Gordon Elliott is no stranger to reinventing television. Among his first TV jobs in the U.S. were reporting for the groundbreaking syndicated news programs A Current Affair and Hard Copy (both created and produced by Peter Brennan), and creating and reporting for Good Day New York on Fox’s WNYW.
After that auspicious start, the Australian went on to star in his own eponymous talker, The Gordon Elliott Show, from 1990 to 1997.
When that show was cancelled, Elliott found that he suddenly needed to reinvent himself. That led to him becoming a producer of programs targeted mostly in the new TV genre of food television.
“I didn’t want to go back and do what I’d already done,” he says. “So I sat down and started writing shows. I wrote what I wanted to do for my summer holiday.”
Turns out that what he wanted to do was eat. “Early in my career, I bumped into a marvelous French man who was the world’s leading manufacturer of foie gras and truffles,” Elliott recalls. “He invited me to his village in the Perigord in southwestern France. He said, ‘If you bring your cameras, I will bring you my world of food.’
“He flew me to Cognac and Champagne, France, and I filmed it all. I realized then—this was in 1982—what good food and good people are about.”
In 1998, Elliott met Judy Girard, who was then president of the Food Network: “She let me produce my first series.”
Elliott’s first shows for the network were Gordon Elliott’s Door Knock Dinners and Follow That Food. But his big producing break came when he met his first star: Paula Deen.
“A friend of mine told me about Paula,” Elliott says. “I had lunch with her and I came out of it wet with laughter. Her life is really dedicated to making other people happy in a genuine way.”
That’s true of Pat and Gina Neely as well, says Elliott, whom he met at their little barbecue place in Memphis, Tenn. “At the time, their life was based on making people feel good and cooking good barbecue.”
That quality of turning food into fun is what Elliott looks for in all of his television chefs.
“Having worked in television, I know the voices in the head that can block people,” he says. “That’s one of the things I’m able to do well—I can hold people’s hands and gently step them through the process. If I can get them to the point where they can look at the camera and have fun, I’ve done my job.”
That’s the theory that Elliott is taking into his highest-profile food project: ABC’s The Chew, which will premiere on the network on Sept. 26 at 1 p.m. Through research, ABC determined that food was a top topic among daytime audiences, and came to believe that Elliott was the perfect show-runner.
“We chose Gordon because he had a track record in both finding and developing talent,” says Brian Frons, president of daytime for the Disney/ABC Television Group. “And he brought us something else—he had done daytime talk as a host for years. His vision convinced us that he was the guy.”
The Chew stars three chefs made famous by cable—Food Network’s Mario Batali and Michael Symon and Bravo’s Carla Hall, who is beloved by fans of the network’s Top Chef. Dr. Mehmet Oz’s beautiful blonde daughter, Daphne, is the cast neophyte, while Clinton Kelly, style guru from TLC’s What Not to Wear, will serve as moderator and party host.
“Before I cast this show, I went around a dream table and decided I was looking for an inexperienced young woman, a master chef and someone who was focused on their family, among others,” says Elliott. “When these five walked into the room, we knew.”
While The Chew is ostensibly about food, it’s really about the things that orbit around food: family, fun and life. “The show is the point where you walk into a friend’s house and they say, ‘Sit down, let’s have some wine and chat while I cook for you,’” says Elliott.
No doubt it will be a lot of work, though it also sounds like a good idea for a Gordon Elliott summer holiday.
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