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Behind the camera on RV1
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
I was skeptical at first: a reality show about Republican gubernatorial candidate Mitch Daniels traveling through Indiana in RV1. First of all, it sounds too much like an infomercial; secondly, it sounds pretty gimmicky; and finally, I really doubted that anyone would put a camera on a politician during an unscripted, unorchestrated moment. But somehow, I got hooked. Sure, it’s a commercial, but all politics aside, RV-1: On the Road with Mitch Daniels makes for pretty interesting and entertaining viewing, and judging by its consistent ratings, lots of viewers think so, too.
The reality show is the brainchild of long-time Indiana political pro Mark Lubbers and his collaborator, TV producer Rick Thompson (60 Minutes, Bill Moyers, 48 Hours). The Fort Wayne Reader had a chance to talk to Lubbers about the concept behind RV1.
Fort Wayne Reader: I suppose I’ll start with the obvious: Where did the idea come from?
Mark Lubbers: I traveled around with Mitch on the RV for a few days early in the campaign. I’ve been involved in a lot of political campaigns, and this was just the most fun campaigning experience I had ever seen. I thought people would like to watch it; it had an entertainment value that doesn’t exist in much in politics. Plus, I’ve known Mitch for 28 years now, and the guy has got an 800-pound resume and a thousand pound brain, and because politics is a sort of 30-second sound byte business, I was worried that in the world of TV commercials, it would be hard to get across that there’s a side of him that’s just a very regular guy. He can compete at world-class levels in government, but the real Mitch Daniels is the guy who would rather have a beer with an ironworker than ever be at the Skyline Club. I suppose it was the meshing of these two thoughts that lead me to think that we’ve all gotten used to reality television, so why not a real political reality TV show. Originally, I wanted to get sponsors for it, and do it as a regular 30-minute show, but the campaign finance rules and regulations were just way too difficult to try to negotiate. They exist for a paradigm that doesn’t contain something like this, so we just said to heck with it, let’s just buy the time.
FWR: When you brought this idea to the Daniels campaign, were they nervous about it?
ML: Well, they weren’t nervous, but they didn’t really understand what Rick Thompson and I were thinking about. Rick has been working with me for years, doing advertising. He’s a fabulous, fabulous shooter. We had a pretty clear vision of what we thought it could be, but because no one had ever done anything like that before, I think the campaign didn’t really think that people would watch. So there wasn’t any push back, they just were not sure what we were talking about.
FWR: What changed their minds?
ML: One of the things about Mitch is that he loves innovation, so you bring him an idea, and he’s always inclined to try it. So he was very positive about trying it, meaning “You guys go ahead and shoot it, do what you want with it, bring it back in and take a look at it. Let’s see if the real thing matches the described idea.” He liked what he saw, but he still wasn’t sure anyone would watch it. I think he was surprised that we were getting good ratings. But just look at West Wing, which is phony in many respects, certainly in terms of the pace. People are interested in politics. It’s a sport now. We just thought people would be interested in the sort of behind-the-scenes look.
FWR: He doesn’t seem very self-conscious about having a camera on him
ML: That’s two things. First and foremost, he’s the real deal. I’ve been around a lot of politicians, and there are some that just sort of “turn it on,” but that’s not really them. Mitch really does like doing all that stuff on RV 1. Also, I gave Rick the credit at well, because he’s so gifted at not insinuating the camera into the action. He wanted to shoot off the shoulder with a big camera, but my theory was that because Americans have had almost two decades of having small handheld cameras in our home that those small cameras don’t really change people’s behavior. We were debating this at this high-end store in Chicago, and Rick was still pushing for the big camera. I said “Rick, we can’t use a big camera because people will change their behavior.” And the sales guy said, “That’s exactly what Oprah said. She had the same argument right here with her producer.” I just looked at Rick and said “You’re toast.”
FWR: How much of it is actually “warts and all”?
ML: Mitch never sees the show before hand. There’s a trust between the two of us from so many years of working together. He’s never had any input in the editing process. That said, there are not a lot of warts. But even in the first show, there were some times when he looked kind of angry because he was going to be late to one stop. Most people would not show a gubernatorial candidate chasing flies around in an RV. Those are not things you’d normally put on TV. But which of us hasn’t had the experience?
FWR: One episode everyone talks about was where Daniels ran into the Democratic Precinct Committee member in Cross Plains…
ML: (laughs) Yes, David Chandler. I saw that and thought, “This is going to be very interesting.” So they had a little argument, and Mitch was giving as good as he was getting. It made for great TV, though. You can’t script that stuff. We left there, and Rick said “If this was something that you scripted, and you tried to find someone to play the role of David Chandler, we would have had to have a national casting call.” But reality is more interesting than scripted stuff.