Mention “The Mole” to just about anyone who works on reality TV and their eyes will light up. For a show that hasn’t been seen on US television since 2008, and only aired five editions total, “The Mole” has achieved near-mythical status in the annals of television history without screenplay.
“I grew up watching them all on TV, and it was one of my favorite reality shows of all time,” says Eureka Prods. CEO Chris Culvenor. “It’s probably one of the most beloved formats out there, not just in this country, but around the world. It combines a sense of adventure, with an ‘Ocean’s 11’/’Mission Impossible’ kind of mischief. People love a mystery. I think that was the appeal of the original.”
“The Mole” centers around 12 contestants who must solve challenges to add money to a jackpot, which one will win at the end. But one of them is actually a mole, secretly tasked with trying to sabotage his profits. Players must try to guess who the “mole” is, while misleading others into thinking they might be the culprit.
With true crime continuing to grow in popularity, Culvenor says he thought the time was right to reintroduce “The Mole” (a format that has remained popular in some European territories, including Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden) to the US. In the US, where it aired in 2001 on ABC, followed by celebrity editions in 2003 and 2004. The show was briefly revived (again on ABC) in 2008, but has not been seen here since.
Eureka approached Belgium-based Primitives about the rights. “The show started in Belgium, and it’s still a huge success there, as it is in many other countries,” says Culvenor. “The rights were available to the United States and to others. And we got a little bit obsessed with the idea of rebooting it and relaunching it for a new generation. So we did our pitch on how we envisioned the re-launch of the brand, we met with the creators of the show, and they really agreed on where we wanted to take it.”
Culvenor casually brought up the idea while meeting with Netflix executives, and they were immediately on board.
“At Netflix, we’re much more focused on new hits and creating new IP,” says vice president of unscripted series Nat Grouille. “But when a great idea comes up, that stays with you. The key question is why now? You really need to know that it’s going to connect with an audience in 2022. And for me, ‘The Mole’ has a lot of interesting ways to hook an audience. It’s a confidence game, you’re not quite sure who’s telling the truth and who’s not. And I think we now live in that world, where the truth is harder to find. So I think it’s zeitgeist in that sense at a high level.”
Casting is key, especially since players are required to be smart and adept at their game, including, obviously, whoever gets hired to play the “Mole.”
“Whether it’s a nurse, a firefighter, someone who works in IT, everyone had a sense of wanting to be part of this exciting journey and adventure,” says Culvenor. “And then when it comes to deciding who was going to be that Mole, could they pull it off? Couldn’t they break under immense pressure? I don’t know if I could do that. Certainly, it is a great weight on his shoulders to be able to continue like this, but we are sure that Mole did an incredible job.
Because the show has been off the air for nearly 15 years here, Culvenor says the casting was also an interesting mix of people who had heard of the show and others who hadn’t. “Or there were the super fans who have been begging and yearning for ‘The Mole’ to return for many, many years, and you just have to go to Reddit, social media, Twitter, and you’ll find the fever that it is. around this format. So there was a certain type of cast member that fell into that category,” she says. “And then there were those who, just because of their age, didn’t have the same conscience. In the end, it didn’t matter if they were superfans of the game, what we were looking for was that willingness and desire for adventure, and people who were going to throw themselves into the process. That was a much more important bar to find than necessarily being a fan of the format.”
“The Mole” was filmed in Australia, where Eureka has an office (the company, which is also behind this week’s CBS revival of “The Real Love Boat,” is based there and in Los Angeles). “We wanted a location that offered us a big city in one episode, a jungle in the other, a tropical island in the next, snowy fields in another,” says Culvenor, who adds that future seasons will likely take place in other parts of the episode. world.
And then there is the host. Perhaps “The Mole” is most famous for Anderson Cooper, who hosted the show’s first two seasons. (Ahmad Rashad and Jon Kelley also took turns hosting.) For the revival, Eureka was inspired by Cooper to cast another television journalist: MSNBC’s Alex Wagner.
“The only thing that was more exhaustive for the search for the Mole was the search for the Mole’s host,” says Culvenor. “We look at everything from movie stars to people with adventure experience, but I think the reason we turned to Alex and his journalistic experience is because journalists are always on the hunt, to get to the bottom of a story. ”.
Grouille added: “She has it all. She has poise. She has reality instincts. She is smart and intelligent. We went through host list after host list and decided that at the end of the day, we need a news person because we need someone who is comfortable in the field. We need someone whose instincts are journalistic and who really tries to spot the Mole at the same time as everyone else. And you need to feel that kind of game.”
Culvenor says he didn’t approach Cooper about coming back, out of a desire to reimagine this version of “The Mole” in a fresh light. She says that it’s also too early to tell if Wagner, who is busy with her MSNBC series, would be available for a second season.
“We haven’t gotten to that discussion at this stage, but what a big deal to have to be talking about a second season,” he says. “We know that she is extremely passionate about the show and she had a fantastic time. So I think those discussions will take place over a glass of champagne if we get to our second season, which we all look forward to.” (When asked about upcoming seasons, Grouille says, “We feel really, really good about this. Let’s see. As much as we know, and as experienced as we all are, and as brilliant as the production is, we’ll never know.” knows what the audience is going to think.”)
Meanwhile, given the show’s big reveal, “The Mole” was a difficult one for Netflix to schedule. The streamer will drop five episodes on October 7, followed by batches of additional episodes the following two weeks. “Obviously you want to leave the audience with something to play for at the end,” says Grouille. “It really reflects the best way to tell the story. Each batch is in itself super satisfying.”