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Interview by Jose Chung.
Stephen Chao was a producer who worked for the FOX network from 1986 to 1995. During this time he created Americaís Most Wanted and COPS. A lesser known fact, He was also a contestant on Takeshiís Castle and made two pilots for an American version of Takeshiís Castle. Both were called King of the Mountain. The series was never picked up but one of the two pilots aired in 1990. Stephen graciously sat down and talked about his experience as both a Contestant and a Co-Creator.
Jose Chung: How did you become a producer for the FOX network?
Stephen Chao: Well I was working for the mergers and acquisitions department of Newscorp. When Rupert Murdoch Acquired the FOX network and I asked if I could be moved to the production department.
Jose Chung: How did you first come across Takeshiís Castle?
Stephen Chao: I started making television shows for Fox Television in 1986, Shows like Americaís Most Wanted and COPS. I had a fascination with what was at the time called non-scripted television now reality television from both American and foreign markets. I had gotten a hold of a tape some how and Takeshiís Castle just caught my eye.
Jose: How did you end up as a contestant on the show?
Stephen: I contacted a friend of mine who sold television in Japan and he contacted Nippon Television who was a producer for the show and said that FOX was interested in buying the rights for an American version. We had a lot of legal questions primarily "How is it no one is ever hurt with all these dangerous stunts?" and I thought the best way for those questions to be answered was to go over and test out the show for myself.
Jose: Do you remember anything about being on the show?
Stephen: There were 40 or 50 different sets and they chose 6 to shoot in the course of the day. Even though I donít remember which games I played I remember it being a lot of fun. The cultural difference that stood out is these dangerous events played in Japan, The liability and the waivers that are unavoidable in the U.S. were completely dismissed in Japan. There were certainly injuries on the show, never anything to severe a dislocated shoulder or two, but the Japanese felt no need for any kind of waiver.
Jose: Tell us a little about the first King Of The Mountain Pilot.
Stephen: After I was on the show I said Lets make the show. We had a football Player named John Matuszak as the Host. It had too much of a Paul Bunyan sensibility than a Takeshiís Castle sensibility. It was fun but it didnít have the fun and lightheartedness that the Japanese show had. King of the Mountain was more of a contest, sort of a battle of the network stars type show. Long story short it missed the fun quotient to a significant point where we decided not to make it into a series.
Jose: How did the second pilot for "King" come about?
Stephen: I think by the time I had made the first pilot and looked at it with the rest of the FOX executives we still loved the Japanese show and still wanted to catch that sensibility. The problem with the first King of the Mountain pilot was it just wasnít as good as the Takeshiís Castle show. We said we canít give up lets try it again. Lets just try to make it less of a competition and more fun. At this point Matuszak had died so we decided to have two hosts instead of one.
Jose: Why did the second pilot air if FOX had no intention of picking up the series?
Stephen: Well we didnít know that we werenít going to pick it up for a series. Sometimes as programmers were wrong about what the audience thinks. Maybe you think its bad but the audience may love it. We decided to show the pilot and unfortunately it did not get great reviews so we abandoned the show altogether.
Jose: When we screened the pilot at the Japanese Game show Forums one major complaint that we had with the show was the lack of characters. Why were there no characters in either King of the Mountain pilot?
Stephen: From an American standpoint, or rather my programming standpoint the main attraction of the show was the stunts. I had never seen anything like that before on television. While I liked the Japanese characters, I couldnít necessarily find any use for them. I didnít want to just use characters because the Japanese version had characters unless I could find some genuine use for them in the show.
Jose: If you could do a Takeshiís Castle Pilot for a U.S. market again what, if anything, would you do differently?
Stephen: Too tell you the truth, having made two Iím honestly worn out by it even though it was 20 years ago. I think that there are two things that make it hard to replicate, one is that U.S. liability makes it so hard to shoot. If someone gets hurt youíre forced to shut down production. When we shot the first pilot we had a contestant dislocate his arm, he was very nice about it but it did slow down production for a while. That doesnít happen in Japan. People would be injured regularly in Japan and they just shook it off. The second being Japan has a sense of Goofy, Shameful, But still honorful quality that is hard to replicate. You see it when they get run over by a boulder that odd emotion which is painful but still really sweet, I think Americans react differently to that, now I suppose we could have done something differently. But the cultural difference makes it really hard to replicate, imitate maybe but not replicate. Takeshiís Castle is perfect the way it is in Japan.
Jose: Do you think King of the Mountain could work in todayís market?
Stephen: I think a lot of things work it todayís market that shouldnít. You know there are a lot of channels now. Unless you can make it as good as/or better than the original I donít really see how it could work in America.
Jose: Thank You Stephen for talking about your experience on this wonderful show.
Stephen: My pleasure.
I want to thank Stephen Chao for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk about his experiences with Takeshiís Castle. This interview is an Exclusive of the Keshi Kingdom and is not to be posted anywhere without written permission.