Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images
An impressive 17 seasons later, E! True Hollywood Story remains just as fascinating and thought-provoking as its pilot episode in 1996. The series investigates stories of fame, drugs, music, and the career-defining moments of some of the most recognisable visionaries in pop culture.
We caught up with Sara Mast, award-winning director and the show’s executive producer, to chat about all things Hollywood and the complete re-branding of the E! True Hollywood Story docuseries.
Q: How did you come up with the topics you’re covering this season?
Well there were many, many topics to explore and consider. When looking for content, it seemed like researchers and producers were digging through the front-line of what’s happening right now in popular culture.
I think the focus of this re-brand was not just celebrities. Instead, we really wanted to take up subjects and headlines that hadn’t been done before, so we looked into broader moments in pop culture.
We were the first ones out of the gate with investigation of Nxivm and I’m really proud of that. We got a lot of insight, interviews with ex members of the cult, reporters, and the founder’s attorney. I think it’s a great episode and I’m very excited that we premiered with it. It’s a story that really hasn’t been heard.
Q: Was there a particular topic you connected with personally on this season of E! True Hollywood Story?
I think the Nxivm episode mainly because, at some level, we’re all fascinated by cults. Interestingly, the targets in this cult were smart, established women.
When you see that these are highly educated female executives, it’s very frightening. It’s also very eye-opening to see how anyone can get sucked into this kind of organisation.
I think these women were very brave in coming out and saying ‘hey, this is what happened to us’ and wanting to make sure that the message got out so that it doesn’t happen to other women.
You could judge them and say that they’re gullible or they’re this or they’re that, but the founder was a very convincing maniac, narcissist, and psychopath. It’s fascinating.
Q: What do you want audiences to take away from this E! True Hollywood Story?
I want them to take away a broader understanding of how it can relate back to them. Again with this Nxivm episode, it’s a cautionary tale applicable to most of us.
We also do an episode about the opioid crisis in music and I think these stories are powerful because it doesn’t just happen to celebrities. It can happen to anyone.
We do an ‘addiction to fame’ episode and we show how fame and social media affect individuals. We wanted to make the show relatable and accessible to everyone, not just about Hollywood stars.
Q: Is there something really unexpected about the stories this season?
I think our episode on pioneering women in hip-hop is something new and exciting. This episode shows how sexism and misogyny were in place in the music industry to keep women down (and how they overcame this).
Even today, I think we’re getting a broader view of how women are still fighting, especially in hip-hop, to have their voices heard.
There would be no Cardi B or Nicki Minaj without these original pioneering women. The women coming together to tell their stories, and educate us on how they got there, is really interesting.
Q: Were there any particular highlights for you putting a show like this together?
A highlight was having everything come together in the end and seeing the full picture of the Nxivm episode. Especially because we knew that this is something that is just getting out in the news right now.
Putting a nice polished spin on the show is always tricky and I think we elevated the show visually. Hopefully we also gave E! True Hollywood Story a new level of storytelling that keeps the franchise going. The original producers did over 500 episodes, so I hope we did it justice.
Q: What do you do to relax and unwind when you’re working so hard?
I go home and watch television, what else? I think there’s such a wave of great premium television and I love seeing what’s new.
Moreover, kudos to E! and the team who were really trying to bring this series into that world of premium television. Before, the show was known as a guilty pleasure but now we’ve elevated it in every way. The re-branding is contemporary, rich, and stimulating.
Q: So what’s next for you? Do you have any other interesting projects on the go after E! True Hollywood Story?
I am actually currently in development of an exciting project. I did this show called Dirty John last year and now I’m developing a similar story called Doctor Death based on a podcast about a horrible spinal surgeon.
It is sort of another cautionary tale of what can happen in the medical field, so if you’re a podcast fan, listen to Doctor Death, and keep an eye out for my upcoming show.
Watch a promo for the new season here: