Behind the fear with Panic Button’s Kevin Healey

The series exec producer says the reality series brings something new to the table by making contestants compete against themselves to overcome their fears.

Getting Panic Button through the often-horrifying maze of development, production and financing has been nothing to panic about, says series exec producer and writer Kevin Healey.

Indeed, the reality show, which pits individuals against a four-level labyrinth designed to make them face their greatest fears, including confinement, germs and all sorts of creepy crawlers, has enjoyed the support of Bell Media, who was quick to snatch it up and commission a 10-episode first season.

“I’ve had a great relationship with Bell,” Healey tells Playback.

“They embraced Scare Tactics, turned it into a hit [in Canada] and gave it a whole new audience. So we walked in with our crazy idea and they bought it in the room,” he adds.

Since then, Panic Button, which was inspired by the rise in popularity of so-called extreme haunted houses in the northeastern U.S., has only gained traction, adding eOne as a distributor.

Despite still being in production, the show has also attracted early attention from international producers.

“The promotional stuff has been coming to us, because it’s leaked a little bit about what we’re doing,” says Healey.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls from producers in Germany, Japan, Israel, the U.K., South America and French Canada asking when they can do the show,” he adds.

But Healey hopes that interested countries will produce their versions of the format in Canada, as opposed to buying the rights and producing their versions of the format domestically.

“The idea is actually that the world is going to come to us. We’ll have the standing set. People will come and we’ll produce it here,” he explains.

“If we can bring other countries into the format, the show can be personalized. There are things that are culturally frightening that differ from country to country,” he continues, adding that this makes him confident that Panic Button will sell internationally.

Healey also believes that the format will be appealing because it brings something new to the table.

“What separates this from other shows I’ve worked on or am a fan of is that people are playing against themselves,” he says.

“There’s no prize here. It’s about whether or not you’re going to be able to overcome your personal fear,” he adds.

Of course, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Panic Button crew.

Production has been particularly taxing for the show’s art department, which has to make quick set changes to personalize parts of the labyrinth for each individual contestant, as well as from episode to episode to fit general fear themes.

Casting was also a lengthy process, requiring five months and thousands of applicants to complete.

Applicants were subject to rigorous testing, including physical and behavioural tests, resulting in about 50% being rejected.

Panic Button is produced by 11 Television Canada in association with Bell Media. The series is directed by Leo Scherman and produced by Jonathan Dueck.  Healey and Jesse Fawcett are executive producers.

Shooting in Toronto wraps up Oct. 19, and the series is slated to bow in early 2013 on Space.