out there that are derailing people's lives but very few people know how to stop themselves.
As the show develops the producers expect and hope for all kinds of stories you couldn't make up if you tried.
"I just did a story for another show about a lady with 80 tigers in cages in her backyard in Arkansas," says Young, "That's extreme behavior -- she's thinking she is doing something good, she's not."
The yet-unnamed show (Extreme Takeover? What Not to Do?) will employ a team of regulars including former military, law enforcement and DEA agents who specialize in clinical assessment will run background checks, develop surveillance, ensure security and eventually confront the subject of the intervention.
"I think there is a natural tension and unpredictability in the program as to what the person is going to do -- will they flee or run?" says Young, adding that the interventions could be "highly volatile and potentially dangerous."
Once confronted, the subject will be offered free treatment at a variety of programs across the country. The producers have learned from experience that most people take them up on it.
"We have a great track record of people actually going through the in-treatment because they've been on TV and they feel a pressure because of the cameras in a way," says Young. "The cameras represent an empathy beyond the fact that their families and friends thought enough of them to seek help. It gives them a sense of worthiness, and a lot of these people don't feel worthy."
There's a good amount of backlash towards programs like this with charges that people are being ambushed and humiliated for entertainment, but people like Young and the McGraws seem to truly have the best interest of everyone involved.
"We want a happy ending", says Young, "We want someone in treatment. These people are paralyzing the family; the family can't move forward in their lives because of this self-destructive person"
Been there, done that. I get it.
(To reach out to the program's team contact firstname.lastname@example.org)