When it comes to producing original content, Chris Coelen, producer and CEO of Kinetic Content likes to follow the “big swing” approach. From game shows such as “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” to reality hit “Hardcore Pawn,” Coelen has sought to create unique programs absent from the airwaves at the risk of striking out.
“Nobody has a secret magic formula,” said Coelen. “You can educate and have a take-away, but you have to entertain and have a compelling story. We look for what isn’t being done. We take a big swing and do something we think works.”
One swing that became a hit for Coelen is the sketch series “Off Their Rockers.” Coelen based the series off a Belgium format that became hugely successful in Europe called “Benidorm Bastards.” Each episode featured older people pranking younger people. Coelen reconstructed the concept to make the pranks edgy and ‘controversial without being mean spirited.” His idea included a posse of seniors gravitating around a leader, and his ideal leader was Betty White.
Twice rejected by White’s assistant, Coelen remained undaunted in his quest to land his ideal star. When he found himself in direct contact with her, he pitched her directly and she immediately jumped on board.
“She liked it, she liked that it was fun and carefree as well as edgy and controversial,” said Coelen. “Her sense of humor is in line with what we strive for – funny but with a wink of the eye.”
Once signed on, White also became involved in casting the other members of the troop. Along with the casting department, White was looking for older actors with strong improv skills. Every ensemble member has to be able to think on their feet, react fast, understand comic timing, create routines on the fly, and contribute sketch ideas. Because the routines are performed on hidden cameras and elicit surprise from the unsuspecting youth, the performers do not get to rehearse; they must relate authentically to the situations and must always remember to keep a straight face.
To successfully orchestrate a sketch show that contains roughly 25 unscripted scenes per an episode, Coelen requires extreme organization from his production team, holding frequent meetings to go over the details of the locations, camera placements, props and wardrobe necessary for each shoot. The staff then works on scouting locations. Their scouting takes them to locations across the country, focusing on areas that contain the most young people. Many sites are hesitant to grant permission for shooting until they learn about the show’s star.
With “Off Their Rockers” returning for a second season on NBC, Coelen has a few more big swings he’s in the process of taking. One project in development is a variation on the talk show featuring host Perez Hilton engaged in casual conversations with musical stars such as Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Another project is a documentary format based on the life of youngsters in juvenile prisons.
“We gained access through the State Supreme Court to film in these facilities. No one else has shown this side of juvenile correction,” said Coelen. “This will really open up people’s eyes to a new place and world.”
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