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Weight-Loss Reality Shows Are Busting Out

6/14/2010 3:42 AM Eastern

Obesity is at epidemic
levels these days in the U.S. and
television shows dealing with
the issue are also proliferating
on cable, with no less than
a half-dozen programs either
coming back for another season
or debuting this summer.

The shows run the gamut from
weight-loss contests to documentary-
style reality shows. New
to the category this year is a scripted
one-hour drama sprinkled with
some comedy for good measure.

TV-network executives said
the explosion of weight-centric
TV shows is part of a perfect
storm of events: rising obesity
rates around the country; the recent
debate over health care and
health-care costs; first lady Michelle
Obama’s push to encourage
healthy eating and exercise
habits for kids; and the public’s
general love of transformation
and overcoming obstacles.

“Obesity is an unfortunate reality
for so many people today and
if it’s not affecting you directly, it’s
probably affecting someone close
to you,” said Salaam Coleman
Smith, Style Network’s president.

ABC Family executive vice
president of original programming
and development Kate
Juergens added, “All these issues
are bubbling up into people’s
consciousness and it’s having
an effect on the things that are
important and interesting to
them.”

Obesity-oriented programs
have proliferated because “people
love the makeover aspects
of these shows,” said Amy Introcaso-
Davis, Oxygen’s senior vice
president of original programming
and development. “Obesity
is a big hurdle to overcome and
there are temptations every day. I
believe this [programming] genre
will last for quite a while.”

Many of the weight-loss shows
on today’s dial center on contests.
The longest-running U.S. show in
this genre is VH1’s Celebrity Fit
Club
, which debuted in 2005 and
was recently renewed after seven
seasons. Celebrity Fit Club follows
eight overweight celebrities, split
up into two teams, as they try to
lose weight for charity. Teams
are given different physical challenges,
and weighed to see if they
reached their target weights.

Oxygen’s Dance Your A** Off
features full-figured contestants
who struggle with their
weight and dance to unleash
their inner thin. Last season, the
contestants’ “thinspiration” resulted
in more than 500 pounds
lost. Like ABC’s Dancing with
the Stars
, the series pairs each
contestant with a professional
dance partner who trains them
for their weekly stage performances.

Contestants perform in front of a
live studio audience and a panel of
expert judges. The judges score the
routines, and then the contestants
weigh in to determine how much
they’ve lost. The dance score and
lost weight vare combined for an
overall score, which determines
who gets sent home each week.

VH1 will debut Money Hungry
later this month with a new
take on the weight-loss contest.
Ten overweight teams of two
will put their money where their
mouth is. There’s a twist, though,
said Jeff Olde, VH1 executive vice
president of original programming
and production. The teams
put up $10,000 of their own money
and the team that loses the
most weight wins $100,000. It’s
just about losing weight though.
Teams may plot to subvert their
rivals’ efforts. For instance,
in one already-taped episode,
one team locked the rest of the
group in a room filled with freshly
cooked bacon.

“There’s a comedic and subversive
aspect that takes the show
in slightly different and fun direction,”
Olde said. “We’re not purists here at VH1. There is a comedic
aspect that other weightloss
shows don’t have.

“But here’s something we
didn’t anticipate: People are losing
more weight than we ever
thought they would,” he added.
“I mean, you can win even if
your team only loses five pounds,
if that means no one lost more
than you. But one pair is already
down 75 pounds and we’ve only
shot four episodes. TV is designed
to entertain us, but it can also be
used to educate us, and I think
these shows often do both at the
same time.”

VH1 kicked off Bridal Boot
Camp
— its third show in the
burgeoning genre — on June 9.
The show follows 10 brides-to-be
as they attempt to shed unwanted
pounds before their big day
walking down the aisle. Broken
into two teams, the contestants
participate in various challenges.
The woman who has lost the
most weight and won the most
challenges at the end of the
competition will win her dream
wedding.

Olde said the network is always
looking for ways to deal with real
issues in different ways. This show
taps into two big issues for women:
weddings and weight loss.

Style Network’s Ruby offers
a bird’s-eye view of Ruby
Gettinger’s struggle to lose
weight. In 2008, Gettinger weighed
over 500 pounds. Her doctor was
blunt: lose weight or die.

Style has followed the Savannah,
Ga., resident as she grappled
with her weight as well as other
life-changing events. After three
seasons, Ruby has become the
network’s highest-rated show.

Ruby and her story have also
become a boffo financial franchise
for Style, with the sale of
books, DVDs, T-shirts and other
paraphernalia. Last summer,
Style launched “Ruby’s Walk
Across America,” a national walking
tour encouraging everyone
and anyone to come out and walk
with Ruby — taking that first step
towards a healthier lifestyle.

“Ruby has become an ambassador
for this issue and the network,”
Coleman Smith said. “Her
story is so powerful and it has
been moving for all of us. We hope
other people use her story to help
them lose the weight they need to
lose to be healthy and happy.”

Style is expanding its lineup of
weight-loss shows with the introduction
of Too Fat for 15: Fighting
Back
, set to debut Aug. 9.
The show chronicles four obese
teenagers as they struggle to
lose weight at Wellspring Academy
in North Carolina. The show
was inspired by a British documentary
featuring the U.K’s most
overweight teen, who traveled
to Wellspring in 2009 to lose unwanted
pounds.

The show chronicles the teens’
weight-loss efforts, but also ends
up being as much about making
friends, building self esteem
and learning new skills, Coleman
Smith said. Producers were careful
to make sure the show is not
gratuitous and is filled with segments
featuring psychologists,
doctors, nutritionists and fitness
trainers.

“We are committed to helping
these kids overcome obesity,” she
said.

Along those lines, but in a totally
different way, Huge will premiere
on ABC Family on June 28.
It’s the first scripted show to join
the weight-loss genre of programming.
Starring Nikki Blonsky
(Hairspray), Huge is a one-hour
drama focusing on seven teens
from different backgrounds attending
a weight loss camp. The
series will follow the emotional
journey of the campers as they
deal with issues including selfesteem,
friendship, rivalry, romance
and body image.

“No one has dived into this
area in a scripted manner,” Juergens
said. “It will allow us to delve
into some very introspective and
personal issues without exploiting
anyone or their situation.”

Advertisers are pleased
so far with the obesityfocused
shows, executives
said. It gives them the opportunity
to sell different products.
For instance, viewers are
unlikely to see McDonald’s value
or super-sized meals advertised
during these shows, but the home
of the Golden Arches might push
its salad offerings. Rather than its
flagship Coke, Coca-Cola might
hawk Dasani water.

Sponsorship opportunities are
also abundant. Anytime Fitness,
a Minnesota-based chain, paid
$11,000 to have VH1’s Bridal Boot
Camp
contestants wear workout
gear featuring the company’s
logo. A national TV ad campaign
will coincide with the show, according
to the Minneapolis Business
Journal
.

“Each show attracts its own set
of advertisers and these [obesitycentric]
shows are no different,”
Oxygen’s Introcaso-Davis said. “It
could start a trend toward where
they sell more healthy products
across the board.”

September