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ABC serves up ‘Chew’to replace soap operas
Gnaw on this: Can some of food and style TV's biggest stars, Mario Batali and Clinton Kelly among them, help ABC soap fans get over the cancellation of their favorite stories? The network's counting on it for "The Chew."
Iron Chef or Martha Stewart this isn't. Nor will the five co-hosts take on top news of the day like their cousins over at "The View" once the show premieres live on Sept. 26 in place of "All My Children" and "One Life to Live."
What you'll see is simple, fun tips for cheap and easy living. During a recent practice run, the ever-adorable Iron Chef Michael Symon salted skirt steak as he shared about his Greek-Sicilian mother and made it clear: Vinaigrette is two parts fat to one part acid.
Mr. Kelly, co-host of TLC's "What Not to Wear," urged parents to bring their kids back to the dinner table by letting them draw on butcher block paper for place mats. Got some shriveled citrus? Don't let it go to waste. Slice it up and float it in a vase topped by a cheery hydrangea blossom.
If it sounds like stuff the more sophisticated Ms. Stewart might have thought up in kindergarten, you're right, but that's OK with "Chew's" executive producer, Gordon Elliott. He's going for "easily digestible, pardon the pun." Besides, there's good food porn with lots of delectable close-ups.
Mr. Elliott explained: "People don't have time to sit for an hour and watch a story. ABC came to me and said we've had great success with 'The View' but we'd like to get into food. I thought 'The View,' food, 'The Chew.' We do more than just chop and chat. Our co-hosts are relatable."
True, they are. It's also true that people may not sit in the middle of the day. But that's why DVRs were invented, so folks like the soap faithful can relax after dinner with their decades-old shows.
Will they be firing those DVRs up for "The Chew," or tuning out altogether to chase down their soaps online?
"I really don't believe that disgruntled refugees from 'All My Children' and 'One Life to Live' will swallow 'The Chew,' " said TV analyst Shari Anne Brill. "This is about how it's become more expensive to produce scripted content. The audience has shifted."
So, this shifting audience. Is it the same audience already wondering just who the heck "Chew" co-cost Daphne Oz and design expert Evette Rios even are?
Miss Oz wrote the best-selling "The Dorm Room Diet" and is the daughter of TV doc Mehmet Oz, for the record. She opened up during the "Chew" run-through - in front of a live audience - about her upbringing as a vegetarian.
Miss Rios was featured speeding through Miss Oz's tiny New York City kitchen on a taped makeover that included, yes, a pegboard for extra hanging storage. Did you know there's something called stainless steel paint? In case you can't afford appliances in the real thing.
Rounding out the Chew crew is the extremely animated Carla Hall, a "Top Chef" finalist and perky fan favorite who brings on a never-say-die approach to catastrophe in the kitchen. If the top cracks on your cheesecake, for instance, don't get mad, discouraged or depressed. Cover it up with a world of whipped cream and berries.
Promos for "The Chew" have begun airing, already annoying the soap faithful, some of whom took to the sidewalk at ABC Studios in April to protest when the network canceled their shows. They handed out leaflets that declared "The Chew" and other replacements "glorified infomercials appropriate for late-night basic cable channels, not for a major broadcast network."
Robin Blum, 61, has been watching "All My Children" since it went on the air 41 years ago. She has a small business making greeting cards that double as bookmarks. Hence, she's home.
" 'AMC' got me through two childbirths, a brain tumor, a broken leg, several tropical storms when I lived in the Virgin Islands and 9/11 in New York City," she said.
"It is not an entertainment form that has outlived its usefulness. It's idiotic that the programmers are now substituting 'The Chew.' How barbaric, for what has essentially become a part of so many people's lives and has created so many moments of high emotion, tears and laughter."
Could "The Chew" stir up that kind of devotion from its audience? Unlikely, said Lisa Morris, the 35-year-old owner of a boutique travel agency in New York. "ABC keeps replacing good shows with this crappy, cheap, reality TV," she said. "Is paying writers really so much of a sacrifice to the networks?"
Brian Frons, ABC's daytime president, said the bulk of women viewers aren't watching soaps. They're watching chat, reality, entertainment and style.
"It was time to look at programming for the majority of women who were watching TV," he said when he popped in on "The Chew."
Soap fans aside, daytime viewers who already know more than a little something about cooking, raising kids or fixing up their homes may not stomach "The Chew." Or those looking for discourse on issues related to food, like the obesity epidemic, the food supply or the state of nutrition in schools.
Mr. Symon talked of fresh ingredients as healthy ones as he let fly with his endearing, high-pitched laugh and munched on mac 'n' cheese with buffalo chicken. The chat on "Chew," Mr. Frons said, will remain on the frothy side.
Do, however, watch for pop-in guests from the Food Network and elsewhere in the TV chef world.
Miss Brill said ABC's morning chatter on "The View" will offer "Chew" a nudge, at least for awhile.
"It'll help, but the new show will have to stand on its own," she said. "Audiences are very fickle. There's too many places to go."
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