Ideas Spice Season’s Fare

Nov 3, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The November sweeps are upon us, which means the holidays are fast approaching. This year’s lineup of holiday-themed instructional programming ranges from the predictable (decorating and cooking tips) to the highly anticipated (Oprah Winfrey’s annual gift extravaganza) to the unexpected (HGTV’s recreation of the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving).
Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey, two syndication stalwarts, follow different inspirational paths in their holiday programming. “Oprah’s Favorite Things,” which has aired annually since 1996, spotlights Ms. Winfrey as she discusses her favorite products. Harpo Productions, Ms. Winfrey’s production ‘s company, tapes the show, distributed by King World, in its Chicago studio. It airs Nov. 24 at different times of the day. Tickets to “Oprah’s Favorite Things” are highly sought-after because of the free merchandise dispensed to the 300 audience members, usually by staffers dressed as elves. Last year, 24 items were highlighted. No figures are available for how many free goods will be given out this year.
Ms. Stewart’s countdown to Thanksgiving programming, Nov. 17 to 2l and Nov. 24 to 26 on her 11-year-old “Martha Stewart Living” series, which is also syndicated by King World, encompasses an array of in-studio and taped-on-location segments. Several holiday specials she’s doing for the Food network are repurposed segments from the syndicated show as part of a deal dating back to 2001.
“While we’ve been doing more on-location segments this year, because of November sweeps, we took to the road,” said Linda Corradina, senior VP, executive producer, for Martha Stewart Living Television. One of the eight Thanksgiving shows was taped at Marie and Gina Gallo’s winery in Sonoma County in Northern California, with the emphasis on cooking and wine. In shows taped at Ms. Stewart’s Westport, Conn., studio, Jennifer Garner, star of ABC’s “Alias,” appears multiple times, while in another episode Joel Grey assists in making his favorite dessert, coconut cream pie.
Chief locations for holiday-flavored shows are Scripps’ four networks: Food, Home & Garden Television, Fine Living and Do It Yourself.
“Viewers rely on us during the holiday time for ideas,” said Food Network’s VP of programming and special projects, Kathleen Finch. “One of our 12 holiday-themed programs, `Top 5 Holiday Tips,’ is a countdown with a twist offering 25 unusual foods and traditions never covered before, like making a chocolate salami. We consider ourselves a resource to give people the tools to follow through with their aspirations.”
The holiday tips stanza airing Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. is fashioned around five subjects: traditions with a twist, such as preparing a “turducken,” a very big turkey stuffed with duck, chicken and squab that cooks for six to seven hours. The four other subjects are tempting trimmings (edible ornaments), sweet treats (giant fortune cookies), hologram pops (lollipops with a hologram of Santa built in) and quirky gifts (a giant chocolate made to look like a salami).
“Christmas in America,” hosted by Rachel Ray, is an adventurous hour focusing on how families in six parts of the nation maintain their regional Christmas dinner traditions. All the segments were shot last Christmas day, and six crews were used to capture the distinctive foods of an Italian American family in Chicago; a family whose ancestors were brought from Africa to the South Carolina coast; Honolulu, where food baskets are distributed to needy families; a Cuban American family in Miami; a Wilmington, Vt., family dining in a six-centuries-old log cabin; and a family in Las Vegas eating dinner at a hotel after watching their son play in a college football bowl game.
Home & Garden Television unfurls nine new holiday specials in November and December. One, “Thanksgiving Unstuffed,” captures fanatical as well as old-time traditional celebrations. High Noon Productions’ Tom Giesen, executive producer of that hour-long special, said one of the segments focusing on how the Pilgrims celebrated the holiday in 1621 also uncovered some etiquette surprises.
Denver-based High Noon went to Plymouth, Mass., to the Plimoth Plantation last year to film an authentic Pilgrim Thanksgiving dinner for this year’s special. “Table and eating manners paint a picture totally different from what we think they were,” Mr. Giesen said. “It was not appropriate in Pilgrim times for a man to put a napkin on his lap. It went over his left shoulder like a bib. Women could put the napkin on their laps. It was appropriate to spit under the table, but not on the table or across the table. It’s also surprising to learn that kids drank beer with their meal. Pilgrims were convinced hops and barley are nutritious. There are two appropriate utensils: a knife and your hands. When the English do use a spoon, it’s more like using a shovel.”
