A family that’s lived on an off-grid homestead in rural Alaska for 80 years will be live on television every Sunday night, during each new episode of their Discovery Channel show. The Kilcher family, who have had their lives documented for seven seasons on television, will be interacting with selected fans live during episodes of Alaska: The Last Frontier (Discovery, Sundays at 9) this season.
This seems like the kind of thing that’s usually done via Facebook Live or on social media, but instead, it’s happening on linear television—during the regular episodes, starting with Sunday’s season-seven premiere.
Matt Vafiadis, the Discovery Channel’s executive in charge of the production, told me that “Discovery viewers really feel like the Kilchers are part of their family,” and “they have a great social media following, and we see so much activity online with this show, we wanted to marry the two experiences.”
The live segments will come during the podbuster act. “Podbusters” are the short segments that can be anything from a short scene to an advertisement designed to look like the show. They’re designed to get you to stop fast forwarding and watch commercials. (Groups of ads are called “pods,” and thus a podbuster breaks through what seems like just a group of skippable ads.) They’ve been around since the 2008-2009 season.)
Questions will be asked live, via Skype, though questioners will be pre-selected, pre-screened, and prepped. Fans who want to be in the pool of possible can sign up at ATLFlive.com.
Vafiadis told me that, as of Thursday night, about 150 people have signed up. “We have to have a screening process; we can’t just put anybody on TV randomly,” he said. “There has to be some kind of assurance that people that wouldn’t do anything to break any standard and practices.”
The Kilchers will choose fans from that pool of people. Because they live in a remote area, they’ll be driving about an hour away every week to a location where the production will set up a live video stream, and where a producer will assist the Kilchers.
The hope is that the Kilchers will be able to answer two or three questions in a total of two minutes—which seems like a challenge, especially considering the variable of having fans asking questions live, and potentially rambling on.
On this seventh season, besides talking to fans live, the Kilchers are undergoing “a complete homestead overhaul,” according to the network, and Vafiadis said that while “the show is baked in authenticity,” it’s challenging to keep it fresh. “After seven years, we’ve seen you do a cattle drive 17 times,” he joked.
He said the “integrity of the show [comes from] following what they’re really doing this year,” and producers know that because “we ask them”: “What are the major projects? What has to get done?” Filming is also done during the busy, more stressful time of year—i.e. not during the winter, when “they literally hibernate in their cabins,” Vafiadis said.
This live segment in in lieu of “a huge stunt, or producers forcing a weird story,” Discovery’s Vafiadis told me, adding that it’s “a fun experiment that we were excited to try.”