‘Famously Single’ exclusive: EP John Irwin on casting, balancing entertainment with therapy

Famously Single -The past few weeks have served as an introduction of sorts for E!’s “Famously Single,” but over the coming weeks, be prepared to see the drama and the conflict between some of these participants heat up. This is a show where celebrities will be forced to confront why relationships don’t seem to work for them, and at times, they may hear things through therapy that they don’t wish to accept. Also, their personalities may clash with those around them.

You can get a small sense of the show courtesy of the video below, which features front and center someone we’ve discussed at length on this site already in former “Bachelorette” star Josh Murray. For the remainder of this piece, we want to go behind the curtain for a bit with executive producer John Irwin as we try to get to the bottom of how this show works, what the producers look for in casting, and the process they go through for some of these fame-obsessed people to take their self-help journeys seriously.

CarterMatt – Where did the idea for this particular show come about?

John Irwin – It comes from stuff that is happening in the zeitgeist. When we started ‘Celebrity Rehab,’ that was back when you couldn’t pick up a magazine without some celebrity being in trouble because of drugs. I think right now, we’re in a time where divorce is north of 50% and I just kept hearing from more and more people that the whole relationship thing was getting more and more crazy. People can’t find that person, and that’s where this came from. We’re in a time where there are so many opportunities out there for meeting people, but people just can’t settle down and are just so broken or seemingly so when it comes to dating or relationships.

When you and the other producers were looking at casting, was there a wishlist of people you wanted?

Here’s the thing. I think that when you’re brainstorming it, it always starts with big names. You’re walking through and you’re in the market, and you’re looking at the covers of magazines. Blake Shelton’s just broken up with Miranda Lambert, you know what I mean?

But then, when you get into the true casting process, really the goal is always to represent a wide [array] of scenarios. You want each person to come to the table with a different situation. If I’m sitting at home, I want to be able as a viewer to connect to two or three different people’s issues. Of course, it’s also about creating a diverse cast that we think will be super-entertaining. It’s a little bit of a jigsaw puzzle.

How much fear was there regarding how open some people would be willing to be when it comes to their personal lives? It’s a tricky subject.

Going back to ‘Celebrity Rehab’ and then maybe ‘Couples Therapy,’ there was some of that, but I think we’ve sort of cracked the code over here. I never have a fear. As long as we have the right therapist on board, it absolutely happens. It’s a guarantee.

That’s good to hear, because there always is that worry over if celebrities are taking it seriously, as opposed to just viewing it as a chance to build their brand.

I think 90% of the people who we are casting potentially for these shows are coming on for the wrong reasons. They’re coming on for the paycheck, to promote themselves, or whatever it is. But, it’s impossible, and I’m saying that out of experience. Once they get into the environment, and because of the way we produce it that is very fly-on-the-wall, it’s really a social experiment. We don’t have producers in these people’s ears, telling them what to say or who to like. We just put these people together in a house, an apartment, or a facility and with a therapist, and it’s impossible not to engage. It’s impossible.

From a production point of view, what does still challenge you with a show like this?

The irony is that the more we do, the more challenging it gets, especially when you are in a [later] season of a show, trying to come up with new [ideas]. The only thing that we inject into the show with the therapist is trying to come up with therapeutic exercises for the people to do that are going to help them push through [their issues]. That could be anything from scaling the side of a mountain to doing a ropes course to smash-mouth stuff in the house where they’re breaking stuff to get their feelings out there. We’re trying to come up with new things to do. That gets challenging.

And then casting, that really is the hardest part of the show for sure. It’s all about getting the right group of people together that have really interesting stories. One thing we did come across with ‘Couples Therapy’ was finding people who legitimately needed help. That is something we have to vet out. Obviously with ‘Famously Single,’ it’s easier because it’s already out there.

While I know there are therapists who are guiding contestants through these specific [exercises], do you still feel a sense of pride if they do come out the other side in a better place?

100%. I think underneath all of it, with all of these shows, we always said that the idea here is that if we’re doing our job right … we’re helping people. We’re inspiring people and helping them realize that there is another way to make things work. Obviously the underlying theme is finding the right therapist and using them to help you get through what you need to get through. With ‘Famously Single,’ it’s ironic because most people will tell you that for the life of them, they can’t find the right people, ‘there’s no good girls,’ ‘there’s no good guys,’ etc. The reality is that for all of us, it starts with us. It starts from within. If you can’t find the right person, it’s because of you and it has nothing to do with what is out there.

How do you bridge the gap between a show that is designed to help these people, but then also something meant to be entertaining for people watching?

What’s interesting is that the entertaining part just happens on its own. That’s the beauty of the formula. We create the environment and we sort of get the casting right, and then the entertainment portion comes out of that. That’s part and parcel because as soon as you start to dig into people’s emotions, it stirs them up and that’s where you start to get drama. Especially for people who have never done therapy before, you’re getting into stuff that [angers] them, that they’ve never talked about. All of that ends up translating into a productive 16 and 17 days because the therapist digs into them, they go act out, and then the therapist the next day can work with them. It’s all kind of designed, and it just works. It’s a formula that works. Fortunately, it gives us everything we want. You’re looking to see the aspirational and the positive, and then you also need to be entertaining.

A few last things for you. Have you heard anything yet from E! on getting to do more of the show?

I think we’re premature on knowing where we’re at with that just yet.

Are you and the other producers then keeping attune to what’s going on in the headlines, looking at people you think could work for the show?

Yeah, I think we’re always looking! The great news is that the show is doing really well, so I think everyone is optimistic that we’ll do more. In this landscape that we’re in with television, anytime you have a show that does well it’s like ‘oh my god,’ because it is getting tougher and tougher. The fact that this show is resonating is very exciting.


So finally, give everyone a quick, general tease about what’s coming up the rest of the season.

All I can say is that we’re only [a few] episodes in now, and there’s definitely some crazy stuff coming up. (Laughs.) That I can say without reservation.

Thanks to John for his time! “Famously Single” airs Tuesday nights at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on E!, and you can sign up here to get some other TV news via our CarterMatt Newsletter. (Photo: E!.)

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