The Birth of Adventure Divas

Holly Morris doesn’t seem like a television personality. She’s too real and quirky and smart. She’s got none of the plastic jauntiness you often find in TV talent. And her home — an old, half-remodeled house hidden from the street by an enormous tree, and tucked into one of Seattle’s residential backwaters — seems an unlikely place to start a media empire.

But appearances can deceive: This is ground zero for the future of travel television. Here, with papers spread over the dining room table and two desks crammed into the spare bedroom, she and her partners are wrapping up work on the pilot for their new show, Adventure Divas.

“This is about telling a different kind of story through traveling,” Holly tells me. “It’s not about seeing the sights. It’s not about knowing which hotels to stay in. It’s about what it’s like to live in other places, and other cultures, as seen through the eyes of these amazing women.”

The premise is pretty simple. Each episode, Holly and her crew take off for another foreign land. Though the goal of their travels is to meet and profile the dynamic, independent, creative women they call Divas. The trips themselves are the medium for the stories they tell.

To film the pilot, they went to politically controversial Cuba, arriving just days after the Pope’s groundbreaking visit.

“I wanted to go to Cuba precisely because it was such a mystery to me,” says Holly. “The trade embargo has been a de facto information embargo as well, and though there was obviously more to it than this, the images of Cuba that filtered through in my lifetime were of cigars, Castro and salsa.”

It turned out to be a great choice if only because the chaos there kept them fresh.

So when cars broke down (as they often do there) or their camera got dropped off a moving train (forcing them to rebuild it from spare parts), they couldn’t just spend more money and move on to the next location: they had to figure out how to deal with the disaster as part of their story. Which is all for the good, in terms of their storytelling, because as Holly says, “Real travel is about experiencing life, not just covering ground.”

This is not the usual formula for a travel show. Few travel shows are really about the experience of traveling. Fewer still are about the lives of the people of the country being traveled to.

How did you come up with the idea and inspiration to conceptualize your own television show?
I’ve long known that I reach my best, most effective self on the road. I learn from people and through movement. For me, travel rouses the innocent and brings clarity. As my 30th birthday bore down with the force of a loaded 18-wheeler, I couldn’t shake the notion that years of office-bound predictability had dampened my original spirit. So I grabbed my dusty backpack and took a month-long trip to Sumatra, Indonesia. I came back knowing that I was to be the architect of my own life. I decided that work and play can be one and the same. I became determined to get out of the office and onto the road. To take my locus of ideas to a medium with exponential possibilities for impact: television.

Why the Divas?
I wanted to celebrate fascinating women worldwide — artists, activists, politicians, singers, adventurers; women leading effective and thoroughly realized lives. These women are not infallible heroines, but they are icons with substance. They engage in possibility thinking. They do good; they are not martyrs. They don’t get derailed by the grit of life; they season their universe with it. And invariably, they reveal a fabulous sense of humor.

Starting a new media venture is never an easy task. What were some of the challenges you faced?
Well, I think it’s always hard to get financing for an ethic, as opposed to a more traditional business project. Ultimately, the most important visceral support came from our audience itself — those who responded to the idea, who we came into contact with through the website and word-of-mouth. Then there was my own challenge of having been grounded in the printed word, in book publishing. With television, obviously, you need to work more with sound and picture and less with words. Working in new dimensions was a good experience. The hardest part was having the confidence in myself to identify what my dream was. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready. I couldn’t have withstood the possibility of failure, so I avoided the risk. You have to take a leap of faith and trust your instincts. It’s hard to turn something that is actually a pretty big idea into a reality, knowing that a dream can crash and burn. There have been many dark moments. A big project takes a lot of time to execute and the most important thing for me has been to try to stay true to my original instincts and vision.

Can you describe the distinction between Adventure Divas the television show, and the company/organization Adventure Divas?
Adventure Divas is an endeavor with a television series at its center, but with creative and production arms that will extend into book and online publishing. On our up days we like to call it a girl-driven media empire. On our down days, we realize we’re just a couple of chicks with voice-mail!

Do you feel Adventure Divas is a new type of business model?
Adventure Divas speaks to the synergistic relationship between media in contemporary American culture and the eclectic combo-platter of ways we, as individuals, are gathering information in a borderless world. It also bows to a sensibility that is entering our media, our consciousness, our businesses. A sensibility that we can do good work, and have fun. A belief that we can defy convention — even be political — and still end up in the black.

It’s interesting that you acknowledge “adventure” as a lifestyle. What are your thoughts about this?
Our culture’s relationship to adventure is changing. Adventure is no longer a weekend theme: it is philosophy. Adventure is about hurling yourself at the unexpected. It’s how you walk to the corner store and how you walk the Australian outback. Adventure can un-opiate the masses. It seems to me that you’re going to outfit the philosophy that will rule the future — a lucrative and exciting project.


what the media is saying…

Excerpted from Blue Magazine

” …ground zero for the future of travel television”

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