Investigation Discovery (ID), the media conglomerate's true crime cable network, helmed Discovery+'s House of Hammer. Recently, Out had the opportunity to speak with Jason Sarlanis, a proud LGBTQ+ leader at Discovery who works as the President of Crime and Investigative Content (Linear and Streaming) of ID. During the interview, Sarlanis talked about the making of House of Hammer, the involvement of Casey Hammer in the docuseries, and what the public's response has been so far.
Sarlanis not only championed the making of House of Hammer, but is now also involved in the network's inaugural "No Excuse for Abuse" campaign. In partnership with One Love Foundation and No More, this campaign aims to bring awareness to domestic violence by encouraging ID viewers to text "NoExcuse" to 707070, engage on social media with #NoExcuseFor Abuse, and visit the official website NoExcuseForAbuse.com.
Throughout this Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, ID will be sharing "important information across social and digital all month" and expanding "its long-standing commitment to educating viewers about the complex dynamics of domestic violence through various programs that shine a light on the sometimes devastating effects that relationship, financial and emotional abuse can have on people's lives."
Out: You were a champion behind the making of Discovery+'s House of Hammer. What drew you the most to this project?
Jason Sarlanis: We were really excited to be able to platform such a zeitgeisty topic and then use that as a way to further the conversation around consent and relationships.
How early into the making of House of Hammer was ID involved with the docuseries?
The filmmakers began developing it only a few short weeks before bringing it to the team here at ID and Discovery+... and thankfully we have such a longstanding relationship with them. I like to believe we were the first and only choice. Well, I do know we were the best choice. So that relationship came to fruition and shortly thereafter we [picked up] the show.
Most people came into watching this docuseries for the scandals surrounding Armie Hammer. But it quickly becomes clear that there's a lot more going on with the Hammer family. Were you surprised by the developments explored in the docuseries?
As the team behind it, that's part of what drew us to the series. It's that we were not only able to tell a modern-day story around what's going on with Armie and some of the women he had relations with, but that there were so many layers to explore in terms of what has gone on with this family from multiple generations. What's really interesting to us was to be able to see how that abusive culture kind of cascaded from generation to generation. And so that's part of what drew us to the story. Was it surprising? Absolutely. And we think those surprises are what kept the viewers so engrossed in the film.
On my first time watching House of Hammer, I did wonder, 'How's this going to go for three episodes with these allegations?' And then once you start to see the multi-generational stories of abuse, you start to see there's so much more to this story that we had no idea about. And I was so glad that the docuseries was able to feature those other experiences as well.
Yeah, and I think it's really a credit to Casey Hammer for how courageous she was... to step forward and tell her story. To have grown up in that family and to have been so impacted by it. Hopefully being a part of our documentary series allowed her to kind of regain some agency and to take control of her narrative, and we're really proud that we were able to be a conduit for her to that.
Having Casey Hammer in House of Hammer was a huge deal because she was able to provide inside knowledge about the Hammer family. What was the process like to reach out to Casey? Was she always on board to be a part of the documentary?
That was really controlled by the filmmakers before they brought the project to us, and was essentially the key selling point for why we felt like we had to do this story and we had to do it now. Casey had previously written a book and attempted to really get that story told, and we feel like [House of Hammer] really takes that to the next level.
In my opinion, one of the best points made in the docuseries is that while "cancel culture" has become trendy, rape culture is still being ignored by mainstream audiences. Generally, people are very eager to talk about canceling someone, but still don't want to talk about accusations of rape. Do you hope that this docuseries can contribute to changing that landscape?
I'm very hopeful that this docuseries advances the conversations around consent in general. I think that, for our generation growing up, the message was overly simplified to 'No means no.' And while that's critical for people to understand, I think this docuseries helps advance the conversation around the idea that an absence of 'no' does not mean 'yes.' And we have to add that to the narrative around consent.
Absolutely. Some critics were skeptical about the stories about Armie Hammer and claimed that it wasn't a crime to be interested in kinks. But I think this documentary makes it clear that these victims felt like their boundaries were violated and that they didn't consent to the things being said and done to them. Can you talk about the importance of centering House of Hammer around the survivors and their experiences?
We at ID applaud the survivors of certain issues, and anything we can do to give them agency, to give them a platform to tell their stories, and to empower them, is at the heart of everything we do. And very often the survivors come to us and work with us to tell their story because they know it will help somebody else in the future. We really hope that this docuseries gave Casey and gave Courtney [Vucekovich] the ability to do that. In terms of the skepticism around everything going on with Armie, I think it's also important to note that this docuseries hopefully shines a light on the importance of finding healthy avenues to explore one's sexuality and to divorce that from shame and stigma. Because any time that you associate shame and stigma with the sexuality, it often leads to unhealthy behaviors for oneself and for others.
There were reports that the docuseries was re-edited to remove a bite mark image that wasn't actually from a survivor. How did ID react to this new development within the production and distribution of the project?
It's critical that the stories we tell are authentic. And when the filmmakers came to us and explained everything going on around that particular photo and that instance, we mobilized as quickly as possible to give Courtney the platform to explain how love-bombing affected that particular photo... and we rectified it as quickly as possible.
What was the process like when the production team reached out to Armie Hammer to be interviewed for this docuseries? It does show in the end credits that he refused to be interviewed.
What I would say is, like any great documentarian, and our partners are great documentary filmmakers, they do their due diligence to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to share their voice in a program like this. Understandably, Armie and his camp did not want to be a part of the show.
Armie Hammer is still trying to revamp his career, and the Hammer family appears to be issuing threats to Casey. What has been the response from audiences to this docuseries?
It's been overwhelming to see the viewers engage with this program. It's by far one of the more successful shows we've launched in the history of the [Discovery+] platform. And I think it speaks to not just the timely nature of everything going on with Armie, but more importantly, all of the subtext, all of the layers that we've been discussing in this interview. Hopefully this is the kind of program that opens some viewers' minds to what's really going on out there.
I hope so, too. ID is launching a campaign to support Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Can you tell me more about this campaign?
We're launching our inaugural "No Excuse for Abuse" campaign aligned with Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October. It's something that is near and dear to the hearts of all of us here at the ID network, because we understand that so many of the stories around crime and relationships start from a place of intimate partner violence. Anything we can do to help educate our viewers about domestic violence, how to safely exit a scenario that they might be in, how to avoid entering into a new one, is mission critical to us here at ID.
Why do you think it's so important for ID to be a true crime network that is involved with domestic abuse awareness?
We're the number one network for true crime viewers, and we take the responsibility of an audience at large to heart. We've seen that as part of the reason our viewers watch our programming: whether it's In Pursuit with John Walsh or Disappeared, they engage with that programming and literally want to do good. Whether that's helping capture up to 37 fugitives, which we've done over the course of In Pursuit; or whether that's helping close cases with some of the unfortunate people who've been featured on Disappeared. We want to tap into that desire to do good and maximize it, whether that is through fundraising for the incredible partners who have come on board for us with "No Excuse for Abuse," or frankly to empower people with the tools in their own lives to help either themselves or a loved one.
Do you have any specific details of organizations that the network is going to partner with during this campaign for domestic abuse awareness?
We've had a long history with One Love Foundation, and we're taking that to the next level. In addition to that, we're working with an institution called No More. These two programs really have been at the forefront of helping people, and being able to partner with them helps us not just do this, but do this right.
House of Hammer is currently streaming on Discovery+.
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