Television has long played the part of scapegoat for a U.S. obesity problem currently affecting onethird of Americans, with plenty of blame given to the industry for encouraging sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits. But as the average waistline of the adult American grows, programmers across the television landscape have responded with an equally expanding lineup of healthbased and sometimes life-saving content.
Among the entries: ABC replaced longstanding soaps All My Children and One Life to Live with two lifestyle programs, The Chew and The Revolution, which premiered last September and Jan. 16, respectively.
The Chew, with a format reminiscent of ABC’s The View, was created “to be the type of show where people get a lot of great information and nutrition, but also, considering what our economy is like… to make food that is healthy, nutritious and economical really appealing,” says Randall Barone, vice president, programming & development, ABC Daytime.
While The Chew focuses on diet, The Revolution stresses overall well-being through the transformation of viewers’ bodies, minds and environment. The show features another panel of celebrities and experts, including the familiar faces of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, who is the show’s “style guru”; and former Extreme Makeover: Home Edition host Ty Pennington. In addition to its daily content, TheRevolution, in a weekly segment, showcases one woman’s fivemonth personal “revolution,” with the reveal taking place on the final day of the evolution.
These programs bring together an ensemble of ideas and celebrities, merging instruction and entertainment. That, says Brad Adgate, Horizon Media research director, is what will draw viewers who are hungry for a more informative, but engaging, take on diet. “[The hosts] have personalities,” Adgate says. “It’s a very personality-driven genre as well, and if you like the personality, chances are you’re more likely to watch the show.”
That is already apparent on the Cooking Channel, the Food Network spinoff developed speci! - cally to address healthy-food topics that viewers of Food were not getting enough of, says Michael Smith, Cooking Channel general manager. Cooking’s instructional series’ hosts are charismatic, including Bobby Deen, son of Food Network star Paula Deen, whose recipes have long been notoriously butter-heavy. Paula Deen recently revealed she was diagnosed three years ago with Type 2 diabetes. While Deen has modified her own diet, her shows— which she said are for “entertainment” during a Jan. 18 appearance on The Chew—will continue to provide the same high-fat content. Deen has suggested she may incorporate some lighter alternatives, but critics have accused her shows of promoting unhealthy eating habits.
Her son takes a different tack on Cooking Channel’s Not My Mama’s Meals, which takes his mother’s recipes and teaches viewers how to reduce the fat but keep the flavor. On Jan. 21, Cooking Channel also premiered weight loss series Drop 5 Lbs, a show about “simple and achievable changes that you can make in your life to stay fit,” says Smith. Staying fit is especially popular among baby boomers, who have become increasingly aware of health issues, both mentally and physically. The oldest boomers will turn 66 this year, and life expectancy ! gures continue to rise.
“You have these 75 million baby boomers who…are much more active and concerned about what they’re eating, and concerned about wellness,” Adgate says.
Much of this dietrelated programming empha sizes pure weight loss—a prominent issue in this age of the obesity-obsessed.
One of the more well-known examples of weight loss programming is NBC’s The Biggest Loser, now in its 13th season. While ratings have fluctuated for the aging series, Paul Telegdy, NBC Entertainment president of alternative and late night programming, believes that “hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved by [the show].” Telegdy’s belief has played out in Biggest Loser’s evolution, and its transformation from a more tongue-in-cheek approach during season one to its current focus on the more character-driven, dramatic journey of human achievement.
In syndication, Meredith’s Better offers content directed toward making the target audience of women 25-54 feel… well, in a word, better. Regular segments address the common stressors in women’s and—with this year’s addition of a male cohost—men’s lives. There are at least two cooking segments per week and a panel of experts is on hand to discuss fashion, finance, beauty and health.
“The content is migrating toward the real health and wellness category. Having any kind of content directed toward making women’s lives a little easier, a little more efficient…it’s where we are, it’s just getting more refined,” says Kieran Clarke, executive VP, Meredith Video Studios.
Better, which airs in 150 markets, recently completed a $4 million studio upgrade. As Clarke puts it, the show, which launched in 2007, “was there before the marketplace.”
And that marketplace is becoming more crowded. Disney/ABC Television’s digital channel, the Live Well Network, recently increased its reach to more than 58% of U.S. TV households following a partnership with Citadel Communications.
Live Well’s broad programming includes the weight loss series Live Big With Ali Vincent; fashion and beauty tip show Mirror/Mirror; and cooking fare Good Cookin’ With Bruce Aidells and My Family Recipe Rocks, hosted by former ’NSync member Joey Fatone. Live Well also reaches beyond the genre’s favored target of women by airing children’s programming; Taste Buds, for example, encourages kids to think about what they eat.
“We started off doing a lot of shows that showed you how to do things. Now we’re more into trying to tell you a really compelling story,” says Emily Barr, president and GM of WLS Chicago and creator of Live Well Network.
Asia TV USA-owned Veria Living is one of the few 24/7 health-based channels; the network bills itself as “a leading media company devoted to showcasing wellness programming.” Last month, Veria unveiled a new on-air and online look to coincide with the creation of a $250 million content development, production and acquisition fund. The channel’s new format features programming blocks centered on fitness, natural beauty and wellness and alternative treatments in the daytime, with cooking, nutrition and healthy eating airing in early fringe.
“We’re informational and utilitarian in the daytime…and we’re engaging and character-driven in primetime,” says Gabriella Messina, senior VP of programming for Veria Living.
Veria has chosen celebrities to host some of its new shows. Sports Dads, hosted by NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, seeks to restore emotional balance within families of athletes. Songwriter Jewel has signed on as host for the third season of The Incurables, a show profiling people who have overcome the odds after a normally fatal medical diagnosis. The network, which also dabbles in alternative medicine, has also selected Yogi Cameron Alborzian— former Versace model and Ayurvedic healer to the stars—to host a primetime docusoap, tentatively titled The Guru for You, which is currently in production.
“We’re not just doing the little thing in the daytime like some of the broadcast nets are doing now,” says Messina. “We’re 24/7 with wellness programming, and there is a desire for both.”
Discovery Fit & Health, which launched in its current form one year ago, also features around-theclock health content, but it relies more on character-driven, reality-based programming rather than instructional or competition series. Rita Mullin, senior VP of content strategy at Discovery Fit & Health, says that network fare such as I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant and I’m Pregnant and… have been particularly popular. While the net is looking into programming about mental health and familial relationships, Mullin says its current pregnancy lineup is exemplary of the “hipper, edgier” twists on subjects Discovery Fit & Health hopes will bring in more viewers, especially women 18-34.
Disney Junior, which launches as a 24- hour preschool network on March 23, is an indication programmers are not ignoring kids in a genre that generally attracts an older audience. Premiering with the network’s launch is Doc McStuffins, about a girl who treats ailing toys and stuffed animals that translates real-world health issues into understandable and entertaining content for preschoolers. Disney Junior works closely with the Hollywood, Health & Society program to identify the most relevant current health topics and has each episode of Doc McStuffins vetted by a panel of pediatricians. The channel also features short-form content such as Mickey Mousekersize, which uses Mickey Mouse’s familiar brand to teach children the importance of exercise.
“Everybody’s talking about healthy eating and exercise, and that’s clearly a tremendously important issue for kids and for families,” says Nancy Kanter, senior VP of original programming and GM, Disney Junior Worldwide. “There are many, many things that kids, moms and dads need to think about when it comes to their health.”
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