Syfy will kick off Season 5 of the hit reality series Scare Tactics with the Season 5 premiere on Monday, October 10 at 9 PM ET. Series host Tracy Morgan recently held a conference call with executive producer Scott Hallock to discuss the new season. Here's what they had to say below.
What do you think it is about Scare Tactics that keeps people tuning in?
Scott Hallock: I think first and foremost Scare Tactics is a comedy show and that's what people love about it. I think the viewers love being in on the joke because it's really only a scary show for one person and that person's been setup by their friend or family member for this kind of thrilling adventure. And as viewers, we're kind of all in on the joke. We meet the friend, before the prank we find out why they want to setup their friend and then we get kind of taken along on the ride so we're kind of watching it like a horror movie. We all know, oh no, don't go in that room or don't lift that up or don't listen to that guy. We all know kind of what's about to happen even though we don't fully know how the thing's going to play out. So I think the joy of kind of being in on the joke and then also putting yourself in the place of the mark or the victim is kind of like geez, how would I react in that situation is a big part of what keeps bringing people back to the show. It's like oh my gosh, if I was in that situation and Bigfoot was right outside my trailer, how would I react? I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't scream. I think most people think they wouldn't do that but we've had so many people who are fans of the show then become victims of the show and they're like oh my gosh, I watch that show all the time and I've always said I would never react that way. I would never be that idiot and now look at me, I'm that idiot.
I wanted to know how difficult is it to pull off scares this time of year because people might anticipate these type of things around Halloween?
Scott Hallock: It's not as hard as you would think. Because we do a good job of telling a very convincing back story, and plus we do have the help of everyone's friends. Everyone is setup by a friend or a family member on Scare Tactics so we do enlist them to tell a very convincing kind of back story. And 90% of the bits that we do on Scare start out as some sort of a part-time job or something that people are going to just for a couple hours. They're going to go help someone out for a couple hours. They're going to go babysit for a couple hours or they're going to go to a warehouse and just pack some boxes for a couple hours and so the things that we're doing never start out creepy. It starts out as a fairly normal situation and then it just takes a turn so that's the key to pulling these, no one's showing up to a haunted house and then we have to try to scare them. If we were doing that, it might be a little more challenging. People are showing-up to what looks like a normal situation and then it turns crazy so I think that's where we have an advantage is that they're not expecting it. And the great thing about our show is that we do kind of scare people with the unexpected and it really fits in with the Syfy brand in that way. It really fits in with the whole Imagine Greater idea. Imagination plays a big role in what we do. People show up to what looks like a very normal - like in our premier episode - Tracy is in the first bit and the victim shows up to help us test out what's going to be a new museum exhibit. And Tracy is on video playback as a tour guide for this new exhibit featuring the ancient remains of these Egyptian pharaohs and you would never expect something with Tracy Morgan attached and you would never to expect something to go wrong in that situation and yet it spins out of control. One of the mummies comes to life and scares the crap out of this guy. It ends-up being very effective in that sense.
I was reading the press release for the premiere and I think the deadly mist would probably frighten me the most because it sounds believable. What can you tell me about that setup?
Scott Hallock: Into the mist, in the premiere episode there's a great lab experiment where the I think they're doing an experiment with cryonics and the mist fills this room and there's a mix-up - there's some sort of mix-up - as what usually happens in our lab experiments with a partner who got cut out of the deal and now he's angry. And so then he ends up trapping his partner in the room with the mist and he turns on the valve and the mist comes and the guy's trapped in there and he's getting frozen and then gets a mysterious force like sucks him back into the mist. And so it's not only freezing but something unseen sucks him back into the mist so it's freezing and scary and an unseen force all rolled into one.
You mentioned that comedy can be a big part of this and that do you feel is the formula for good comedic TV? Do you think that element of surprise and that, you know, authentic reaction to people kind of add to that formula?
