Thursday, August 25, 2022

Grizzly Adams TV Guide Article January 28, 1978


The computer labored and brought forth a bear. TV GUIDE January 28, 1978

The simple characters and plots of 'Grizzly Adams' are the products a highly sophisticated data-processing system

By Don Freeman

Among television producers, admittedly a diverse lot, Charles E. Sellier Jr. holds the distinction of being (1) a Mormon, which means that he is deeply family-oriented and neither smokes nor drinks and will countenance neither vice in his shows, (2) a highly trained computer programmer and (3) a proponent of the most intricate and costly audience pre-testing concepts known to the industry. Phrases such as "test bias" and "data bank" flow easily from this intense, articulate young man who is, at 34, a millionaire, a producer of more than 26 money-making movies (all G-rated and nonviolent) and NBC's highly rated animal series, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.

"I believe God wants me to do the kinds of films I do." Sellier says, “otherwise He wouldn't have made me a success." In more secular terms, Sellier puts his faith in computer technology and a testing system that he devised in 1971 and which, he says, has been "finely tuned" over the years.

"We're in the Stone Age of testing. We're making the first wheel,” Sellier says. "Someday all films will be made as we do, pretesting every step of the way. But if what we did was simple, everybody would be doing it. It’s not only complex, it requires millions of dollars. Two years ago, 20th Century Fox spent around $250,000 for testing, I spent $1 million. It’s a matter of priorities.”

Sellier is president of Sunn Classic Pictures. A native of Pascagoula, Miss., he was born a Cajun Catholic - he converted in his teens to Mormonism - and earned a reputation as a whiz kid in photography and chemistry. At 20, he poured himself into the study of computers, and, a few years later in Denver, he formed his own company, producing commercials and then feature-length films. In 1974, he joined Sunn Classic, where he installed his own computer systems.

Sitting in his bleakly antiseptic office at the Sunn Classic building in Los Angeles - his home and production facility are in Park City, Utah, a ski resort 30 miles from Salt Lake City - Chuck Sellier talked about his systems tentatively, like a man slowly pulling back the leaves of an artichoke. Some aspects of the Sellier method - the heart of the artichoke - he declines to reveal. For example: “One of the hardest elements to test is whether an audience will respond to a scene designed to be heartwarming. We can do it, but it’s our secret and I intend it to remain so.”

This vital secret is also guarded, apparently, by the computer that spins out these heartwarming scenes. It's an obvious advantage for a producer of an animal series to have a computer with sentimental leanings.

Grizzly Adams was spawned out of a Sellier movie, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, with bearded Dan Haggerty, a one-time animal trainer, portraying the mountain man of the 1850s who befriends a lovable grizzly bear-in a Sellier production, even grizzly bears are lovable. "Going into the TV spinoff, we already had a data bank from pre-testing the movie," Sellier points out. "The movie was a hit. The series couldn't miss."

After every test, the results are fed into the computer, which then disgorges printouts that run to several thousand pages. The printouts are compressed into what Sellier terms "thumbnail reports" and distributed to the director, story editor and writers for a guidance that is absolute. "We select only high-test stories, and we eliminate any negatives our audience consistently dislikes," Sellier notes.

Sellier says: "We test by carefully worded questionnaire, by open-end interview, by telephone, by video tape, by audio tape and by other ways that I'd rather not disclose. And we start with a basic fact-Grizzly Adams is a 'bimodal’ show That means its appeal is primarily to the young and the old and those are the people we test. For us, any testing of the age group in the middle wouldn't be the 'real world.’

Usually, Sellier dispatches his researchers to shopping centers across the country "We use the 'Identity mask.’ They might say they're from the Acme Research Company, never Sunn Classic or Grizzly Adams. This is to avoid test bias, people telling us what they think we want to hear. We might take the people we're testing to a nearby rented office and show them one short film about a new bicycle, another about a new soap and then a scene from Grizzly Adams. This technique is known as the 'dummy wrap.’

They don't know what's being tested and they respond more honestly. We show them actors' faces to test potential guest stars. We show them scenes from our show mixed in with scenes from other shows. We get reactions on keywords, phrases, ideas, moods, plot sequences, clothes, types of dwellings. And we prefer to test on a 21-inch screen, rather than the large screen, which is not the 'real world' for the average viewer.”

