Celebrity House 3 casting as Sober House ends; producer says it’s “exponentially more challenging”

Sober House, the more harrowing, compelling, and entertaining spin-off of Celebrity Rehab, concludes its nine-episode run tonight, even as producers are working on Celebrity Rehab 3.

Before the finale, I talked to executive producer John Irwin, who produces both shows. “There’s no question that Sober House is exponentially more challenging from a production standpoint,” he said, comparing the “contained environment” of Celebrity Rehab to the “pretty ambitious experience” of documenting the sober living facility. Irwin, who’s just starting to cast a third season of Celebrity Rehab (more on that below), said that he hopes to do Sober House 2, because “in a lot of ways, I think Sober House is more compelling than Celebrity Rehab. It really is where the real work begins with these guys.”

Using “a crew for every person,” crews that sometimes doubled-up to cover certain events, producers shot 2,500 to 3,000 hours of footage for just nine 43-minute episodes. “At the end of the day, you never know when something’s going to happen. You shoot endlessly,” Irwin told me.

During production, Irwin said producers “walk a very fine line because we’re really trying to maintain a fly on the wall situation. What we generally do, if it is a dangerous situation, we will tip Drew or Jen off. Because we’re really trying not to much with the fabric of what really is. I encourage all of the camera guys and all of those people, ‘Your job is to do nothing but keep that camera rolling.’ There’s very little contact between the crew and the cast.”

But he added that “everybody on the crew is instructed that if anybody sees anything that looks truly unsafe, they give us a heads-up for sure. Way more important than television.” Because “first and foremost is everybody’s safety, and that trumps everything. And truthfully, that’s partly why the decision was made to call the police that night on Stephen Adler. Nobody wanted to do that, truthfully,” but between the drugs and the fact that “his behavior was out of control, so there was no option there.”

The celebrities, who are paid for their appearance on the show, also benefit from the cameras, he said. “There’s no question they help keep them sober,” because “primarily, there’s a huge level of accountability,” and “since there is the element that this is going to be a televised experience, it forces them to stay in the game longer with us, and that’s ultimately what you look for in treatment. You want to just get people over a certain hump, so they really start to take on their treatment and take it seriously.”

And of course, even with that, there were still relapses. Still, Irwin said the show helps to humanize addicts. “No matter how bad these people appear to be, and I think that a lot of addicts get a lot of negative stigma as being people who are just out of control and without morals and scruples, you get them off the drugs and alcohol, you start to do do treatment, you’re like, ‘God, these people are just like you and I.’ I can’t say that there are any one of these people that I don’t feel some attachment to,” he said.

The series has occasionally broken the fourth wall as the celebrities reference the cameras, which Irwin said happens because “we’re documenting something that is real and authentic, and to that end, what really happened always turned out to be the most interesting, and if it involved something with cameras, that need to be part of the story.”

For Celebrity Rehab 3, producers are just now looking at possible cast members. When I asked if Jeff Conaway, who appeared on both seasons, would return, Irwin said, “probably not,” but “We’re just sort of starting to look at casting stuff. It’s not totally out of the question.”

As to the cast, celebrities are “starting to” contact the show rather than the other way around, and that “a lot of celebrities see the benefit of doing the show,” he told me. “I’m certainly not concerned about finding people; I don’t have anybody who’s confirmed yet.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.