A competition series that has bladesmiths attempting to recreate iconic swords might not have seemed like the (ahem) sharpest idea, but it’s a History hit. With season 5 of Forged in Fire premiering Tuesday, March 13, Jodi Flynn, President, Outpost Entertainment and executive producer of the series, explains why “under the radar” concepts can resonate with TV audiences.
Cynopsis: How on earth did you realize a bladesmith competition would make for such great television?
Jodi Flynn: History was interested in developing a show centered around weaponry, and our team at Outpost began exploring the idea of focusing solely on blades. Of course, the first question we asked ourselves was, “Are blades enough to sustain a series?” But as we began researching the history of weapons and uncovering more and more about the extremely large role blades have played in shaping the world as we know it, we knew we were onto something and decided to stick with it.
That said, the show’s pilot – and really, the entire first season – was an exploration for us. We had no idea just how broad the bladesmith community actually was and the range of skills and great personalities that it encompassed. Honestly, that’s something that continues to amaze me as we head into Season 5.
Cynopsis: What other “under the radar” obsessions have you uncovered?
Flynn: I was one of the original executive producers on Hoarders for A&E, and with that, it was about shining a light on a syndrome that, at the time, wasn’t really being talked about. In addition, I once produced a series about international drinking customs, which focused on the meaning behind particular drinks and drinking habits for different cultures. Outpost also created and produced a series for Weather Channel called Brainstormers, which followed backyard inventors who build and test devices designed to harness the power of weather in order to make life easier (solar water heater, etc.).
For us, it’s really about finding the the uncommon in the common. Of course, we always focus on things that are happening in real life, but sometimes, the best subjects for television are just beyond the surface.
Cynopsis: How do you find these topics?
Flynn: We’re always thinking about what’s relevant and what will resonate with viewers “right now,” but I’m also a believer in happy accidents. Hoarders came from an accident. We were creating a sizzle for a completely different series, and through that, we came across this couple that cleaned out hoards. Following that initial discovery, the focus becomes “what’s the show here?” and “how do we tell this story with real stakes?” To us, that means finding a way to portray the most honest and accurate “slice of life.”
For instance, when developing Forged in Fire, it was always about finding the best way to showcase what these people do, and the incredible amount of skill and personality they possess. The competition format thrusts extreme conditions upon them, giving viewers a peek inside their world and craft, while raising the stakes for the bladesmiths participating and affording them a real opportunity to shine.
It’s also important to have a network partner that’s willing to go on the journey with you and truly collaborate to create the best possible show. That’s a huge part of any project’s success, and something we’ve been very fortunate to have with History.
Cynopsis: Do you do anything to test a concept’s appeal?
Flynn: We don’t. I think, as an industry, we’re at a point where, in many cases, we’re over-developing and over-testing projects, and I never bought into that. You have to trust your instincts and actually give audiences the opportunity to find a show and react. I’m reminded of that every time I hear about a series – scripted or unscripted – that didn’t originally test well and then ended up being a massive success.
At the beginning, nobody predicted Forged would be a hit – thought it was too narrow, too niche – and in its first week, it didn’t bring the house down in terms of ratings. However, to History’s credit, they took the time to actually dig deeper into the numbers to discover that there was something there. It wasn’t long before the show hit its stride, and its audience has continued to grow season-to-season since. Now, the show’s entering Season 5 with a larger following than ever before – and it’s still the youngest-skewing series on the network.
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