A Reality Show Where the Danger Is Real

Law-abiding citizens agree to live in prison, without the knowledge of inmates or staff, in A&E‘s groundbreaking (and Cynopsis TV Award-winning) docu-series 60 Days In, which launched season 3, 60 Days In: Atlanta,  on March 2. How does the show find volunteers for such dangerous duty – and how do they keep them safe?  Lucky 8 TV Co-President and Executive Producer Greg Henry talks about an eye-opening reality show with real-world impact.


Greg%20HenryCynopsis: How do you find people to participate?

Greg Henry: The casting process is both traditional and non-traditional. We build the entire program from the ground up with the law enforcement officials we’re working with – Sheriff Jamey Noel at Clark County and Chief Jailer Col. Mark Adger for the upcoming seasons at Fulton – so we first talk to them about the types of people and perspectives that would be most valuable. From there, we begin outreach to target groups and associations – law enforcement groups, victims groups, social workers, etc. – the focus being on finding the individuals whose backgrounds, opinions and personal experiences would matter most to the facility.

Meanwhile, we also entertain the more traditional route, looking at some of the folks who are both open to being on television and have a serious motivation for wanting to be part of this. It isn’t a survival series or a game show. They aren’t competing for a “prize.” So it’s important that we find those who really care about affecting change and appreciate the significance of what they’re volunteering for.

60 days inCynopsis: What emergency procedures do you put in place?

Henry: Unlike almost any other television series out there, our number one objective throughout production is – and has to be – guaranteeing the safety of the volunteers. Right before our first day of shooting on season one, I brought our crew together and told them, “Our main job is getting each and every one of our participants in and out safely. If we do that, we’ll make great television.” With that in mind, we have various processes and procedures in place for both before and during their time in jail.

Before entering the facility, all participants go through training with our production team and the jail, where they learn what to expect on the inside: “inmate etiquette,” what behavior and language to avoid, etc. Once inside, they are monitored 24/7 by our team and are equipped with both physical and verbal “distress signals” that they can use at any time if they feel threatened or need to be immediately removed from the facility. For season three, their verbal signal was talking about “wanting more TV channels,” and the physical signal was walking around their cell or unit with their hands clasped around the back of their necks.

60 days in 2Cynopsis: What is the closest call a volunteer has had?

Henry: The nature of the show is that every day is a close call for every participant. Fights break out in the units almost daily, and the undercovers are witnessing drug use at every turn, all while trying to gather intel and not blow their covers.

There isn’t a day that goes by during filming that something doesn’t raise our antennas. There’s always cause for concern, and our team is on alert 24/7, ready to react at the drop of a hat.

Cynopsis: Why is this series resonating?

Henry: Prison and jail have served as settings for television series (both docu and scripted) for decades. Viewers have had a peek into this world before, but what makes 60 Days In unique, and why we feel it’s been so successful, is the entirely new vantage point it offers. Our participants haven’t been charged with a crime; they don’t have the types of backgrounds that allow the audience to dismiss their experiences with, “well, they earned the punishment” or “they deserve it.” Viewers are seeing the world of incarceration through the eyes of people they can truly relate to, and that can be extremely eye-opening for those who didn’t previously understand what happens in these facilities.

In regards to criminal justice reform, it’s also a program that has the ability to affect real change and lead to improvements on both a local and national level. Officials and everyday citizens are gaining new insight into the issues plaguing the system. In fact, following the first two seasons, judges in Clark County began sentencing drug charges differently, based on what they saw in the series. I think viewers want to be part of the conversation and part of something special.

For seasons three and four, we’re introducing the same program on a much larger scale, in a bigger city at a bigger jail, facing far greater troubles. So while the circumstance and setup are the same, audiences are going to witness a completely different experience.

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at [email protected].

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