In another of the show’s segments on how to have a non-tailgate pre-football game Thanksgiving dinner in a stadium parking lot, the company travels to Texas Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys play the Washington Redskins. Like the Pilgrim segment, this dinner extravaganza was filmed last year for airing this year. “This is a story of around 200 people who have been gathering every year since 1966 to do Thanksgiving outside Gate 6 in the parking lot of the stadium,” Mr. Giesen said.
“We show people arriving at 6 a.m. to select their sites and set up a little tent city with tables, chairs and banquet-style folding tables that seat eight. Some bring fine silverware. They bring 13 smoked turkeys, which are taken out of their smokers at 1 a.m. that morning. Several other turkeys are deep-fried in the parking lot. There’s mashed potatoes and potato salad and Texas appetizers like jalapenos wrapped in bacon.” The show airs Nov. 22 at 5 p.m. and at 9 p.m. the next day.
One of HGTV’s first how-to shows, “Room by Room,” which launched with the network in December 1994, steps out of character with its holiday offering, co-hosted by Shari Hiller and Matt Fox. “We did something a little different this year, which we call `Christmas With a Twist,’ Ms. Hiller said, “like a Christmas tree made out of wood and a stocking made out of leather with a fur trim and stuffed with leather gloves.” Taped last spring in three homes in Cleveland, where Ms. Hiller and Mr. Fox have a studio, the show offers offbeat ways to hang Christmas cards and set ornaments and lights. It airs Nov. 28 at 8 p.m.
A family’s Glendale, Calif., home is the setting for “Christmas Design on a Dime,” the HGTV half-hour series that features economical room renovations. Supervising producer Ellen Bauman-Kennedy said there were several firsts in “creating Christmas in July.” The special is the first-year series’ initial hour special and the first time its two design teams, led by interior designers Lee Snijders and Kristan Cunningham, and their two assistants worked together. They redid the living and dining rooms of the traditional 1920s home of Nancy and Greg Gneier and their two children, Katy, 10, and Tim, 8. “We had a built-in theme, since the family collects model trains and has pictures throughout the house.”
The designers used an antique locomotive as a dining room centerpiece. A year-round Christmas emporium provided them with the dining room elements, including a buffet serving piece for the 30 Christmas dinner guests. The show airs Nov. 28 at 10 p.m.
Multimedia Effort
Among Fine Living’s five holiday specials, “Ultimate Gift Guide” is the network’s only multimedia effort, said Stephanie Eno, director of programming and production. “We’re airing seven original one-minute video broadband segments on our Web site,” she said. The show, airing Nov. 23 at 9 p.m., features suggestions from other network personalities Gordon Elliott, Andrea Immer, Sheila Bridges, Kevin Brauch and Gigi Scandanaro. In other specials, Mr. Elliott hosts “An Aspen Christmas”(Nov. 30, 9 p.m.), featuring master sommelier Ms. Immer and four chefs offering meal suggestions, while interior designer Ms. Bridges includes Chanukah and Kwanzaa in the sugges
tion-filled “A Sheila Bridges Holiday” airing Dec. 14 at 9 p.m.
“DIY’s Holiday Workshop,” the network’s first five-part special, shot around the Knoxville, Tenn., area last July, is “the most ambitious and aggressive offering we’ve done, since it’s the first time the show is on for five consecutive days,” said Bob Baskerville, DIY’s senior VP, general manager. “Since we lose the audience after each half-hour, we have to get them back by providing good information from our guest experts, Nancy Golden, Debbie Stapley, Bruce Johnson, Chris Chianelli, Jay Baker and Harry Schwartz, who discusses Chanukah recipes.” The show airs Nov. 17 at 3:30 p.m.