Scott Hallock: Oh yes, absolutely. The authentic reaction from people is what makes the show. Just because you're not going to get this kind of release, you're not going to get this kind of genuine reaction from people who are acting. The only way you're going to get this kind of satisfying reaction is by springing this kind of prank on someone who doesn't know what's going on and that's the only way we get the kind of screams we do. I mean, we get like B-movie horror screams out of real people and it's one of the amazing things that this show does and it's just because our actors and our writers and our directors do such a great job of telling such a real and believable story and so these people get sucked into this situation and they are believing it and they scream their heads off and that's why I was saying earlier, it's only a scary show for one person. The rest of us who are in on the joke, it's a comedy show and we get it and we take very seriously for that one person we want it to be a thrill ride. Even though it's scary for them, at the end of it, we liken the show to a roller coaster ride. At the end of it, we want it to be a good experience for them. We want them at the end of it to oh my god, that was so much fun, let's do it again so with that in mind, if someone is deathly afraid of spiders, we won't terrify them with spiders, like we want to thrill someone with something that they're going to - a thrill ride - that they're going to enjoy and then at the end of it they're going to go oh my god that was fun, let's do it again.
So personally which scare tactic would frighten you the most do you think?
Scott Hallock: I grew up in the Northwest so Bigfoot was a big thing for me growing up so I am deathly afraid of - not deathly afraid - but noises in the woods and kind of the unseen in the dark woods like The Blair Witch Project was scary to me, like being in a tent and hearing things going on outside is very creepy to me and definitely Bigfoot. I can remember going with a friend out in the woods when I was very young and like being convinced we saw Bigfoot so that one really resonates for me so any of the creature kind of the dark woods and creatures in the woods, that kind of stuff is especially creepy for me.
Scott Hallock: I think it goes back to the whole comedy aspect of it. Tracy was the perfect fit because we've always considered Scare to be a comedy show and to have someone like Tracy setting-up these bits and to bring his particular brand of comedy to the host wraps I think was just a match made in heaven for the show. He is so funny in the way he sets these bits up and the way that he kind of is able to gently poke fun at people after they react and the way that he reacts to them coming out of the bits I think is really fun. I'm trying to look up one particular example from the mummy bit we do in the opening episode where Tracy plays a tour guide for a mummy exhibit and then we have a killer mummy that comes to life and scares the life out of someone. And the reason he's being the tour guide for this mummy exhibit is that he's somehow related to these ancient pharaohs and blah, blah, blah, blah and so coming out of that bit at the end of it Tracy says, "That mummy's always joking around at my family reunions but that potato salad, mmmm, but his potato salad, mmmm, that's no joke." So that's a fun little tag to that bit and Tracy pulls it off like no one else could and that's fun and that adds a level of entertainment value to the show, that is just I think value added for the viewer. I mean, not only are you getting great entertainment I think out of Tracy's wraps but then the bits have got to deliver as well and so I think with Tracy as the host, I think we're definitely firing on all comedy cylinders.
What kind of pranks will they be seeing this season?
Scott Hallock: Very funny ones. I'll tell you what kind of pranks we'll be seeing. I mentioned the mummy one that Tracy will actually be appearing in in the premiere episode. Hold on, let me pull-up the list. One thing you can't escape on television these days are these ads for the erectile dysfunction pills and so we do our take on that on what if there was an erectile dysfunction pill that worked a little bit too well and we do a bit called Size Splatters. And it's a victim comes in to an experimental laboratory to test out a new male enhancement pill and he's there with a guy who has taken the pill about ten minutes before him. We convince our victim to take the pill and then the guy who took the pill ten minutes before him starts feeling some discomfort. He's like oh geez, this doesn't feel good then the crotch area of his pants starts to balloon uncomfortably and then eventually explodes and blood goes everywhere so that one's a little bit crazy fun with the ED pills that we have. We have fun with alien plant spores from outer space. We have, of course, our great selection of creatures both alien creatures, reptile creatures. We have a werewolf. We have - did I mention the alien spores - alien spores from outer space. Oh, we have a new dog collar - an experimental dog collar - that when modified the dog collar - explodes and causes someone's head to blow off so that's a cool new effect we have coming up for this season. We've got a lot of really cool stuff that I think the fans of Scare Tactics - some new territory - I think that the fans of Scare Tactics will really appreciate, some new creatures and new effects that everyone will really appreciate.
