Emmys 2012: The 'Amazing Race' Creator Feared Cancellation Until Their First Win

Joe Pugliese
"The Amazing Race"

"No matter how many miles anybody has traveled, Bert will say he's traveled more," host Phil Keoghan, who's circumnavigated the globe at least 21 times, says of boss and E.P. Bertram van Munster.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Certainly there are more decorated shows in Emmy history, but none has the type of category dominance The Amazing Race has seen for the past decade.

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CBS' globe-trotting alternative to traditional unscripted fare -- where teams of two compete in challenges in a race toward an exotic finish line -- has taken the outstanding reality competition prize eight of nine times since the category was introduced in 2003. It's a feat many attribute to the series' more classy approach to an often muddy genre.

"It's a family show," says executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer. "You can watch it with your 5-year-old and your grandparents."

Jonathan Littman, Bruckheimer's production partner, remembers how easy it was to sell the idea of their costly show. "CBS got it right away," he recalls. "Staying on the air was more of a challenge. We went cycle to cycle for a few years. That first Emmy made us harder to cancel."

Despite the accolades and consistent ratings (including a 3.3 average among adults 18-to-49 last season), series co-creators and spouses Elise Doganieri and Bertram van Munster were unsure about the show's future. "I didn't quit my job until the second season," says Doganieri, who came from advertising.

Now she and van Munster have circumnavigated the globe during each of the show's 21 cycles. "But no matter how many miles anybody has traveled, Bert will say he's traveled more," says Phil Keoghan, who received his fourth Emmy nomination as host this year.

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It's a bragging right that also can sound exhausting. Keoghan once was stuck in a Ukrainian detention facility until the U.S. ambassador -- a fan of the show -- had him sprung. All this is a far cry from Hollywood, and that's one of the reasons the Amazing Race team believes the show is still on the air. "You can put new faces on a soundstage, but you're ultimately looking at the same thing," says Keoghan.

"On Amazing Race, you never see anything twice." With 11 international iterations (including The Amazing Race Philippines), the series has a far-flung group of dedicated alums. "When we get the Emmy, we get texts from people around the world," says van Munster. "People in Africa, Russia and Asia all say, 'We won!' "