Mix equal parts The Da Vinci Code and The Amazing Race, then sprinkle in Nicolas Cage's National Treasure, and you'd get NBC's Treasure Hunters. The new reality-TV competition (premiering this Sunday at 8 pm/ET, before settling into its Mondays-at-9 time slot) sends 10 three-person teams boating, jetting and helicoptering across America on a treasure hunt of (buzzword alert!) "epic scale" seeking out "mystical artifacts," "cracking codes" and uncovering "clues" in the pursuit of a "hidden key" that will lead them to, and unlock, the grand prize.
Acknowledging that one of the producers on Treasure Hunters is none other than Imagine Television's Brian Grazer aka the very man who gave us Tom Hanks as Da Vinci code-breaker Robert Langdon executive producer Jane Lipsitz (Project Runway, Last Comic Standing) says, "The things that are successful about The Da Vinci Code are taking these incredibly familiar icons and [revealing] secrets and mysteries around them, and we applied that to Treasure Hunters. But this is about secrets of American history, so in that sense, it's a 'more secular' version."
The way that Treasure Hunters sets itself apart from reality kin Amazing Race is twofold. "There's a big play-at-home factor for the audience," says Lipsitz, "and there's a connective tissue that runs throughout all our episodes, as you have to figure out how all these artifacts connect to bring you to the final treasure."
Who's on the hunt? The teams are handily categorized as follows: Geniuses (who boast 10 academic degrees among the three of them); Grad Students (including the reality-TV requisite set of hottie twins); Young Professionals; Southie Boys (Boston buds who brag of, no joke, their "street smahts"); the Wild Hanlons (a cinch to win if mullets come into play); Ex-CIA; Air Force; Miss USA (pageant also-rans who debate early on whether or not to "use" the menfolk yet); and two families, the Fogals (who have God on their side, seeing as papa doth preach) and the Browns (almost embarrassingly, African-American brothers).
Noting that "casting is always a key to the success of these series," Lipsitz says Treasure Hunters "takes all kinds of smarts and intelligence street versus book smarts, rational versus logical thinking and we wanted to have teams that represented all of that. At first glance, Ex-CIA and Air Force would seem to be in the lead, but we also wanted people with interesting and more relatable approaches to how they solve puzzles. And while there are physical elements [to the challenges and hunting], we balance that with the intelligent side as well."
It is also Treasure Hunters' ambition to show off the historical side of America, as opposed to the almost-incomprehensible globe-trotting and tropical locales featured on other reality offerings.
"A lot of shows out there show exotic foreign places, and we feel like America hasn't been explored in that way," says Lipsitz. "So when [our teams] arrive at Mount Rushmore, we wanted that to feel huge and magnificent and meaningful and just as exotic, even though it's on American soil."
But exactly what is it that is hidden somewhere in these United States? What is the treasure depicted in the show's opening as a chest of gold coins straight out of a prop closet that these teams seek? Lipsitz's lips are sealed. "The treasure itself is part of the mystery," she hedges. "Like a real-life treasure hunt, you never know what you're actually going to find!"