How do you produce a reality show set on a South Texas ranch, while staying within Hollywood’s thirty-mile zone?
Vince Cariati, executive producer and showrunner of “Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge,” found the answer on a movie ranch in Agua Dulce.
“When we were developing the pilot, I had a conversation with Steve Austin about the need to produce the show on unforgiving terrain,” Cariati said, adding that since he’s been shooting here for a decade, he’s familiar with what’s available.
“What people don’t realize about Santa Clarita is how many different looks you can get,” he said. “I’ve shot at Old Town Newhall Ice Company, which has its own special look. Up at Castaic Lake, you can get a nice beachy look, and then at the Upper Lake, almost an industrial look.
Locations in the Santa Clarita Valley “can have twenty different visual personalities. It’s representative of California as a whole, where you can go from ski slopes to vineyards to the beach with ease.”
Cariati’s previous credits include producing “Dude, What Would Happen,” which aired on Cartoon Network from 2009 to 2011, as a senior supervising producer on “Whodunnit,” on ABC in 2013.
Cariati described the current show as “by far the toughest competition show on television,” and not one “that you can set up with some truss in a parking lot. We wanted a location which was arid, hot, windy, dusty, almost post-apocalyptic, conditions that would be in lock step with the difficulty level of the challenges we were going to throw at the athletes. Agua Dulce in Santa Clarita gives us just that.”
Steve Austin sold the actual Broken Skull Ranch, near Tilden, Texas, earlier this year, but retained rights to the name. Even when he owned the ranch, practical considerations helped bring the production to Santa Clarita.
“Being inside the thirty-mile zone is huge from a budgetary view,” Cariati said. “We’re a cable show, and we’ve never had a massive budget. As long as we watch our costs, we have the freedom we need.”
By union contracts, production costs are lower in the thirty-mile zone, also known as the studio zone, in part because producers don’t have to pay travel allowances to production crews. It was originally defined as a circle centered on the intersection of West Beverly Boulevard and North La Cienega Boulevard, then the site of the offices of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
The zone’s boundaries, expanded from six to 30 miles in 1970, have since been tweaked. Agua Dulce and Castaic were among locations added in 2010.
“Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge” is in its fifth season, which will include ten episodes on CMT, formerly Country Music Television, a unit of Viacom. The basic cable channel now broadcasts a mix of original reality programs and scripted series, off-network syndicated shows, and movies.
The show pits groups of eight contestants, either all men or all women, in a series of physical challenges. Contestants have athletic backgrounds, including CrossFit, Spartan Racers, Tough Mudder, mixed martial arts, and pro wrestling. The winner faces an obstacle course called the Skullbuster.
The first contestant in the series to successfully complete all elements of the Skullbuster wins $10,000, is declared champion, and sets the time to beat for subsequent contestants. Season five will debut Tuesday, Sept. 26.
“I’ve got kind of a love affair with Santa Clarita,” Cariati said. “I’ve always gravitated toward outside-the-box productions and big-swing shows, and they tend to require big open spaces to pull off. The Santa Clarita Valley provides that.”