The Food Network isn’t the only place a chef can carve a TV name. In 22 markets, the Clever Cleaver Brothers are building a mini-empire. Their two-minute football-themed cooking segments, Tailgatin’ With the Clever Cleaver Brothers, air during newscasts on stations from WCAU Philadelphia to KPNX Phoenix.
In the consolidated syndication business, independents like the Clever Cleavers—San Diego-based cooks Lee N. Gerovitz and Steve Cassarino—have to be scrappy. The pair peddle the shows, calling on stations personally.
Their business formula for fifth-season Tailgatin’ is unusual. Stations get 20 two-minute segments each season for free; Cassarino and Gerovitz make money by selling product placements and sponsorships to food companies like Mrs. Dash and Chilula hot sauce. Sponsors pay $3,000 per placement. With three spots per segment, the duo can earn $180,000 a season.
Now the Clever Cleavers are branching out into cable. Production company Planet X wants them to host a Man Show-like program, called UPX, short for “University Planet X,” for the Fox College Sports network this fall. The team will travel to 26 colleges to interview athletes and offer dishes suitable for frat-house kitchens. Meanwhile, Camping Life magazine has its own plans. It’s recruiting the two for a cooking show for campers, traveling the country in an RV.
Despite the proletarian recipe, Cassarino and Gerovitz are classically trained chefs. They met 20 years ago at cooking school, where they trained with Emeril Lagasse. Still, they remain more shtick than gourmet. “We never wear chef outfits,” says Cassarino. “We are Joe Cooks.” A meat cleaver inspired their on-air personas; they cook simple recipes with readily available ingredients. At the recent National Association of Television Program Executives conference, Cassarino and Gerovitz grabbed a new deal: An exec from ad agency JWT scouted them out for American Tailgater Co., which plans to sell the Clever Cleavers’ DVD on its Web site and in its catalog.
The centerpiece of Clever Cleaver Productions is an annual road show. Every year, the duo crisscrosses the country hosting 80-100 live cooking segments on local and national TV shows, like Entertainment Tonight and CBS’ The Early Show. Another asset is a library of 260 three-minute spots, Kitchen Cut-Ups, blending comedy and cooking. The guys have also written a cookbook, Cooking with the Cleavers, and are consulting on another. “It is a tough business,” Cassarino says, “but we’re still having fun.”