Jamie Oliver Gets ABC Show
Seacrest backs unscripted project
By Marisa Guthrie and Melissa Grego -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/11/2009 2:00:00 AM
ABC has ordered six episodes of an unscripted series featuring celebrity chef and healthy-cooking guru Jamie Oliver.
Produced by Ryan Seacrest Productions, the series will have the British chef traveling to one of America’s most overweight towns to teach the residents how to make healthy food choices.
The town has been selected for the first season and shooting is scheduled to begin in August. Seacrest declines to reveal the town, but says the show will be ready for air as early as January.
The show's concept dovetails with Oliver’s Jamie’s School Dinners, the British series that chronicled Oliver’s campaign to get unhealthy food removed from the country’s school cafeterias. In the ABC program, Oliver will work in tandem with town officials to offer constituents better food options.
“We’ve developed an original concept here to take on communities starting with one and hopefully spreading across the country,” Seacrest says.
School lunch programs will be one target for reform. But Oliver and his producers will also assess the availability of fresh produce at local grocery stores, the proliferation of fast-food establishments and choices available at offices.
“And we’ll use the resources that are available in the community,” Seacrest explains. “We’re not flying in experts and trainers and gym equipment. We’re really going to roll up our sleeves and dig into the town and [work with] the people who are there.”
Oliver also spearheads a successful foodie empire from his native England, with cookbooks, a magazine and multiple restaurants, including the charity chain Fifteen, where Oliver trains 15 disadvantaged young people to run a restaurant.
The original Fifteen is in North London. There are also branches in Cornwall, England; Amsterdam and Melbourne.
Oliver first became known to American audiences via his cooking show The Naked Chef, which ran on Food Network.
Seacrest reached out to Oliver after a segment on Seacrest’s syndicated radio program examining the dearth of healthy food choices for kids struck a nerve with his listeners.
“It really became a massive conversation,” Seacrest says. “So I started to look at what he had done in the U.K.”
ABC has been trying to mount a show with Oliver for some time. He was a celebrity contestant on last season’s Oprah’s Big Give. And the new program is in line with ABC’s successful brand of inspirational unscripted programming typified by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
It also taps into the reality trend toward weight loss and healthy eating that has sprung up in the wake of the resurgent success of NBC’s long-running Biggest Loser, which was spurred by the rising tide of concern over epidemic obesity rates in the U.S.
First Lady Michelle Obama has made healthy eating a priority of her office. She has been photographed digging vegetable gardens with Washington, D.C. schoolchildren and serving healthy menu choices at soup kitchens. And, of course, she has famously planted the first presidential vegetable garden on the lawn of the White House.
According to Seacrest, Oliver will attempt to leverage the show’s success to lobby Washington for wider reforms. And both of them have a kindred spirit in the First Lady. When asked if getting Mrs. Obama to appear on the program would be a coup, Seacrest responds: “Don’t think we haven’t thought of that.”
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