Paramount+ is stepping away from the fast food delight of reality television and embracing a more slow-cooked approach with its docu-series Couples Therapy.
The show features three couples speaking with clinical psychotherapist Marryam Chehelnabi about their relationship issues. The concept could easily have turned into a soap opera worthy of a thousand clickbait headlines, but instead, it really dives into the complexities of relationships.
It’s less salacious reveals and more dealing with real issues, yet the show is incredibly compelling in a much quieter way.
Watching Couples Therapy feels less soap opera and more intimate. You feel like you are watching genuine therapy sessions, and there aren’t good guys and bad guys. Just people trying to work out how to love each other.
Sarah Thornton (main photo) is head of popular factual at Network 10 and the executive producer of Couples Therapy. She’s also known for bringing out the humanity in any show she gets her magic hands on.
Still, picking something that is slower is always a risk. So how did a show like Couples Therapy come to be? In our high-drama reality television times, why did Paramount+ see the space for something more intimate?
Thornton explained: “In terms of what we are commissioning in the non-scripted space, we are so interested in the doco-reality space.
“What I love about Couples Therapy is that it is an example of premium production value. It brings so much authenticity to the experience. It felt like a good way to start our journey on paramount.”
The journey, of course, involved a much more hands-off approach than traditional reality television. No producers were whispering in contestants’ ears, and there was no accidentally interfering cameraman to remind contestants they were on a show.
Contestants sat in a therapy room where they couldn’t see any visible crew and spoke about their problems to a therapist in a room that looked just like any therapist’s office. It was actually filmed in a way where contestants could fairly say they forgot they were being filmed.
Thornton explained: “The production model for this show is incredible; there is no production intervention, and no producers in the room.
“The crew are behind a mirror wall, so you can’t even tell where a camera is when you are in the room.”
Naturally, this experience isn’t normal in the world of show business, and it took some self-control for someone like Thornton, a serial television creator, to let go of the production, “It’s so stressful! It requires a really experienced team to take their hands off the wheel and instead find the content in the edit.
“We really had to allow the show to play out and not interfere.”
So, who does Thornton want the show to connect with? Well, the short answer is everyone. Thornton feels strongly that the show has a broad appeal.
She said: “People, who are interested in people. It’s not fast; you have to sometimes sit with the discomfort that these relationships bring out. Who hasn’t sat at a dinner with another couple and hasn’t thought, what goes on behind closed doors?”
Like many shows that get commissioned in Australia, Couples Therapy is an international beast. So how does the Aussie version differ from the British version?
Thornton said: “Aussies express ourselves quite differently to Americans. We are far more direct! We are much more practical in the way we discuss our feelings. We are equally dramatic, but there’s a lot of silence and stoicism that really is quite moving.”
Couples Therapy is streaming from Tuesday 26th (Today) on Paramount+.