First Peek at 'Rachael Ray’

Food Network vet prepares launch
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Rachael Ray’s new show is off to a smoking start. A recent taping in New York had to be halted when a tray of pita bread caught on fire. Terry Wood, president of creative affairs and development for King World Productions and Paramount Domestic Television, called the set from her Hollywood office. Her mission was not to talk damage control but to tell producers to leave the mishap in the show.

The call was unnecessary. Ray never missed a beat, laughing as she pointed out that she had made another culinary faux pas.

“We show you the messes and the successes,” she jovially told the studio audience.

It’s that honesty that has The Rachael Ray Show’s backers bullish about its chances as it launches Sept. 18. With a built-in audience from her Food Network shows and literary following coupled with the backing of Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, Rachael Ray is sticking to a simple script. It will simply let the audience see an imperfect hostess who has made a name for herself with her quick recipes and quicker wit.

No one behind the show will say it aloud, but they would love to position Ray as the anti-Martha Stewart, a regular person who sliced open her finger on the first day of taping.

“Everything isn’t wrapped up in a pretty bow,” says King World CEO Roger King.

Ray possesses little of Stewart’s refined manner. She seldom stops moving while on camera and speaks just below a screech.

“If there is one thing I can do, it is talk,” Ray yelps in a taped opening to the show.

Rachael Ray is shot in front of an audience of about 110 people on a rotating platform in the middle of the set. While much of the program will be focused on a kitchen featuring vintage appliances, the audience can also rotate to four other areas, from a terrace to a garage. Each show begins with Ray stepping out of a freight elevator and greeting the crowd before launching into an unscripted monologue and chatting with fans.

Her demeanor is casual; she refers to herself as “Rache” and has her friends come on to kibbitz about beauty tips and shopping. Audience members polled after tapings have said they want takeaways from each segment, and the show will focus on that.

But the connective tissue is the food preparation; she will make meals and snacks throughout the show, always cooking in the final segment. Viewers who want to cook with her can get a shopping list online at the beginning of each week.

Although celebrities will not appear on every program, the first week predictably offers star power, with Diane Sawyer the guest on opening day.

But the second day will be crucial; that will be the first appearance by Winfrey. Much like with Winfrey’s previous successful offspring, Dr. Phil, the Oprah relationship is key to the launch of Ray, especially since Ray’s schedule will keep her from her previously frequent appearances on Oprah.

“Oprah needed to christen the house,” King says. “The exposure will help take the show beyond [Ray’s] core Food Network audience.”

And while Ray may not be getting the same attention as one other particular high-profile woman starting a new job, she does already have one thing on Katie Couric: a sign-off.

“See you when I see you,” she tells her audience at the close of every show.

King World and Harpo are hoping that’s a daily occurrence.

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