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Food Network's new 'Unwrapped' takes a look at our favorite junk

Monday, July 16, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Food Network takes the wraps off its newest series, "Unwrapped," tonight at 10:30. It's a show as fluffy as its topic with little to no nutritional value, but it offers a nostalgic look at the intersection of pop culture and food, mostly junk food.

Hosted by Marc Summers ("Double Dare"), the premiere explores the history of cereal icons, from Tony the Tiger to Quisp. Other episodes deal with soda, candy and bubble gum.

"A lot of this is 'Honey, did ya know' stuff," Summers said Saturday at the Television Critics Association press tour, which began here last week. "It's fun facts, like that it takes five days to make a gumball."

In addition to history, Summers said "Unwrapped" takes viewers behind the scenes in factories where such products are manufactured. The history of product inventions is also revealed.

"We learn in our first special that the way Lucky Charms were invented was by a person at General Mills who was eating Cheerios and they took those orange circus peanuts, cut them up, put them on top of the Cheerios," he said. "Somebody said, 'That's a great idea' and all of a sudden, Lucky Charms were invented."

The history of peanut butter and a look at hamburgers and hot dogs are also on the agenda for the show's first 18 episodes.

"The thing I find interesting about hot dogs was when they first were introduced over here, they were sausages that had condiments and no buns," Summers said. "They would give people gloves to eat the hot dogs with and then hope to get the gloves returned. The whole point of the bun was as something so they could eat the hot dog and not have to return the gloves."

Several experts on food pop culture (who knew there was such an expert?) are interviewed, including Colleen Chapin, who runs the Web site http://www.hometownfavorites.com/, which sells regional and hard-to-find nostalgia products, such as candy raisins and Skybars.

"Not only are these candies fun and bring back a lot of memories, but when you open a Skybar, you remember where you were, when you had this, who you went to the movies with, who liked the chocolate and who liked the caramel," Chapin said.

Advertising agency executive Ritchie Lucas created a museum dedicated to advertising icons that's featured in tonight's show. He said the cost of selling a box of cereal today -- including advertising and marketing -- keeps companies from offering a free plastic Tony the Tiger if you send in a box top and 25 cents.

"Today it's either market the product or spend some money on some of this neat stuff," Lucas said. "And icons today do not have the same bond and they don't resonate the same as they did with consumers years ago. It's hard not to like and believe Tony the Tiger. When Tony says that cereal is 'Grrrreat!' you believe that it's great... Nowadays, it's whatever we can chow down real fast and run out the door and get to work."

The only disappointment in the first episode of "Unwrapped" is that it introduces Lucas' museum but never tells viewers where it's located (in his Miami ad agency) or what the Web site address is (http://www.toymuseum.com/). That's a pretty glaring oversight that I hope will not be repeated in future episodes.

More Food

Food Network, which was added to most Pittsburgh area AT&T Broadband systems earlier this month, also announced a weekly series to be hosted by "Survivor 2" contestant Keith "I Can Cook Rice" Famie.

"Keith Famie's Adventures" will begin in November with a one-hour special filmed in Kenya to coincide with CBS's "Survivor: Africa."

WB = Without 'Buffy'

With "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" set to slay demons on UPN (Pittsburgh's WNPA, Channel 19) this fall, The WB is looking to re-establish itself as both a critical and ratings success.

Moving the excellent "Gilmore Girls" to 8 p.m. Tuesday opposite "Buffy" on UPN may vex fans of both series, but WB executives see it as a chance to rebuild the night by pairing "Gilmore" with its most ambitious new drama, "Smallville," a retelling of the Superman story.

Perhaps more important to the network's future growth, The WB has engineered two nights of comedies -- Sunday and Friday -- hoping to make good on a long promise of more half-hour series on the network.

"It's kind of a new look on The WB this year and I'm kind of excited about it," said Jamie Kellner, chairman of Turner Broadcasting System, parent company of The WB in the AOL-Time Warner empire. "It's easier to renew shows, but it's bolder and more daring and more exciting to take new shots."

Adding more comedies featuring families also raises the median age of the mostly teen characters on WB series, but executives said that won't alienate the network's target audience of viewers ages 18 to 34.

"It's about a sense of voice on the show, not so much about age," said WB Entertainment president Jordan Levin. "One of the mistakes that gets made very often is [people think] young-skewing programs shouldn't feature full families or adult figures. ... What we've found in our shows is having real multi-dimensional relationships between parents and children and multi-generational casts and conflicts is always more interesting and something young audiences want to see. They want to see credible adults."

Kellner pointed to the WB's "7th Heaven," a series that tops the network's ratings in households and among teen viewers.

"Shows with strong teen characters with a family unit is the right strategy," Kellner said.

If these shows attract more families, perhaps members of the Television Academy Arts & Sciences will notice the network. Last week's Emmy nominations were a slap to The WB, which received no nominations for its critically-acclaimed "Buffy" and "Gilmore Girls." But executives seemed unconcerned.

"I don't get upset about it," Levin said. "It's different for our creative talent. They want to be recognized by their peers. ... But does it mean something to our audience? Probably not as much as other [networks']."

More “Sopranos”?

HBO's hit mob drama "The Sopranos" ended its third season in May, and HBO executives said Friday viewers may have to wait until June or September 2002 to see fresh episodes.

Why the wait? Because series creator David Chase is given the leeway to create the show at his own pace.

"David takes a long time to get things done," said HBO president of original programming Chris Albrecht. "I don't mean that in a bad way, he just really takes him time to figure out the seasons of 'The Sopranos,' and he hasn't met the 12-month cycle."

In the world of cable, the most popular premiere months are January, March and June. Albrecht said the new season won't be ready by March. If "Sopranos" is ready for June, Albrecht said, "Sex and the City" would get bumped until September, HBO's newest launch month (the World War II mini-series "Band of Brothers" airs this September). Or HBO could choose to air "Sex" in June and delay "Sorpanos" until September.

Albrecht said the entire "Sopranos" cast is signed through the sixth season, but creator David Chase is signed only through season four. Earlier this year he indicated that will be the end, but in recent weeks he's been talking with HBO about extending the show for a fifth season. An announcement about the show's future is expected soon.

For viewers who want to know what all the fuss is about, all 39 episodes of "The Sopranos" produced so far will air weekly on Sundays at 8 p.m. beginning Aug. 12.

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

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