The first time I felt like someone was really capitalizing on skateboarders, or at least in a way that felt somewhat inauthentic, was watching the MTV show Scarred. If you don’t remember, it aired from 2006-07 and centered on viral-ish videos of skateboarders, BMXers, and rollerbladers breaking their wrists, sacking handrails, and bleeding all over the place.
Like Jackass meets Hall of Meat, but with less nudity.
I still liked the show, but since it didn’t seem to be made by “action sports” people, and had things like the lead singer of Papa Roach as the deranged host, I always wondered where Scarred came from.
After some advanced Googling, I got in touch with the show’s former executive producer and director, a guy named Brian Nashel, and sat down with him in his New York office to rehash Scarred‘s life and death. If you were ever curious how a show like this got made, or just whether the hospitalized kids on it got paid, hopefully we answered everything below.
I know every episode of Scarred had a disclaimer that told kids not to send in videos, but did they send stuff in anyways?
We didn’t give them a place to send it. And if they did send it to like 1515 Broadway [MTV headquarters], we wouldn’t look at it. It was kind of frustrating, we wanted to fish for them but we couldn’t invite people to send in clips. MTV didn’t want us to seem like we were encouraging people to bust their ass.
The bread and butter were these kids that we would find where his bone is sticking through his hand. Like, awesome, we need to find that kid.
We had a dude who had a seizure. I think that’s the longest clip I ever let play on any show. It was like 48 minutes, unedited, while this dude is having a seizure and his girlfriend is screaming and some good samaritan is trying to help. It was unnerving.
We had to submit a lot of stuff to standards and practices before we even tried to air it or waste our time cutting it. And we also had to make these deals with everybody who had a head injury to say, “Well, I used to only wear a helmet half the time, but now I wear one all the time.” People were kind of freaked out by the show. I think our tagline was “the most painful show on TV.”
So to get away with some of the more brutal clips, you had to encourage kids to wear helmets?
Yeah, that was a deal because they would shoot down some of our clips because they were too traumatic or too gory. So the deal we made with them was like these are learning experiences for these guys so they’re not going to try 30 stairs again without a helmet.
Where did the original idea for Scarred come from?
There was a longtime MTV development executive producer named Bob Kusbit, I think he was the brains behind TRL. Through an odd connection with his agent’s wife, they had a kid who was watching all these crash videos on YouTube and Break.com. She said to her husband, look at these kids busting their asses and talk to your client, Bob Kusbit, and see if there’s a show here. Bob looked at it and came up with a tagline that was basically like, “America’s Funniest Home Videos on steroids.”
He brought me into a meeting and personally I didn’t like the idea of an America’s Funniest Home Videos, it seemed really cheap. So we went through some different iterations but ultimately we set up six interviews. We tracked down the people in the best clips on YouTube or Break.com and said, hey, could we come out and interview you about this clip?
Some clips were taped on flip phones, so we might have 37 seconds of an amazing break—the scream is amazing, there’s a lot of blood—so we would get artsy shots of parts of their faces and the scars to fill in the time.
We came up with a pilot and sat down with Tony Disanto, who was the president of MTV at the time, and we showed him two or three of what we called “scar stories.” Everybody was still expecting some clips strung together with circus music. Nobody thought we could take that little amount of video and cut something substantial that would really give them a visceral reaction to these breaks. I feel like we did that.
How did that first pilot screening with the MTV president go?
Seconds into it, he was cringing. We developed this style based on how you make an effective horror film. You would delay the head chopping, or you pull back the curtain and nothing is there. Building up tension and release, that was our style.
So somebody is going to faceplant on their BMX bike. That’s our money shot. But how do we build up to it, like foreplay? Our foreplay was having them describe all the details before we blew our load on the faceplant. Ultimately, we would try to catch you off guard when the actual face hits the concrete and the nose explodes and we would kick in death metal. So the whole idea was to create tension before the break and then the break would happen and we would hammer you with it so it felt like you were being assaulted with a nose on concrete.
Long story short, we show them the video and I saw Tony Disanto’s face go pale. He couldn’t take it, he was fidgety. Eventually he stood up and was like, “I don’t need to watch anymore, you guys are fucking nuts. Let’s do a series.”
Once you had the greenlight, how were episodes put together?
I had a team of four associate producers whose job it was to comb YouTube and all these other skater websites and track down the people who posted the clips. It was sometimes a lot of detective work, and you have to remember there really was no social media. If you looked at a YouTube video there might be an email, but that might not have been the person who had the crash. Sometimes your job was to go six people deep to finally find the person.
We would have a big wall of notecards that would say things like, “John Smith, skateboard, fractured tibia.” In full swing, I probably had eight editors cutting segments and two people assembling episodes. I would look at the notecards then we would start building episodes so in every episode we would have different injuries and also different vehicles for the injuries. So I wouldn’t have five skateboard stories in one episode.
