8 Minutes

A&E has greenlit a provocative new reality series in which a man tries to convince prostitutes to quit their jobs. EW has learned exclusively that the network has ordered eight episodes of 8 Minutes (working title), a series featuring cop-turned-pastor Kevin Brown surprising escorts in hotel rooms and offering to rescue them from a life of trading sex for cash. In each episode, Brown has eight minutes to make his case.

Executive producer Tom Forman (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, The Great Food Truck Race) says the show was inspired by a 2013 LA Times article about Brown, an Orange County vice cop turned pastor who teamed with his church to create an undercover prostitute intervention operation.

“This is one of those great shows that was actually happening whether anybody was shooting it or not,” Forman said. “Brown told his congregation that for 20 years he’s had to arrest these women when what he’s really wanted to do is help them. It launched a drive within his church to run these undercover operations. We read that and thought somebody should put a camera on this, it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard.”

Entertainment Weekly: So Brown is out there doing this in real life. This isn’t just for the show.

He’s a cop in Orange County who retired a couple years ago, then devoted himself full time to his church. So he was a full-time cop turned full-time pastor. As a cop, he worked vice. He saw girls who had no place else to go, who had been abused by their pimps, girls who really needed a helping hand, and what he had to do as a cop is arrest them. Now that he’s running a church, he can offer them that help. That’s what he was doing well before we called him. I like a little reality in my reality shows.

The description emphasizes that he targets girls who are forced into the life. Is that the case every time? How does he know?

He doesn’t know when he calls. But after 20 years on the job, he can decode an ad or solicitation or posting on the Internet like no one you’ve ever seen. He looks at a photograph and notices things you and I wouldn’t notice—makeup covering bruises, that this is obviously someone being held against their will. The story comes out when he gets them alone in a room and says, “I’m not here to have sex with you, I’m here to offer you a whole new life if you want it. Tell me your story.” What you learn is that none of these girls would have chosen this life.

What’s the reaction when the women are presented with this surprise?

It has varied. Women have burst into tears and said, “I’ve been waiting for someone to offer me a path out.” And you have women who say, “I’m doing what I’m doing and I’m not doing anything else,” and they decline. No one has been angry. No one has resented him for being offered an opportunity to leave a life that’s so hard, and so violent and so dangerous.

Why set an eight-minute time limit?

Kevin has got a lot of safety protocols. He’s a cop and knows just how dangerous these rescues can be. Before he goes in and does one of these operations, he surveys the scene, he puts his church members in prime locations so they can observe, they have cops on speed dial. And one of his other rules is they would only have eight minutes to talk to any individual girl. In his experience, she’s got eight minutes in which she could return to her pimp and say, “I got a bad feeling about that guy, he backed out, I thought he was a cop,” without having the pimp come looking for her, which could create a dangerous situation for Kevin and his team. So for her safety and theirs, it’s a self-imposed hard deadline. They’ve got eight minutes to talk her out of prostitution. If she says yes, that’s great. If after eight minutes she hasn’t, they give her a phone number and tell her they’ll always be there, but they cut off the intervention.

What does he say to convince them?

He first talks personally about what he’s seen and how badly the path they’re on can end. This is a guy who’s seen girls murdered, and he doesn’t pull any punches in his shock therapy. He says, “Even if this all seems okay to you right now, it’s quickly going to become something very different.” There’s also two other members of the team he uses who are former prostitutes themselves. The most powerful thing he does is bring in someone he rescued who says, “I was right where you are, I was scared my pimp would find out and beat me, I didn’t know if I could trust [Brown], I didn’t like the idea of leaving my stuff behind and running away in the middle of the night, but I said yes and my life has never been the same.” They vouch for him. That’s how he closes.

What’s his success rate?

It’s about 50-50. But the ones where he succeeds, we follow them out of the rescue and see the girls subsequently get back on their feet and see the good he’s doing. Sometimes they turn and leave, but that’s the case when trying to save prostitutes. If she says yes, they’re sneaking her out the back of that hotel into to a van and off to a safe house. If an angry pimp is coming to look for her, they want to make sure he can’t find her. They’re also getting her out of the city, if not out of the state. They’re putting her first in a rehab program if she needs one, and then a halfway house teaching her life skills, helping her get a job and rebuilding her life. It’s a pretty big decision and a fairly intensive program if you choose to take him up on his offer.

Are the girls shown? As a producer, that has to be a bit of a dilemma.

At their discretion. We go back to them later and ask [for permission]. As much as I like to look into someone’s eyes when they’re talking, the stories you’re hearing are pretty riveting. A surprising number of these girls, especially the ones that opt to leave the life, are comfortable about being used as a cautionary tale. It’s always their choice.

There seems to be a surge of reality shows with more nudity or sexual themes lately. Is there something to the theory that we’ve been so inundated with reality formats over the years that shows now need to really shock to stand out?

Maybe. I also produce Sex Box over at WeTV. This one is certainly edgy, and it’s a loud idea, and it’s a televised thriller. It grabs you and does not let go for an hour. But it does not play as sensational. If anything, there’s a lot of [A&Es] Intervention in its DNA. It’s a very real unscripted moment in time where decisions are made that are going to change people’s lives forever. For me, very proudly, it’s a return to more documentary reality. It’s already as real as it can possibly be. We’re just trying to not screw it up. It’s about as raw as any show I’ve made since I left hard news. It’s rare as a reality producer to look at something and say, “There’s nothing I would change to make that better for television.” I love the intersection of drama and transformation and faith—without making an overtly faith-based show. This is a church group doing this, and I think that adds another layer. These are real people giving up weeks of their lives and putting themselves at real risk to save somebody who hasn’t asked for their help. I’m blown away by what they do, and we’re just trying to make them proud.

[Note: The photo above from the show’s pilot has all faces blurred to protect Brown’s team as they’re currently in production]