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The End of Intervention and The Element of Surprise

As anyone who has been regularly watching Intervention for the last few years knows, the show is struggling. Ever since it was cancelled in 2013, picked up by LMN, and then re-picked up by A&E, things haven’t been quite right. Highly truncated seasons, Intervention Canada episodes being promoted and treated as “all new episodes,” wildly inaccurate marketing, and a drop in production values. There’s been speculation in the comments about what’s happening that I think should be discussed amongst us, the hardcorest of hardcore fans.

Some of you think these are signs that Intervention is coming to its end and it’s because the producers are having a hard time finding addicts willing to be filmed because they know it’s Intervention.  Here are some comment snippets from readers on a recent post about the 17th season of Intervention:

     “I have a feeling they’re having a hard time finding people here in the U.S. to participate.”

     “They might be finding it more and more difficult to seek out subjects who don’t realize they’re being filmed for Intervention.”

     “The surprise element is gone for US episodes….unless the users have been without tv and internet for the last 10+ years, they’re going to know it’s Intervention from the beginning.”

I totally understand that rationale, but I don’t think it’s true. I don’t believe that the element of surprise or knowing about the show beforehand has anything to do with Intervention’s longevity or the success of the intervention itself. Here’s why:

The show uses the Johnson Model of intervention, which is based on the idea that the addict needs to hit rock bottom by being shown in a confrontational but loving way, with the aid of a trained interventionist, how their substance abuse is affecting themselves and their loved ones, and by being given hard line consequences if they continue to use. Preparation for the intervention is intended to be done without the knowledge of the addict.

The ‘without the knowledge of the addict’ element of the Johnson Model has been compromised since the very first episode of this show.  I’m guessing that a solid majority of the subjects of Intervention knew very well that this “documentary about addiction” was going to end in a confrontation of some kind. They had long lost relatives, ex-lovers, friends they hadn’t seen in years suddenly coming into town for a visit that just happened to be while they were filming. They had a camera crew there documenting their every move for weeks. They were asked to go to family dinners just so they could be filmed either having it out with their families or avoiding the dinner because they got too fucked up.  None of these things is a particularly savvy way to keep an intervention a secret.

Addicts may be preoccupied and out of it a lot of the time, but we’re not stupid. Actually there are quite a few ways in which addicts are way smarter than your average normie. One of them is knowing how and when to be skeptical of offers from strangers promising neutrality, especially strangers with cameras. Another is that we know when our family and friends starts acting weirder than usual when it comes to enabling and co-dependency. Addicts are quick to pick up on attitude shifts and changes in behavior that seem like they might get in the way of getting whatever it is we need. These changes are well-tracked in the addict brain.

But beyond all that, I truly believe that a majority of the addicts on Intervention not only suspected that they were going to be confronted in some way, they wanted something to happen. Maybe not necessarily a filmed intervention, but they agreed to let the cameras document their lives while they were at their absolute worst, not because they were looking for fame or because they wanted to educate others about addiction, but because they knew something had to change. They didn’t want to find a lower bottom, they wanted this bottom right here to be their rock bottom. They wanted to believe it would never get worse than this, what they’re doing right now, on camera. This is it.

I strongly believe that agreeing to have your addiction filmed is a cry for help, whether you think it’s for a documentary about addiction or a popular reality TV show called Intervention. If you’re inviting cameras in to film you shooting up in front of your kids or chugging hand sanitizer from your bed, you’ve most likely arrived at a bottom. It may not be your ultimate bottom, but it was definitely your bottom at the time.

It’s in this way that the interventions on Intervention do not and cannot adhere to the Johnson Model. It’s just not possible. This kind of intervention is in a league all its own;  it follows different rules and has different outcomes. Maybe it should be called the A&E Model of Intervention, which is the Johnson Model without the element of surprise but add in there an invasive camera crew, an editing team, and a massive audience.

There are a whole bunch of addicts that found out that it was an intervention, if not the show Intervention, during filming.  At least 10 that we know about and I’m sure many more that just didn’t make a thing about it on camera. Only one of those people refused to attend the intervention or treatment. That was Marquel, who probably would’ve refused treatment whether or not she found out about the intervention because throughout the episode like she seemed like she was trying to prove she DIDN’T have a problem more than anything else. 4 others chose not to go to treatment, none of them seemed to know they were headed towards an intervention.  There are also a handful of addicts that did NOT attend their intervention but still went to treatment.