Sellier conceived of a curious but highly workable idea for testing a television storyline-he reverts to old- time radio. Actors, none with familiar voices, are hired to perform a Grizzly Adams script into a tape cassette with character names altered as though it were a radio drama. The cassette is then played for the test subjects, who are later questioned in detail. Only one actor's voice is constant in all the audio tapes and TV segments tested-it belongs to Brad Cranford, an old radio announcer who is also the spokesman for Sunn Classic in its commercials. Brad’s voice was pretested first, of course, before we used it for testing," Sellier says with a hint of a smile. 

After every test, the results are fed into the computer, which then disgorges printouts that run to several thousand pages. The printouts are compressed into what Sellier terms "thumbnail reports" and distributed to the director, story editor and writers for a guidance that is absolute. "We select only high-test stories and we eliminate any negatives our audience consistently dislikes," Sellier notes.

The cost goes up to $200,000 to test every element in a production, and from this research Sellier has acquired a bedrock of conclusions, beginning with the bear. "We tested a variety of bears, but our audiences preferred the awesome grizzly, with the big claws and the silver-tipped look. They had no fear of the grizzly because Grizzly Adams had no fear. Sellier learned that his audience delights in otters, chipmunks, beavers, skunks, but horses, surprisingly, test poorly. Instead of a horse, a burro is employed in the series. "Our audience," Sellier says, “dislikes animals being violent to humans and to other animals, and humans being violent to animals and other humans. They dislike hunting, either for sport or food - Grizzly can fish but he doesn't hunt, and he doesn't eat meat. He's portrayed as one of the first vegetarians. He wears only homespun clothes, never any animal skins. It’s not whim, it's all tested."

But there may be a measure of whim in those being tested. Sellier admits:  "We keep trying to narrow the gap between what people say and what they really mean. No testing is foolproof - not yet." Grizzly Adams share-of-audience ratings score in the high 20s, a figure that pleases Sellier. "As our testing grows more sophisticated, our ratings should rise, but we don't expect 50-plus Nielsens because we're not shooting for the total audience, just the lower- and upper-age groups."

Sellier concedes ruefully that his search was not as probing several years ago, when he produced a film called The Adventures of Frontier Fremont, which also starred Dan Haggerty. "At the end, we see Fremont from the back staring at a burned forest. He turns around and it's obvious that this man who has loved anima all through the picture is now wearing a bearskin coat. Audiences spotted it at once and they hated it."

Last year, an NBC directive instructed Sellier to put women into an episode. He contends the order was prompted by women executives at the network. "NBC has creative control of all scripts, so I went ahead against my own judgment and shot an episode we called ‘Woman in the Wilderness.’ Then we put it through testing and got a sharply negative reaction-our audience didn't want any women in the wilderness. I proved my point, but it was expensive. We scrapped half of the show, reshot the scenes involving the women and changed the emphasis to an Indian and a 12-year-old boy.” 

Visual aspects also fall under intense scrutiny. "Our audience," Sellier says, “likes waterfalls, pretty vistas and high mountain ridges, preferably with actors and animals as a part of the scene. They dislike snow, except at Christmas. What they like is eternal summer in the primeval, womanless wilderness.”

One objection to Seller's methods is voiced by his outspoken star, Dan Haggerty. "People change, the testing doesn't always hold up," Haggerty reasons. "I'd like more growth, more pizazz. Isn't it logical that Adams would fall in love with something other than that damned bear? What would be more logical for a mountain man than to have an Indian woman? But they say it wouldn't test."

Industry reaction to Sellier is mixed. Paul Klein, NBC's volatile programming chief, lauds Sellier as a "brilliant and amazing Innovator.” Grant Tinker, president of MTM Enterprises, says: “I’ll always choose visceral feeling, genuine creativity, over any computer." Norman Lear, remembering how poorly his All in the Family originally tested, says “You can learn something from this kind of testing, but I have more faith in gut instinct."

On the other hand, Orson Welles visited Sellier not long ago and, after a lengthy conversation, he said “Young man, you are light-years ahead of the rest of the industry."

