It is Rocket Science

Feb 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

It’s ironic that the team of Jean-Michel Michenaud and Chris Cowan, who have won Emmy Awards for their documentaries and other narrative nonfiction work, should be getting the most attention of their careers for the salacious Fox series “Temptation Island.”
Mr. Michenaud dismisses the notion there is anything less worthy about “Island” than there was about `”Images of Life-Photographs That Changed the World,” the CBS show for which they received an Emmy. Or that the production values are astonishingly different from those the team brought to shows like “Assassinated: The Final Days of King and Kennedy,” which they produced in association with Oliver Stone.
Mr. Cowan said, “We like real people-real characters-and that’s reflected in the serious documentaries that we have done and in our other work as well. We have an eclectic set of interests. We like anything that makes an impact. There is a certain amount of provocateur in both of us. And we like it when people are intrigued and conversing about a show that we produce-even though that inevitably means that we hear both praise and criticism.”
“Temptation Island” grew out of a show the pair was developing for daytime television, “Marriage Bootcamp.” It was a response to viewer interest in “The Oprah Winfrey Show’s” weekly marriage-counseling feature. “We found `Oprah’ to be interesting but unfulfilling,” Mr. Cowan said. So they made a film of an intense two-week marriage counseling retreat. They’ve since sold it into syndication and plan to turn the project into a pilot.
The two were kicking around related ideas for a network show, and the complaint arose that the retreat had more angst than spice.
Somebody-Mr. Cowan and Mr. Michenaud aren’t willing to say who-asked, “What if they were tempted?” And so they were. The pilot concept tempted Fox as well, with Rocket Science’s agent, Steve Wohl of International Creative Management, selling the network on “Temptation Island.”
Mr. Cowan, 30, and Mr. Michenaud, 40, have been working together for 10 years. They met when Mr. Cowan was a recent Ohio University film school graduate and a gofer for ZM Productions, owned by Les Mayfield and George Zaloom. Mr. Cowan was assigned to pick up Mr. Michenaud at the airport. A friendship developed and ultimately the two men began developing and running the television department while Mr. Mayfield and Mr. Zaloom concentrated on films. In 1998, after a series of changing partnerships, Mr. Cowan and Mr. Michenaud bought out what had become ZMC Productions and renamed it Rocket Science Laboratories.
How does a creative partnership sustain a decade of togetherness? Mr. Michenaud analyzes it this way: “I think it is about mutual respect and trust and sensibilities that match. Neither one of us consider a problem in the same way. That leads to a well-balanced approach to creative material and the way we deal with clients. It can lead to friction at times, but it’s healthy.”
Mr. Cowan calls himself a “high-testosterone provocateur,” while Mr. Michenaud says what he would really like to do is “Existential Island. … I’d like to make Walt Disney look like a dark Jean-Luc Godard … Thank God, Chris was able to understand that it should be `Temptation Island.”’
Both men live in Los Angeles. Mr. Michenaud is married and says he’s “looking forward to kids.” Mr. Cowan is single and says he’s looking forward to “Temptation Island.”
Together they are developing yet another reality series while talking to Fox about “Temptation Island II” and preparing to announce the international format for “Temptation Island” in 13 locales around the world.
They’re also considering some documentaries. Mr. Michenaud put it succinctly: “Our hope is that `Temptation Island’ will give us the opportunity to choose to do the kind of work that we really love.”
Jean-Michel Michenaud and Chris Cowan
Age: Mr. Michenaud is 40, Mr. Cowan is 33.
Titles: Partners/executive producers, Rocket Science Laboratories.
Credits: “Close Calls I, II & II,” “When Disasters Strike I & II,” “Video Justice I & II,” “Dial H for Hitchcock,” Emmy Award winning “Images of Life: Photographs That Changed the World,” “Frank Capra’s American Dream,” and “Influences: From Yesterday to Today.” Also, they have collaborated with James Cameron on the Fox special “Titanic: Breaking New Ground,” and with Steven Spielberg on the NBC special, “The Making of Jurassic Park.”
Current projects include the Fox dating/relationship series “Temptation Island.”