Pie Town dishes up fruit for cable nets

May 7, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Pie Town Productions has a story to tell. This time it’s the company’s own.

The production company helped catapult The Learning Channel to the No. 1 ad-supported cable network in daytime among women 18 to 34 for the first quarter with its reality programming, such as “A Baby Story” and “Wedding Story.”

Now the company is branching out with pilots in the works for Lifetime, Game Show Network and Food Network.

It all started in 1996 when TLC launched “Wedding Story,” which chronicles a couple’s wedding from the rehearsal to the reception and includes the story of how the couple met. Pie Town founders Tara Sandler and Jennifer Davidson helped produce that pilot while with another production company.

Next came “A Baby Story,” a half-hour show that follows an expecting couple through the last phase of the pregnancy, filming the couple going to doctor’s offices, having a baby shower and delivering the baby at the hospital.

The show spawned a cult following among young professional women who themselves are expecting, who watch the show to learn tips from other couples.

“A Baby Story,” which just received its first Emmy nomination, is the highest-rated show among women 18 to 34 on TLC’s daytime roster.

“The ratings are really doing well,” said Chuck Gingold, senior vice president and general manager for daytime programming for both TLC and Discovery Channel. “We were first or second during most of last year, but this year it became dominant. I think part of the reason is we began our programming at 9 a.m. as opposed to noon.”

A one-hour block of “A Baby Story” from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. (ET) in the first quarter of 2001 pulled a 1.1 Nielsen Media Research rating and 6.7 share among women 18 to 34 in TLC’s coverage area of 78.9 million homes, up 40 percent in ratings and 34 percent in share since it debuted in the fourth quarter of 1998.

The series will launch its fourth season in September with an episode featuring radio personality and actor Danny Bonaduce and his wife, and the birth of their second child.

This season’s 45 episodes will also include new elements, such as a same-sex couple that is expecting a baby, as well as the show’s first quadruplets.

TLC took the “Story” concept forged by Pie Town and ran with it, launching “A Dating Story,” in which one person acts as matchmaker for two friends and the camera follows them on a date to various locations; “A Makeover Story,” which debuted on TLC’s daytime lineup this season, in which two people get makeovers in each episode; and “A Personal Story,” to debut this fall, about cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. “You get into this rut where you think it’s a cable show, no one will know it. But I was in a doctor’s office, and I said I work on TLC and on `A Baby Story,’ and then everyone flocked around me like I was a celebrity,” Mr. Gingold said.

Los Angeles-based Pie Town was founded by Ms. Sandler and Ms. Davidson in 1995 when they left production company Film Garden. The duo’s only office staff was an assistant, and they were lucky to get their first show, “Great Country Inns,” on TLC. With just three people, they produced 45 half-hour episodes in eight months. Now, the company has a staff of 100. There are eight staffers dedicated to “A Baby Story,” on call during all hours of the day for the show.

Pie Town has seven series in production-“A Baby Story” for TLC and the rest for HGTV, including “Weekend Warriors,” “Designers Challenge” and new show “Landscapers’ Challenge,” scheduled for fall launch.

The company will produce 250 half-hours of programming this year.

And Pie Town is expanding its portfolio to other networks-it recently produced a pilot for Lifetime called “Trading Places,” which gives two women living different lives the opportunity to trade places for two days. If the network picks it up, it could launch in January.

The production company is also in development with the Game Show Network for the first time, with a cross-country race show tentatively called “Freeloaders,” which has not yet been picked up.

Pie Town is also producing two shows for the Food Network, including “Firehouse Cooking,” a behind-the-scenes look at why firefighters are some of the best chefs and how food plays a role in their jobs. It launches at 9 p.m. June 24. The camera also follows a California catering company specializing in emergency fires. The caterer gets calls from fire departments in the middle of the night during a large blaze. The caterer goes out to the fire, which may have 600 firefighters working it, and feeds them.

This summer on the Food Network, Pie Town produced six episodes of “Cooking School Stories,” which follows the last two weeks of an intense international cuisine class at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island.