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April 08, 2015

Intervening for Intervention

Viewer demand sparks return of A&E's unconventional reality program.

Christine Champagne

Intervention went off the air in 2013, but A&E viewers couldn't stop thinking about the startling docuseries and its profiles of men and women struggling with addictions to drugs and alcohol.

A&E became aware of this abiding interest during consumer research.

"Intervention came up constantly," says Drew Tappon, the network's senior vice-president of development and programming. "People were saying, 'I really miss Intervention. I love that show.'"

Well, the viewers spoke, and A&E listened. An all-new season of Intervention premiered in March, preceded by an hour-long special looking back at the first 10 years of the show, which pushed TV boundaries with the portrayals of its subjects.

"You'd seen drug and alcohol addiction dramatized in scripted shows, but you had never been allowed to see it so up close and personal," Tappon says of the show, which in 2009 won the Emmy as outstanding reality program.

"Where else had you ever seen a reality show with a person with a needle hanging out of their arm? It was so powerful."

Gary R. Benz's GRB Entertainment — the production company behind the original — is back, as are interventionists Jeff VanVonderen, Candy Finnigan, Ken Seeley and Donna Chavous. As before, they will try to persuade the addicts to get the help they need.

"Out of respect to the audience, we're not making wholesale changes to the show," Tappon says. "It's going to still be the Intervention that you know."

That said, he adds: "Our main goal is to make sure the show feels as groundbreaking today as it did 10 years ago. We're pushing the casting department hard to find addicts, situations and family dynamics that we haven't seen before on the show. We're trying to raise the bar on the stories that we're telling."

This season's stories include those of Daniel, a 27-year-old alcoholic who lost his way after the death of his father; 24-year-old Samantha, a former soccer prodigy who is hooked on heroin and selling her body to fund her habit; and 24-year-old Katie, a heroin and cocaine addict who was once an elite Irish dancer.

In the original incarnation of Intervention, the addicts believed they were taking part in a documentary and had no idea that they would face an intervention. Given the popularity of the show, are the new participants aware of what awaits them?

"These people are in such a state that they believe they are doing a public service by doing a documentary about their addictions," Tappon says. "In the episodes I've seen so far, nothing has indicated that they've caught on to the ruse."

And, hopefully, this new season will help save the lives of those featured on the show as well as those struggling with addiction elsewhere.

"There were so many people who wrote to us when the show was first on the air, saying, 'You helped my brother. You helped my son. You helped my sister,'" Tappon relates. "That's really rewarding—and something you don't get out of a lot of reality TV these days."

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