The final panel of the Syfy Digital Press Tour was a complete surprise. All we knew was it was an unscripted show with a surprise host, and they wanted volunteers who had to sign a waiver that they were in good health, etc…I volunteered, although I was not selected. I did, however, get an early clue as to what was going on as I was out in the hallway briefly, and one of those electronic signs at convention centers that tell you what is happening where called it a “Total Blackout” panel. But I was told I had to forget everything I saw or I’d be mind wiped or something like that…
The new show is, of course, Total Blackout, based on the hit European game show. In it contestants enter a completely darkened room while filmed by infrared cameras and have to determine objects just by their other senses – objects that could be alive.
To introduce us to the show were Syfy President of Original Content Mark Stern, show creator Henrik Nielsen, and host Jaleel White (Family Matters).
So where did the idea for this show come from?
Henrik: “I think this is based on some of the best times in my childhood and some of the worst times in my childhood. The best times is when I pretended I had a spider I was chasing four sisters with, and obviously, I had no spider because I hate spiders. And they knew that, but they were still terrified. And the look on their faces was priceless. The worst time in my life was probably when we — at the country house in Sweden, when my mom would come in and say goodnight, and I knew there was a spider in the room, and she would shut off the light. And my face would have been a laugh as well because I was terrified.
“So it’s a combination of both. It’s really — once people are in the dark and can’t see anything, the faces — they forget the camera is there. So, also, they become very naturally responsive to the environment thing, and I think you’ll see that in a moment that that is very true, that that’s the part of the comedy of the show is how you actually express yourself in the dark because you don’t know.”
Mark: “And, Jaleel, you host this show. It’s a pretty crazy show.”
Jaleel: “Do you know what? The show is unique, you know. It’s a game show that’s absolute darkness. And, I mean, I’ve obviously been pop-up guy for 2011, and I just keep kind of popping up in these different places. So I think this — for me, personally, I don’t think this is a place where people would conventionally expect to find me, but as far as the show is concerned, I really think Henrik and Jack and Jeff really have a show that people will just naturally watch. And I love to be a part of any kind of television that people will naturally watch. I’ve checked out the Norwegian version of this show.
“You can’t help but just laugh as they are going through it, and it’s real darkness. It’s a game show shot in night vision. That’s cool.”
We saw some test footage from a casting tape, as the show hasn’t yet gone into production just to get an idea of it. The selected volunteers, including Eureka star Colin Ferguson, were all sequestered away before the panel began so they have no idea what is happening, only that they will be brought into a completely dark room and then told what to do.
Each volunteer was brought in alone, and then had to guess what was in an aquarium-type tank in complete darkness. I don’t want to spoil what was in there as there is video below, but the volunteers aside from Colin were Michelle Alexandria from EclipseMagazine.com, who had trouble identifying things – it seemed that once she guessed something once, she was fixated on that; Rae Hanson of Ramblings of a TV Whore, who got things pretty quick; Sammi Turano of TV Grapevine, who provided some humor; and Aaron Sagers of Paranormal Pop Culture, who probably failed as a contestant by identifying things WAY too quickly. But the most entertaining of all was Colin Ferguson, and you can watch video of it below (forgive the quality – it was recorded off a monitor which itself was showing an infrared camera):
So it looks like we’ve got a very entertaining show coming up. Being able to see the fear people show on their faces when they truly don’t know what the are facing, and in the dark where they don’t realize the looks they give can be entertaining, and this probably has a lot less shock to it as shows like Fear Factor or Scare Tactics.
Henrik spoke about the psychology of the show. “One of the key elements in the show is that the viewers know more than the contestants. So when you enter the room, we will always, as a viewer, know more than you as a contestant, and that’s where the humor comes in. There’s always a twist in all of the games, actually. The viewers always know more than the contestant, and that’s where the comedy comes in. It’s like when I ran — chased my sisters with a spider. I didn’t have a spider.”
Seeing Colin Ferguson work out so well, I asked about a “Syfy Celebrity Edition” (imagine Eddie McClintock or Allison Scagliotti in there), but there are no currently plans for that, as they want to get the show moving. “Well, you know, this is all in the NBC family,” Jaleel said. “So, obviously, I know the guys want me to get the show rolling. You know, I — if I have to know the NBC family and how they operate, at some point, they will make it available for celebrity contestants. But I’m going to let Henrik and Mark determine that.” So we can hope.