What goes into setting these pranks up from the minute that the person calls you and says hey, I have a friend who needs to be pranked, to the finished product? What goes into that?
Scott Hallock: There's a pretty lengthy casting process that I don't really want to give away our secrets too much about how we find our people and stuff but we definitely make sure that the people that are showing up that night to be pranked are appropriate for our show and we've gotten to know them as best we can through the process - through our casting process - we've actually gotten to know this person a little bit. And they don't know that when they're showing-up that night, they have no idea that they're coming to be on Scare Tactics. They just know they're coming with their friend to either take a job or help out at a lab or help out babysitting or do something like that. So we come up with these ideas a month before we start shooting and then as we meet people, we start plugging them in to the bits that seem appropriate for the particular people that we meet. So if someone is into aliens we'll put them in one of our alien bits. If someone is into vampires, we'll put them in a vampire bit but like I was saying earlier, if someone is deathly afraid of spiders or snakes, we won't put them in a spider or snake bit, we'll keep them away from that. Because the goal is at the end of it, everyone has a good time, everyone had a fun - a good thrill ride - basically because no one has fun if they end-up at the end of the bit curled up in the fetal position and rocking back and forth in the corner. That's not good for anybody so a lot of planning and execution goes into scaring people safely and making sure that everyone had a good time.
So I'm wondering in some of the pranks it seems like you could push the envelope even more by allowing the prank to continue longer but sometimes it seems like you stop it before things get out of hand. Is that a conscious decision that producers do or is it just maybe because of time constraints?
Scott Hallock: It's a little bit of both. All these bits are meant to play out, we have four bits in an episode and most of them are like four-and-a-half-minute vignettes, four-and-a-half-minute scenes. And we definitely want to make sure that it's an enjoyable thrill ride for everybody and so definitely when we get to the point where someone's at their most scared, we're pretty much at the reveal. We don't want to keep someone scared out of their mind for a long, long period of time. Basically when we get someone at their most scared, that's when you basically - we call it inflating the balloon - you've inflated the balloon to its bursting point and that's when you want to burst the balloon and say you're on Scare Tactics because that's when you're going to get the big reaction of oh my god, I can't believe it so that's why we do that. You really want that person to have a good time in the end and so that's the point when you want to reveal, I don't know that you get anything more out of the bit by keeping it going when the person's so scared and I think if you did keep it going when someone was truly scared and really just I think people would start to turn off to it a little bit and it would start to seem a little bit too mean and not enjoyable. So I think it's fun watching people get right up to that moment and then at that moment you tell them it's all a joke, you're okay and you're on Scare Tactics and then everyone can kind of enjoy and then you like to see that person bounce back and say oh my god, that was so much fun I can't believe my friend set me up, let's do it again. And one of the biggest sources of new victims for the show is past victims, like people after they've been on the show come to us and basically say I've got five friends I want to setup. Here are their names and phone numbers and that's how we get a lot of our new people on the show.
Now when you're brainstorming for ideas, have there ever been pranks that you would have liked to have done on the show but maybe for certain situations or reasons you didn't do, maybe they were a little too mean-spirited or something like that?
Scott Hallock: Oh yes, I mean, we always edit ourselves and certainly if something seems like umm, no, that goes a little bit too far or that doesn't seem like fun or that's not in the spirit of the show, we'll certainly throw those out. Again, it's supposed to be a thrill ride. It's supposed to be a roller coaster and at the end people are supposed to get off and say that was a good time so everyone on the writing staff and stuff, all the writers and producers are pretty much on the same page of what makes a good scare bit. And so everyone knows what kinds of bits to pitch and what makes a good Scare Tactics bit and everyone knows what kind of bits not to pitch and what kind of bits wouldn't - what kind of bits are too mean - and what wouldn't make a good scare bit I think.