We always ended with a “most fucked up clip of the day,” and it would be like, “Yeah, my scrotum ripped in half.” [laughs]
That happened to someone in the second episode, right? This guy Mitch from Massachusetts.
I remember that guy. His scrotum was split in half and we made it look like he was going to pull out his junk and then we cut to black or something. I don’t remember what we were going to do, but we had the footage. He showed us his balls.
“Yeah, his scrotum ripped in half at the seam.”
So his testicle popped out of the sack and they had to surgically put it back in?
Yeah, his scrotum ripped in half at the seam. He describes putting his hand down his pants, feeling it wet, and then his classic line was, “I’ve got my ball in my hand, outside of the sack.” I was like dude, this is great, this is an Emmy. Even though there was no Emmy to be had, but “outside of the sack” was classic.
You never had a problem watching the gory stuff, right?
At first, I did. Two editors quit within the first week because they couldn’t take looking at the shit. Some people shot their surgeries, we had brutal surgeries with hammers and power tools and people getting rods where they used to have a femur. We would go all in by the time we sent it to standards and practices, with horrific stuff that we knew wouldn’t air, but that allowed us to keep some pretty good stuff. Like a sacrificial lamb.
I don’t know if I’m giving it too much credit, but I feel like it was ahead of its time. Just in terms of taking user-generated content and packaging it in something that was beyond just stringing a bunch of clips together. That was the goal with it, to not make it America’s Funniest Home Videos on steroids. How do we take this stuff and bring the visceral feeling of breaking a bone in front of your friends while they’re filming on their phone laughing at you? I don’t want to put too much weight on it, but it would’ve been doing those guys a disservice to just string them together and laugh at them.
Yeah, these are injuries that people had to deal with the rest of their lives.
Exactly, and they were real athletes. A lot of them were just trying stuff out but the majority of them I would consider athletes. I didn’t know much about skateboarding before but I grew to have an appreciation for the athleticism and fearlessness that these guys showed. So I thought they should have at least as much credit as NFL ESPN highlight reels.
I liked that they were athletes but they weren’t jocks. They were outsiders and anti-authoritarian and they didn’t give a shit. I was like, dude, you almost died, for what? Like nobody is paying you to do it, and you’re doing it again!
If you didn’t land the trick then you had to go back.
That was so many of those stories. “I tried it last year and I broke my leg but now I was trying to go back and do it again,” and now you get a punctured lung trying it again. Walking through Union Square sometimes I see kids set up little jumps and I always have flashbacks. Like I’m looking for that next break to bring it back.
Were kids paid when they appeared on the show?
They were not paid. They just got to be on TV. They probably got a Scarred shirt. In classic MTV form, we had a couple of cool shirts made and we would give people T-shirts and hats. One thing you learn from working on MTV is that people will do anything for a free shirt and a baseball hat.
If the show was going well, why did it only last two seasons?
As with all networks, sometimes they get too enthusiastic about growing something and they suggested we do a three-hour live Scarred event. We literally jumped the shark to our detriment. It was hosted by some former Playboy bunny and the big event was that Brian Deegan, who had been on the show, was going to jump his motocross bike over a tank of sharks.
I can’t remember who produced it, it wasn’t me, but it did not do well and I think was the beginning of the network losing faith in the fact that we had an audience. It was really cheesy. I hope I’m not insulting anyone, but it was so cheesy and it was such the anathema to what I thought the Scarred ethos was. The whole premise of the show was dudes shooting themselves on flip phones in their backyard, and to see that turned into quite literally a three-ring circus with a shark jumping was kind of gross to me.
It’s funny, I blocked out the live event because it tainted the whole thing. Scarred Live. I hope they burned every tape from that. It was not cool, it was like someone destroying your baby.
Is there any place you see the concept of Scarred living on today?
I think it was a precursor to what was going on with Instagram and Snapchat. The idea of sharing clips amongst friends was not commonplace back then. That’s what I say when I feel really cocky, we were ahead of our time but forgotten. I think we did have something to do with bringing user-generated clips to the mainstream and maybe in some way to the entertainment industry, that we could put a camera in someone’s hand and get a show out of it.
So you have a whole series, a survival show called Alone on the History Channel. They have a boot camp for that show where they teach them how to use the cameras and audio gear and then send them out into the wilderness and that’s what we call UGC (user-generated content). That person is shooting themselves and then the network is packaging it in a high production value.
I think the shortest clip we ever did was build a three-minute package out of a 17-second clip. It’s kind of an art form. You have 17 seconds of money and everything else we’re going to have to get.
When you look back on Scarred now, how do you feel about it?
I’ll always love that show. It was really one of the first shows that I developed and became a series and went on for 20 something episodes, so it always has a really nice place in my heart.