Here’s my point: Knowing that they’re on Intervention has minimal if any impact on whether an addict accepts treatment.  There may be no surprise in the intervention but the fact that they’re being filmed increases the likelihood that they will go to treatment, possibly even beyond what a surprise intervention could do. In other words, it seems that agreeing to being filmed is a stronger indicator of willingness to go to treatment than either knowing that they’re on Intervention or even attending the actual intervention.

As to whether this lack of surprise is causing the show’s demise – I don’t believe so, at least not directly. I certainly don’t think they’re having any problem finding addicts willing to participate. This Vulture article from 2015 reported that the show still gets “plenty of leads for good stories, mostly submitted by family members, and more often when the show is airing on television.” I get several comments and emails a week from people asking how to submit their loved one to the show.  Now whether the number of submissions that are good candidates for the show has gone down is unknowable to all but the show runners.

What qualifies a “lead” as a potential episode has a lot to do with how interesting their stories are and how well they can tell them on camera, and also how dire their situation is.  If the producers were to say that not knowing about the intervention was a requirement for filming and airing the episode, I’d say they’re full of shit. They did an intervention on Sarah, who just the year before had featured heavily in her own grandmother Elena’s Intervention episode. They expect us to believe Sarah had no idea this “documentary” was Intervention or that there would be an intervention at the end? Nope.

I know that Candy discussed Andrew’s bulimia episode somewhere (was it the I Was There special episode? I don’t remember), saying that they don’t usually continue with interventions where the addict finds out about it, but that they discovered during filming that Andrew had submitted himself to the show and they continued with the intervention because of how sick he was. I’m glad they did, they likely saved his life. In fact, I’m glad they conducted every single intervention that they did because a lot of those people are alive right now because of it. But if you add self-submitted Andrew to all the other episodes where addicts found out about the intervention and the episode still aired, all the way back to Season 3’s Dillon, and you also consider that they agreed to film an obviously Intervention-aware Sarah, I question how serious they’ve been about that rule for the last 14 seasons. I have to challenge the idea that not knowing that there might be an intervention on the show Intervention is even a requirement for being filmed anymore. Like I said, they stopped strictly adhering to the Johnson Method when they brought a camera crew in. They don’t have a whole lot of ground to stand on if they’re filtering out addicts who know the show exists or find out about the intervention during filming.

If the cause of Intervention’s decline in the ratings has anything to do with the production of the show itself, it might be more about the editing than anything else. Its narrative formula is tired. The structure of the episodes has been the same 227 times (plus 3 seasons of Canada) with some slight deviations in Season 13.  There’s something a little icky about watching something so serious about other peoples’ lives and knowing exactly what the segment that begins with a certain musical cue is going to be about. When a show like this so adamantly sticks to a formula, it feels like you’re watching a scripted series instead of an honest portrayal and when that happens, it’s harder to relate to the people onscreen. The true value of this show, other than getting addicts sober of course, is to help the viewing audience understand addiction and be more sympathetic towards addicts and their families. If you’re unable to do that because you need to squeeze two episodes into one due to programming schedules and you end up cutting out all the things that made those individual stories actually relatable, you’ve failed to accomplish your goal of getting people invested and then they will stop watching. Ratings go down.

The only thing that surprises me about Intervention anymore is how the addicts deal with the intervention and how they’ve been doing since. Those things are entirely unpredictable. There’s no way to know which ones are going to thrive in sobriety and which are going to relapse after a week. There’s no formula for that. Those are the only things that are unpredictable about Intervention now. Maybe the one and only ‘element of surprise’ that matters is the one about whether or not they get clean, the family heals, and things get better for them. The producers of the show have no control over that. So perhaps they should let go of the premise of a surprise intervention and focus more on the surprise of how they’re doing now? Just one idea.

I hope that Intervention continues for many years. I sincerely hope they make changes to keep it on the air, but even if they do nothing I will still watch every single episode and I hope you all do too. It’s one of the most important TV shows that has ever existed, valuable in ways that I think even the producers and interventionists don’t quite understand.