Seller bestows full credit for Grizzly Adams’ success on the computer. Often, he plays chess or backgammon with the computer and invariably he loses. He is undismayed by such defeats. "With the ratings the computer brings us," Sellier says, "it seems only fair.” END

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Grizzly Adams TV Guide Article June 11, 1977


Bozo and Dan are an item! TV GUIDE JUNE 11, 1977

With the possible exception of Raymond Burr, the only TV star who ever gained more than 100 pounds in a successful network series is Ben, the bear in NBC's The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. In only 13 weeks of production, Ben, who is really a female grizzly named Bozo, ballooned up from 501 to 607 pounds because of the steady offerings of marshmallows, hot dogs and jelly sandwiches with which her trainer, Terry Rowland, rewards her after each of her acting performances.

"Also," mused trainer Rowland, "she has a tendency to put on weight when she's in love." Rowland seemed somewhat jealous. It has been no secret at the Payson, Ariz., locations where Grizzly Adams is filmed that Bozo is in love with her co-star Dan Haggerty.

And the affection shows on the screen-which may be the principal reason why the midseason entry has been one of NBC's rare pleasant surprises this year, often beating Good Times and usually running fairly close to another hit, The Bionic Woman, in its time slot. Who can forget the memorable scene in which Bozo awakened Haggerty by pulling the blanket from his bed, then chased him coquettishly through a meadow, then allowed Haggerty to chase her-equally coquettishly-and finally rolled over on her back in the grass to allow Haggerty to scratch her belly. None of this was in the script. It just happened.

There are two factors that make such sequences utterly remarkable. For one thing, every university zoologist consulted told me that the grizzly bear is the most ferocious and untamable of animals, "totally incompatible with man." Even Bozo's four bear doubles can be utilized only when their movements are restrained by charged electric wires, lest they be tempted to eat an unwary carpenter or cameraman.

The second factor in the Bozo-Haggerty relationship is that NBC and the producers of the show. Sunn Classic Productions, wisely decided to allow the part of Grizzly Adams to be played by an animal trainer rather than an actor. Haggerty, now 35, has been working with wild beasts since he was 18. With his 6-foot-1-inch weightlifter's build and all those flashing white teeth set amid that dazzling. blond-streaked beard, he looks as if he's been taking Charlton Heston lessons for years. He hasn't.

Up until just a couple of years ago, Haggerty was perfectly content dealing solely with animals. He comes from a family of Hollywood movie technicians (his father, Don Haggerty, is business representative of Local 683, the film technician's union) and he never aspired to rise above the invisible caste line that delineates the Hollywood blue-collar worker from the white-collar actor and other so-called "creative people.'

Unhappy with toiling in the confines of a film-processing darkroom, young Haggerty acquired his first wild animal, a lion cub named Simba, in 1960. Simba was then two weeks old and still on the bottle. Haggerty was 18, just a year out of high school and married to Diane Rooker, the Queen of a rival high school in Burbank. They had a daughter and another on the way. They also had a half-dog, half-fox named Lady, a decrepit cabin in the wild mountains north of Malibu- and no money.

The purchase of Simba (for whom they hocked their living-room couch) seemed crazy at the time. Haggerty had been raised in military schools because his One parents were separated; and not being allowed to possess a dog or a cat when he was a child, he had become a lion buff at zoos and circuses. He bought Simba at an animal park called Jungle Land in Thousand Oaks, Cal., with only vague ideas of how to make a living out of the beast. Simba, accordingly, became a rather large pet.

But while buying food for the pet at Jungle Land, Haggerty made the acquaintance of Stewart Raffill, an English animal trainer who was tarrying in California with an elephant, lion, bear, leopard and six chimpanzees after doing a TV series with them in Mexico. Impressed with the natural affection between Haggerty and Simba, Raffill invited the young man to join forces with him.

He moved all his animals to Haggerty's mountain retreat, gave his new partner advanced instruction in training techniques, and soon thereafter they were hired by Walt Disney to work their menagerie in the films "Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN," with Dick Van Dyke, and "Monkeys, Go Home!" starring Yvette Mimieux. (Raffill later had a long personal relationship with Yvette and gave her a pet jaguar that ate her dog and had to be donated to a zoo.)

