Shot on a private farm in Des Allemands, Sunday’s (Aug. 19) episode of the TNT competition series “The Great Escape” presented unprecedented challenges to cast, crew and host. “It was a major production effort,” said host Rich Eisen during a recent phone interview. “The folks who produce the show do yeoman's work, and the work they had to do was raised to the Nth degree because of the surroundings and the expanse. The massive undertaking that I witnessed was one of the most amazing productions I've ever witnessed in my 15 years of doing television. I'm proud to say it's one of our best shows.”
greatescapetnt.jpgTNT'The Great Escape.'
The episode airs at 9 p.m. “The Great Escape” combines elements of “MacGyver” and “The Great Race” in an action-adventure team competition that requires participants to engineer their own removal from imposing settings. Alcatraz, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, a castle, a missile silo and a power plant have all been episodic tests in the show’s first season.
Fondly remembered by sports fans for his studio-hosting work on ESPN in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Eisen has spent the past near-decade at the NFL Network. His new TNT series comes from Imagine Entertainment (Ron Howard, Brian Grazer) and members of “The Amazing Race” production team, so its visual presentation is dependably first-rate. For the swamp episode, shot in late June, the production built a compound in bayou country, then hoped for the best when it came to weather.
“There were portions of the escape route that were created or enhanced by the art department,” Eisen said. “You can't tell what's normally there or what was created out of whole cloth, and that's part of the neat aspect of this production. That's the way it's been for all of our episodes on ‘The Great Escape.’ This one just presented major challenges in terms of the logistics of it.
“As it turned out, the show went off without a hitch. It's incredible. I guess the TV gods or the bayou gods were smiling on us. It wasn't raining, and it wasn’t one of those billion-degree, humid days, either.
“There was a cloudless sky, and the green and the browns, mixed with the blue of the sky, really at times looks like a piece of art, it really does.”
Eisen, who hosts “NFL Total Access” and game-day wraparound coverage for the NFL Network as well as a cool weekly sports-and-entertainment podcast at NFL.com, knows the production got lucky when it comes to working in local meteorological conditions.
“When we saw the date on the calendar when we were going to shoot in the bayou, we were holding our breath,” he said. “A few days before, it had poured. The ground was still wet. For the contestants, that created a lot of unsure footing, a lot of mud, a lot of muck, a lot of mire. A couple of times, the fan-boats got stuck. It was quite a challenging shoot.
“It's also the only shoot I’ve ever been on where a producer comes up to me and says, ‘Be careful of certain insects with an hourglass shape on them.’ Or, if I'm bitten by something I need to somehow capture it so the doctors at the emergency room where I have to immediately be taken can see what bit me.
“Let's put it this way: When I cover a Saints game in the Superdome or when I come for the Super Bowl this year, my producers on the NFL Network will not have to give me a similar warning.”
Eisen said one of the pleasant surprises for him in his “Great Escape” work is how popular the show is among kids.
“It’s family-friendly,” he said. “Kids love it. For many young children and adolescents, it's like watching a video game with real-life contestants.”
Sunday, the game comes with real-life natural perils.
Most of the locals used in the shoot “were the local fauna and flora and the critters and the creatures crawling around,” he said. “The challenges that the contestants are put through are grueling, to say the least. The team that won said that it altered their lives, that it changed what they will be afraid of in the future. It was a life-altering experience for the team that won.”
Dave Walker can be reached at email@example.com
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