Thursday, January 19, 2012

The strange story behind Grizzly Adams

TV GUIDE, Jan 28, 1978

Yesterday, I was reminded about why everyone has such warm feelings for the tv show Grizzly Adams. The short answer is manipulation but longer answer is a fascinating read about a Mormon producer, computers, and extensive test-marketing.

Charles E. Sellier, Jr. was a Mormon producer with a predilection for family values. In 1971, he began developing an elaborate system which could test-market ideas/scenes for commercials, tv shows and films. His process was so successful that his, "...techniques enabled him to achieve a commanding 52% success ratio in the domestic theatrical market, during a time when the major studios only averaged one in seven."

image via SuperMag
Everything was test marketed, down to the type of bear (Grizzly), likeability of guest star faces, plot points and the frequency of humans.
“Our audience, Sellier says, "likes waterfalls, pretty vistas and high mountain ridges, preferably with actors and animals as part of the scene. They dislike snow, except at Christmas. What they like is eternal summer in the primeval, womanless wilderness.”
I had always just assumed that this amazingly tender show about nature, animals and kindness was an unavoidable result of the good energy of the 1970s, as if Americans needed this show so badly that our collective subconscious had willed it into existence. 

Even the real life character Grizzly Adams was based on needed some improving. (Actually, he sounds like a jerk and probably did need some 'softening'.)
“Our audience,” Sellier says, “dislikes animals being violent to humans and to other animals, and humans being violent to animals and other humans. They dislike hunting, either for sport for food—Grizzly can fish but he doesn't hunt and he doesn't eat meat. He's portrayed as one of the first vegetarians. He wears only homespun clothes, never any animals kins. It's not whim, it's all tested.”


Anonymous said...

I remember the shock when our tv hero's face caught on fire. His persona created a sacred love for him for all of us young viewers. It was felt like Michael Jackson's death. Was it a bit of a publicity stunt or as terrible as it was said to be. The image of Grizzly's beard on fire is seared in my mind.


Joey Veltkamp said...

WHOA! You just blew my mind gfinholt! I hadn't ever heard about that. Wow, the story just gets more strange. Thanks for letting me know. I better start being more careful with my flaming cocktails & beard!