The Raffill-Haggerty combine did well throughout the 1960s, working their animals in such films as William Holden's "The Christmas Tree" (featuring nine wolves raised from cubhood by Haggerty) and in the Ron Ely Tarzan TV series (made in Brazil with the entire menagerie). Haggerty was in Europe with the wolves when Raffill sold a script about Siberian tigers to Pat Frawley, the Schick razor millionaire who also owns Sunn Classic Pictures. The film, "When the North Wind Blows," began production near Calgary, Can ada, and Haggerty was called home to handle the tigers, Raffill was the director. Haggerty's wife, Diane, was the script supervisor.

One day Frawley was grumpily watching the daily film footage from the Canadian location and wondering why he had strayed from Sunn Classic's tried-and-true formula movies (like "Chariots of the Gods" and "In Search of Noah's Ark"). Suddenly, as he peered up at the screen, he leaned forward and said, "Who's that Mongolian?" The script supervisor, Diane, said, "That Mongolian is my husband, who is Irish. He's doing bit parts in the picture because the tigers won't listen to anyone else."

Frawley said, "Tell Raffill to make the Mongolian the star." Diane said, "We can't. We already have a star, and the picture is nearly finished." "Then make the Mongolian's part bigger," said Frawley. "He's got great screen presence.

When Frawley realized the young man really wasn't a Mongolian, he hired him for $5000-to star in another movie, "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams," based loosely on the historical character James Capen Adams, who committed a crime in 1853 and then fled into the Rocky Mountains, where he became a friend to all animals.

The real Adams wasn't that altruistic, selling his friends-of-the-forest to carnivals and circuses, but Haggerty played him with the tender loving care that had become his hallmark as an animal trainer. His acting was of pre-high-school caliber, but it didn't matter as he cavorted charmingly and naturally with raccoons, owls, rabbits, skunks, foxes, bobcats, porcupines, mountain lions-and especially with Bozo, the grizzly bear with whom it was a case of love at first sight.

Bozo is owned by Lloyd Beebe, a famous animal impresario in the state of Washington, but no one knows her origins. Now 10 years old, she was found by Beebe working in a circus, but she obviously had been raised from infancy as someone's pet. Puzzled scientists have studied her to try to determine how the natural ferocity of her breed has somehow been exorcized from her genes. No previous grizzly has ever been docile enough to work without restraint in films or elsewhere. Gentle Ben (of the old TV series of that name) was a much more domesticable black bear.

In any event, the chemistry between Haggerty and Bozo was such that Frawley's little $140,000 film earned over $65,000,000 at the box office. It was bought by NBC as a feature movie for television, and when it aired on the network last year, its ratings were high enough to make the NBC brass very excited. In the network's desperate struggle to catch up with ABC in the Nielsens, a Grizzly Adams regular weekly series then became inevitable. Sunn Classic rushed back into production and Haggerty and Bozo became TV stars.

The series was kicked off with a second theatrical movie, "The Adventures of Frontier Fremont," which Haggerty, in the meantime, had made for Sunn Classic. The genre being what it is, Frontier Fremont was indistinguishable from Grizzly Adams and NBC didn't worry about it.

Today, Haggerty still has difficulty comprehending what has happened to him. I met him for lunch recently at the super posh Bel-Air Hotel and he unhinged the staid doorman by arriving in a pickup truck and wearing the hand-sewn leather clothing he makes for himself-both for on-screen and off-screen use. At lunch, he marveled at his sudden popularity as a talk show guest with Dinah, Johnny, Merv and the rest; but it was obvious that the animal work in his own show still interests him far more than the acting.

He talked excitedly about how eight trainers are needed in the series, each a specialist in handling birds, small animals, large animals and such.

"With a small animal like a bobcat," he explained, "you can teach him a certain trick like knocking over a pot, and he learns that when he does it on cue--the sound of a buzzer-he gets rewarded with food. In the show, when you see a cute bunny hopping toward you or a cute skunk sitting up and staring directly into the camera, a trainer is right behind him, buzzing his buzzer. That's how we got that great scene where a grizzly bear-not Bozo-stands up with his front paws on the edge of the roof of my cabin, and a raccoon drops a pinecone on his head. We made the bear reach up for some hidden meat on the roof, and the raccoon dropped the pinecone when his trainer pressed the buzzer."

But mostly, during that lunch, Haggerty talked about Bozo, his one-of-a-kind grizzly-bear co-star. "We couldn't do the show without her," he said. Bozo, lunching somewhere with other bears, would probably be saying the same thing about Haggerty. (END)