Netflix on Friday (Sept. 18) jumps into the food competition genre with the premiere of American Barbecue Showdown, which serves up high stakes competition among amateur BBQ cooks.
The series is the latest for the All3Media-owned Maverick TV, which has produced such unscripted series as USA Network’s Chrisley Knows Best, Netflix’s DeMarcus Family Rules, and DIY’s Restoring Galveston.
I recently spoke to Maverick TV USA president John Hesling about the company’s move into the unscripted food competition series as well as the challenges of adjusting series production deadlines due to the pandemic. Hesling also addressed the network’s decision to bring back Chrisley Knows Best this summer for its eighth season nearly a year after series star Todd Chrisley was indicted on charges of tax evasion and bank fraud.
An edited version of the interview appears below.
How will American Barbecue Showdown differ from some of the other food competition shows currently on the air?
American Barbecue Showdown is different from other food competition series for a variety of reasons. The competitors have very different levels of competition experience. Some have been on the BBQ competition circuit for years, while others are local legends and amazing amateurs who bring their own home town flavors to the show. There are so many more variables and factors that go into cooking good BBQ - from the choice of wood, the level of smoke, the level of heat, the cut of meat, the choice of rub, the choice of equipment - there are many more things that can go wrong than in most cooking competition series. It's not just about turning the dial to 350 degrees and waiting for the meat to cook properly. The temperature is always fluctuating and it’s a complicated dance to bring it all together. And even though it’s a competition with winners and losers, the competition and drama doesn’t depend upon in-fighting and tantrums among the contestants.
Why choose Netflix -- which is known mostly for scripted series and movies -- as an outlet for American Barbecue Showdown, and what does Netflix bring to the table that traditional cable and broadcast networks don't?
We are very lucky to have great partners across cable and broadcast, and working with Netflix has been no different. They were enthusiastic about making a great show that reflected different styles of BBQ and all of the different types of people who spend a lifetime attempting to perfect it. An obvious difference is the lack of commercial breaks, which gives you more time, and changes the structure of the episodes so you're not building to and coming back from commercial breaks. It can also allow for a deeper dive into certain moments that you might not get the time to show on ad-funded channels. The episodes are as long as they need to be, and no less or more.
How has the pandemic affected Maverick TV in terms of producing both new and existing series?
As with everyone, we have been hugely affected and had to quickly adjust to get used to executing almost all aspects of production remotely. We were midway through the edit of American Barbecue Showdown when the pandemic hit, but managed to adapt quickly and get back on track. We were lucky that we had several shows in various stages of post rather than at the beginning of shoots when the lockdown happened, and we were able to effectively revise the post workflow to a work from home environment.
How do you see the future of the reality series genre in today's evolving television marketplace?
I think we realize that there are certain things that we as people love to watch, like singing, dancing, physical performances, cooking, things that make us laugh etc. and this will always be the case. We just need to continue to find new ways into these familiar worlds, so that the audience feels they are getting something new. The audience really is global now so more than ever before we need to tap into what it is about human nature that works across boundaries, languages and cultures.
As a production company, how do you handle controversial and unforeseen situations within your shows such as what transpired with Chrisley Knows Best star Todd Chrisley?
In my opinion, you deal with difficult situations in the same way with talent as you would for a friend or family member. These are people who have exactly the same issues and complications in life as everyone else, except for the fact that because they are very well known, everything is amplified. You do a lot of listening and make sure that you are there to listen and contextualise what is going on.
What other content should we expect to see from Maverick TV for the rest of the year and into 2021?
We have a survival show in advanced stages of development with a streamer, also a medical series with a cable channel, a big, very funny family competition show that’s getting a lot of traction, and with our overall deal with Todd Chrisley Productions, a couple more hilarious Todd Chrisley and family projects on the horizon. And of course lots and lots more Chrisley Knows Best.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.