Do you think you're more keen on being pranked yourself from being involved with the show?
Scott Hallock: Definitely. I think with the - and this isn't an open invitation for people to try and prank me - but I think it would be hard to trick me. I think I'm a little bit aware especially for a hidden camera show to try and trick me. I think it would be very difficult to try and prank me because I'm very well-versed in what the hides look like, what the ruses are, what the setups are. It's not impossible but the thing is we tend to play our pranks on very young people as it is because anyone over the age of 25 tends to ask too many questions anyway. People are a little bit too street smart, they've been through too much. They know a little bit too much and we've certainly lost bits because we've been playing a prank on the wrong kind of person. We've actually had been playing a prank on someone who told us our blood was the wrong color for where the wound was. Oh no, no, no. If someone was cut right there, the blood would be a different color because it's actually on its way back to the heart and it hasn't been oxygenated yet so it'd be more blue-colored. Oh, okay, thanks for that. Next, so that's a bad victim for us because they know too much. We need very unsuspecting people who are not very world-wise who are more apt to believe what we're telling them than others so younger people tend to work better for us, younger people are very trusting. And it also helps that they're being brought into our situation by their friend because they're being brought into a situation, their friend has supposedly vetted it for them and their guard's up a little bit but they're apt to kind of trust what's going on a little bit. But we still have people almost every time who for whatever reason call into question - no, no, I won't say almost every time - occasionally, occasionally we do get that person who questions what we're doing and then we just move in. Every time we do these bits, we pull these pranks on a number of people every time we shoot them just to make sure that we get the best possible reaction because occasionally you are going to get that person who's not going to believe that there's vampires outside trying to get into the house and bite them they're just not going to believe it.
Along the same lines of what you're talking about about the guy who was still pretending that he was hurt when he wasn't, have you ever had anybody that really was hurt that got hurt during the ruse?
Scott Hallock: We've been really lucky. I'm knocking on wood now that we have an excellent safety record on Scare Tactics where we've managed to pull off all these crazy bits and not get anyone injured.
I was wondering out of all the episodes of Scare Tactics that you've done in the past two seasons, which one do you think would have scared you the most and why?
Tracy Morgan: Oh, dude. I can't think. I don't want to single one out. They're all hilarious. They're all scary. It's a great shock value but I can't just - I don't think I could just pick one out and say this one scared me the most because they're all great. But one comes to mind and that's the devil baby and that the first season I did when a baby comes out and it was just hilarious and the one with the little rat boy and the guy just was so afraid and it was just funny, I just thought it was hilarious that people were so afraid of it.
What do you think the link is to comedy and fear or why is it so funny to watch somebody get scared?
Tracy Morgan: I think it's because it's not happening to us. I think we laugh because it's not happening to us. I mean, being frightened - when someone else is being frightened - it's funny to us because we're not the ones being frightened sort of like voyeurism. If you see someone slip on some ice, you will crack up because you're not the one slipping on ice.
How do you think Tracy Jordan would react if Jack set him up on Scare Tactics?
Tracy Morgan: Oh, I have no idea what Tracy Jordan would do. I mean, that's a character, that's an image on TV. I could tell you what Tracy Morgan would do but I don't know what Tracy Jordan would do.
Since the show Scare Tactics site preys on people's fears and the things they are afraid of most. What are some things that you as Tracy Morgan are afraid of?
Tracy Morgan: What am I afraid of? Oh, the IRS.
Have you had any scary experiences with the IRS?
Tracy Morgan: Have not so far. Good news.
What can we expect from this season on your end? What can we look forward to?
Scott Hallock: And in the premiere episode, Tracy's in the first episode as a tour guide for a new museum company that is launching a new exhibit and Tracy plays the tour guide because he's related to this ancient pharaoh and then we should know...
Tracy Morgan: Yes, I get to act in some of the scares a little bit more this season.
Scott Hallock: Yes, and once you know that the mummy in the museum tour comes to life and scares the crap out of someone.