Fall TV schedule gorges on weight-loss shows
Six new fat-centric series follow 'Biggest Loser' on the air
Forget about all those scary-skinny stars -- fat is making a comeback in Hollywood. Like ABC's "The Bachelor," which spawned a spate of reality dating shows, NBC's "The Biggest Loser" has hatched a ton of weight-loss look-alikes. There's "Celebrity Fit Club" on VH1, "Too Fat for Fifteen: Fighting Back" on Style, "Obese" and "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" on ABC and "Thintervention" on Bravo. All feature contestants sweating, whining, quitting and reflecting.
And in a nod to "The Honeymooners," "Roseanne" and more recently "The King of Queens," the new TV season brings us "Mike & Molly," a Chuck Lorre sitcom on CBS that features plus-size stars Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell as regular (read overweight) people who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting.
"Nobody cannibalizes better than Hollywood," said J.D. Roth, co-creator of "Biggest Loser" who also produces "Obese" and is prepping "What's Eating You" for E! "As soon as something is working, there has to be 40 of them immediately. More is better."
"Thintervention," a recent entry into the weight-loss sweepstakes, garnered a respectable 1.2 million viewers in its premiere Monday. The show stars Jackie Warner, the high-powered fitness trainer from another Bravo show, "Workout." Like "Biggest Loser," "Thintervention" follows real folks who work out with Warner and attempt to lose 25-100 pounds.
"I think all these weight-loss shows are great," Warner said. "I love [Oxygen's] 'Dance Your A** Off.' Those people have such joy in what they're doing. I think America has to have the information. I can't believe how confused America is about weight loss."
Dave Ehlers, managing director of branded-entertainment outfit ZenithOptimedia, said all the weight-loss shows provide "excellent vehicles" for advertisers targeting individuals who seek a healthier lifestyle.
Roth said "Biggest Loser" proved a hard sell at first.
"I had people say that fat people aren't attractive and that nobody wants to see fat people on television," he said. "I said, 'Well, do you know anyone who is fat?' 'Oh yeah,' they said, 'my mother is, my sister and brother is.' So, I told them that if everyone in this room knows someone who's in that situation, isn't that your audience?"
Roth knew what he was talking about. The National Center for Disease Control reports that 17% of kids and 34% of adults in the U.S. are overweight.
Despite the glut of similar fare, the popularity of "Biggest Loser" hasn't waned, and the show holds up when facing such ratings juggernauts as "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance." The eighth cycle premiered with 10.4 million viewers, its best performance to date.
"I do think that more and more people are focusing on weight as an issue and walls are being torn down; ratings have something to do with it," said Chad Bennett, vp brand development and production for "Biggest Loser" producer Reveille.
"Too Fat for Fifteen," which focuses on overweight teenagers, has attracted an average of 215,000 viewers, 50% more than Style's primetime average. The show stems from a documentary the cable network ran last year about Georgia Davis, dubbed "Britain's fattest teenager," and her attempt to shed serious pounds at Wellspring Academy in North Carolina.
"The way we tell these stories about real kids who have these weight issues is realistic. You're not going to see an immediate result," said Katie Buchanan, vp programming at Style. "The viewers can relate to the length of the journey and the highs and lows. Our network is all about transformation."
McCarthy, who spent 10 years on "Gilmore Girls," said she signed on for "Mike & Molly" because she was intrigued by the script's humor and its realism.
"It flips it back to the shows I grew up with like 'All in the Family' and 'Barney Miller' that all had people that looked like you," she said. "Everything wasn't so bionic. I liked this script because it allowed you to lose yourself in that world, because it was so real. Everybody didn't have a brand-new coat everyday or talk about having no money and walk in with a brand-new Mark Jacobs bag."
Mark Roberts, who executive produces "Mike & Molly" with Lorre, said the show is not necessarily about two overweight people -- it's about an ordinary couple who fall in love and the obstacles they confront each day.
"I wanted to do something with real people," he said. "People in most sitcoms live very unrealistic lives. Back in the days of Norman Lear, you had real people on television. We're hoping that real people with real issues are going to come back in style."
Despite the plethora of these shows, make no mistake: In Hollywood, thin always will be in.
"People in the movie business still want actresses who are idealized versions of women," veteran casting director Jane Jenkins said. "I think that adage that you can never be too rich or too thin still applies in Hollywood. The plus-size actress today would be a size 6 or a size 8."
Said Warner: "It's heart-breaking because everyone ends up succumbing to this overly thin image. The Kardashians were these voluptuous, curvy sisters who ended up succumbing to the image and losing weight."
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