“Breaking The Ice” is an eight-episode docuseries, starring Rory Flack, a professional figure skater and former competitor. She is the first African American woman to perform a back flip on the ice and in 1994 she became the first African American woman to win the US Open Professional Figure Skating Championships. The show follows her in her groundbreaking role, coaching the first all-diverse competitive synchronized ice-skating team. The docuseries examines the personal trials and stories of the team members, their dreams, and the dedication needed to drive them to the Nationals. But the show almost never happened…,
Jon Crowley and Burt Kearns are everywhere. You may not recognize their faces, but you know them. You know them from television shows, books, and other entertainment projects. They are the members of that elite group of individuals that remain in the background but can be seen in a TV show or film’s credits. Without them, and others like them, our Television screens would be black. Those moments of laughter, tears, or learning from a series or documentary would be forever lost. Jon and Burt are Showrunners, writers, producers, and jacks of all things that go on behind the scenes that make a film work. And they are unsung in their endeavors and efforts except for the few seconds that we watch their names fly by in the credits.
Jon Crowley is a “local”, living in Atlantic Highlands, but grew up in Los Angeles. When asked about his background and how he wound up in the entertainment Industry, he explained, “I grew up in Los Angeles, and I think by the time I was in 4th grade, I knew that I wanted to get involved in entertainment and telling stories. I used to do stand-up at the Improv in L.A. and worked out with the “Groundlings” in Los Angeles for a while. I formed a couple of improv groups with some friends, and we performed at clubs around LA. We were part of the regular group at “The Icehouse” and also at the “Laugh Factory” on Sunset Blvd. I went to film school at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In fact, I was in the same class as Zack Snyder and Mike Bay.
I always say that I’m the loser of the group because my stuff, people want for free. But you’ve got to pay $15- $17 bucks to go see their work. It was a great school, and I got a great foundation. I never thought that I would ever do anything but scripted television or film. I fell into Reality TV and films because one of my very first jobs was as an editor for the Academy Awards. From there I met some guys that were editing the TV series, “Cops”, which was in season one at that point, and they taught me a lot about editing. Some of my very first jobs were not as a writer/director but in editing. Then my career evolved into a writer/director and then Showrunner. (Note: a Showrunner is a person that is responsible for the entire production, a sort of General Manager.)
I met Burt in 2006 or 2007. We were both writers on a show together and just struck up a friendship. We have never lost contact with one another. I was offered a VP position at True TV back in 2008, and while I was there, I developed and was the executive producer on the pilot and the first season of Impractical Jokers. It was a project that I bought and brought into the network, and I was there for about eight years. I’ve worked at the Food Network as a VP and also at the cooking channel, and I was the VP for original programming and content for production with SciFy.
Burt Kearns began his career in local newspapers as a suburban newspaper reporter and editor, in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He moved to New York City and spent much of the 1980s as a writer and producer for local television news at Channel Five “10 O’clock News” and also at “News 4 New York” on NBC. He says that in “1988 I was kidnapped by a group of Australians for Rupert Murdoch and brought on board a show called “A Current Affair”. It was a wild ride with these pirates for about the next four or five years. We ran “A Current Affair” for about a year and a half then… we’re fired. We wound up in Hollywood on the paramount lot taking over a show called “Hard Copy” I did three seasons of hard copy with Peter Brennan, who was the mastermind of Tabloid TV.
He went on to create the show “Judge Judy”. Then I got into documentary television and reality television. I had a production company for 10 years with Brett Hudson, called frozen pictures. We did television series. we made documentaries, and we did films. One was the Burt Reynolds film called “Cloud 9”, which I wrote and produced with Al Ruddy from the “Godfather” and “Million Dollar Baby”.” Burt is also an accomplished author having written several books, including 1999’s “Tabloid Baby”. He is currently researching a biography of Shemp Howard of the “3 Stooges”.
How the Ice Broke
As to the origins of the show “Breaking the Ice”, Crowley explained “It was about 2017. I went to visit a friend whose daughter was ice skating up in Newark. I turned around and saw two young black girls that were on the ice, skating, and I was struck by the thought that you don’t see very many people of color ice skating. Shortly they were joined by, probably, about another 12 girls on the ice. I turned to my friend and asked what they were doing, and he told me “That’s synchronized skating”. I was struck by the fact that I don’t think very many people have ever heard of synchronized skating and also struck by the notion that not many people of color are represented in skating. I thought that this was an idea for a show, so I immediately reached out to Burt.”
After completing the concept for “Breaking the Ice”, Kearns flew to Texas to recruit Rory Flack, a professional figure skater and former competitor. She was the first African American woman to perform a back flip on the ice and in 1994 she became the first African American woman to win the US Open (Figure Skating). With Rory on board, Crowley approached the skating leagues. He and Kearns knew that without a league backing the show, it would never get off the ground. It took a year to convince a league to go along with the show.
While Jon Crowley was attending the Real Screen Summit, he ran into Marc Juris, a six-time Emmy-award-winning TV executive and producer, getting on an elevator. The two had worked together at TrueTV. Juris was working for WeTV now. Crowley told Juris that he had an idea for a show, to which Marc replied, “You have as long as this elevator ride to pitch the show.” By the time the doors opened, a minute later, Juris turned to Crowley and said, “I will do this show”. So, Crowley and Kearns partnered with Sirens Media, an ITV America company, to do the production.
Next, they cast the skaters, all middle and high school-aged girls. Burt and Jon were heading toward the finish line. Then came the COVID-19 Pandemic and all production ground to a halt.
When the studios reopened in October 2020, Marc Juris left WeTV. Crowley and Kearns had to pitch the show again to new executives. In January 2021, their contact at Sirens Media left the company and they had to pitch the show again. After getting approval, they realized that they had to recast most of the skaters. Many of the high school girls had gone on to college and, literally, outgrew their parts.
Finally, the show went into production five years after the concept began. According to AMC Networks, “World-renowned figure skater Rory Flack is no stranger to slicing through barriers, as the first African American woman to win the US Open Professional Figure Skating Championships. The figure skater-turned-coach is now spearheading Team DMV, the first all-diverse, competitive synchronized skating team striving to make it to the Ice Sports Industry’s (ISI) national championship.
The team is comprised of 10 middle and high school girls who are up for this challenge. Together, they endure rigorous training on and off the ice and must manage team dynamics, as well as outspoken parents and skating rivals. On their way to Nationals, Team DMV is defying the odds: will they navigate the inherent danger of the ice and avoid injury? Or push through the obstacles…ultimately, Breaking The Ice!
The eight-weekly episode docuseries premiered on WeTV on July 6, 2023, and can be streamed HERE.
Cover image: Breaking the Ice logo from WeTV