I look forward to reading your thoughts on the longevity and purpose of Intervention in general. Let’s discuss!

Categories: Discussion

Discussion

18 Responses to “The End of Intervention and The Element of Surprise”

  1. Okay, so, is Intervention ending officially, or…….

    Posted by Sad | October 6, 2017, 6:31 pm
  2. I am a suffering addict and I personally would be touched if anyone gave a shit enough to help me. I literally have no family that cares enough to step on and help me. I financially take care of myself and haven’t lived with my mom since I was 18 (I am 43 now), so, its not like I am one of those 20 year olds that live with mommy and daddy and all my bills are paid, cell phone, etc. I have mixed feelings about the surprise element of Intervention. It truly depends on the person. Some people just aren’t tired of being sick. Some are, like me.

    Posted by Sad | October 6, 2017, 6:36 pm
    • Oh Sad, it sounds like you are ready to do what you need to for a happy and healthy well being. Know that I give a shit, and I look forward to reading how well you are doing in time.

      Posted by Sara | October 7, 2017, 5:13 pm
    • Sad, I also care. It truly sucks to feel sick, sad, and alone. I know, talk is cheap from a stranger on the internet, but like Sara, I sincerely care. Sending positive vibes your way, just please don’t give up on yourself.

      Posted by Shannon | October 10, 2017, 6:56 pm
  3. I can totally picture the addict filmed for a “real” non-Intervention episode coming to their “final interview”, dully expecting the intervention, stepping into the room and thinking “WTF is going on here?” “Where are my friends and family?” And throwing a fit at the producer when coming to the realization that it was NOT Intervention. Totally.

    Posted by Eitan | October 7, 2017, 4:00 am
  4. “Addicts may be preoccupied and out of it a lot of the time, but WE are not stupid.”

    WE? Dizzie, did you actually just come out as an addict?!?

    Posted by Eitan | October 7, 2017, 4:08 am
  5. http://intervention-directory.com/2015/03/about-dizzy/

    You might want to read about Dizzy’s bio. She has admitted to having been an addict in her biography for this site.

    Posted by Timothy Chen | October 7, 2017, 6:57 am
  6. Great post Dizzy. You make a lot of really good points, and I agree with just about everything. I’m with you on the notion that a good percentage of the addicts profiled had some idea that they were either on Intervention or in for an intervention, and that they ultimately wanted the help (despite their claims).

    I also agree that this show has a value to its audience that vastly supersedes what its ratings (and advertising revenue) might suggest to the network. It has done a lot to change the way I’m able to empathize with addicts, and it has educated me in so many ways– especially with regard to the psychology behind what drives the behavior of addicts.

    On A&E’s website they list almost a hundred shows. Not all of them are series, but the majority seem to be scripted reality dramas. I think a lot of informed mental health professionals (and TV critics) would agree that Intervention is likely the most *useful* show that A&E airs. The A&E marketing department doesn’t hesitate to highlight the public utility that the show provides– so maybe there are some executives that keep the show running even though it isn’t a big money maker. I don’t know.

    But, it would be really, really cool to see A&E overhaul Intervention. They wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel, but bringing in some new people with energy, passion and creative ideas could do wonders for the shows vitality. We’re living in the middle of one of the worst drug epidemics in modern US history, so clearly there’s a demand for high quality reality/documentary programming.

    As you stated, the idea that Intervention can’t be made anymore because the “secret is out” and addicts can’t be tricked, is almost entirely false. Most addicts are willing to open up to the cameras because they– perhaps subconsciously– want to get help.

    I’ll continue to watch Intervention as well, even if the format remains stale, but here’s to hoping that Intervention has some new life breathed into it.

    Posted by LarryT | October 7, 2017, 1:56 pm
    • I could not agree with you and Dizzy more here. I have missed the old raw footage documentary style for many seasons. I don’t care if the show ever gets back to that old school style, but I firmly believe a change is necessary. I am mainly just applauding and echoing your sentiments about how we need a better format now more than ever in this opiate epidemic. And I also appreciate Dizzy’s comments about how this model is a model of its own, This was a good read, and I look forward to the discussion that follows.

      Posted by Sara | October 7, 2017, 5:19 pm
    • “We’re living in the middle of one of the worst drug epidemics in modern US history, so clearly there’s a demand for high quality reality/documentary programming.”

      This times a million. It’s bitterly ironic that the franchise appears to be winding down just as this epidemic is growing more and more out of control. And as Dizzy, you, and others have alluded to, there can’t possibly be any shortage of families or friends who want to submit a loved one to this show.

      The very first episode of this new, ultimately brief season featured an addict who caught onto the deception (or “deception” depending on how you look at it) well before the actual intervention took place. It’s interesting that they still pressed ahead with the rest of the show — I’m wondering how they arrived at the decision to do so, there had to be more to it than what was edited into the final product, yes?

      Posted by Kei | October 8, 2017, 5:09 pm
    • They’ve got to have more episodes in store. I find it hard to believe they’d just commission 3 episodes of Intervention US. I have a strong feeling they have more they aren’t telling us about.

      I have hope, at least.

      Posted by Ted | October 12, 2017, 3:43 pm
  7. Most people I bring this show up to have never heard of it, so I still find it totally believable that most addicts profiled have never heard of it.

    Posted by Stefan | October 8, 2017, 12:18 am
  8. I think that whether or not Intervention is cancelled is going to be solely decided based on ratings. Ratings equal advertising revenue. Though Intervention is doubtless one of the more redeeming “reality” tv shows and has done a great deal to advance an understanding of addiction and treatment, the bottom line is that A&E is in the business of making money. If the show doesn’t make money for them, they won’t continue to offer it.

    I don’t think they are doing the show justice at all. They barely promote it; the seasons are truncated and are a mix of new American episodes and recycled Canadian episodes and they have done little to keep the format fresh and current. I don’t think they are particularly invested in it and unfortunately, I don’t think they will continue to offer it much longer, if at all. It’s a shame.

    Posted by Elizabeth | October 8, 2017, 2:22 pm
  9. With the opiate epidemic, I can’t believe they don’t have people beating down the door to get family members on the show right now. It’s horrible here- it’s on the news almost every day. A lot of these people are really young- 19 or 20- they weren’t watching Intervention when it was in its prime and have been using so much they might not even be aware it’s even still around. A&E doesn’t promote it much. I believe there are people out there. It is a ratings issue. Stick stupid people in front of a camera- that’s where the money is. Educational things be damned.

    Posted by Shana | October 9, 2017, 6:11 pm
  10. I think a lot of it is that it is hard to find addicts who have families that care. Im a recovering addict and most addicts i know either had abusive families or their families want nothing to do with them. Unless your family cares you cant have a traditional intervention.

    Posted by Anna | October 10, 2017, 5:32 am
  11. As Elizabeth points out, it’s all about ratings. I haven’t seen any numbers, but based on how little A&E has been promoting the show of late, and how few U.S. based episodes are being produced, I would surmise that the show’s ratings have dropped considerably over the past several seasons and that A&E is now looking for a way to kill it.

    The bottom line is that reality/documentary TV is a business, and if the cost of producing new episodes outweighs the income generated by ratings, ad sales, etc., then A&E will end the show.

    Posted by Galusha | October 10, 2017, 11:16 am
    • Along these lines, some suggestions to tweak the show and boost ratings would be as follows:

      1. Bring back Seth.

      2. Drop Candy, Sylvia and Jeff in favor of younger, hipper and more media-friendly interventionists that appeal to a younger audience. The lady from “Intervention Codependent” might be a good choice.

      2. Show more addicts that are critically ill and in imminent range of death, behave outrageously and treat people horribly under the influence, and emphasize the “crisis” element. Let’s face it: most people (besides those of us who post on this site) who watch Intervention don’t give a damn whether the addict goes to treatment or not – they want to be titillated, they want melodrama and graphic footage such as violent arguments and police confrontations, and they want to see human beings at their lowest point. The way to boost ratings is to give the folks what they want.

      4. Profile more addicts who are celebrities or at least known to the general public – I’m sure there are plenty of B and C list celebs struggling with addiction who would be willing to go on “Intervention” in the hope of increased exposure.

      The above suggestions would make for a show that I personally would be less likely to watch, but they would make for a show that would be more appealing to the general public.

      Posted by Galusha | October 10, 2017, 11:28 am

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