By DAVID BAUDER
NEW YORK — J.D. Roth’s first email upon learning that ABC had decided to air his transformational new daytime series, “The Revolution,” came from his mother-in-law: “You killed Erica Kane!”
The network had coupled its announcement of two new series last April with the more distressing news to soap opera fans that “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” would be canceled after decades on the air. Series creator Roth learned of the connection five minutes before the news went out.
His mother-in-law didn’t quite have her story right – it was the other new series, “The Chew,” that replaced “All My Children” and retired Susan Lucci’s Kane character. Similar emotion, though. Attracting attention is a challenge for all new television programs, and “The Revolution” faces the additional hurdle of impressing people in a daytime audience upset at seeing its favorite genre slowly die.
“I’m in a difficult spot,” Roth said. “My goal was to sell a TV show. It wasn’t to take a TV show off the air.”
The creator of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” is betting on the novel idea of showing someone’s personal turnaround, condensing five months of work into five days. A trainer, a woman’s health specialist, a relationship expert, fashion maven Tim Gunn and fixer-upper Ty Pennington are all part of the work crew.
The show debuts Jan. 16.
Watch The Latest Episode Of “The Biggest Loser”:
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Roth and business partner Todd Nelson specialize in life-altering reality shows like “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition” and MTV’s “I Used to be Fat.” After his time with “The Biggest Loser,” Roth said he wanted to do something that was about more than weight loss.
All of the women he features on “The Revolution” have weight problems, but there are other issues that need to be addressed. Early on in the series, for example, he orders two sisters who are inseparable to spend time apart to establish their own identities. Other women featured include a hoarder, one who wants to set an example for an overweight child, one with a special needs child and another who has lost intimacy with her husband.
The former child actor (host of “Fun House”) defines his revolution as “the small changes you make each day that change your life.”
He lives it, too, scolding a lunch partner for “drinking your calories” by ordering a fruit juice instead of water.
“I would have been a therapist if I wasn’t in this business,” he said. “I have always been fascinated by transformations. At dinner parties, I would always hang out with the wives rather than the husbands, because they were always the most interesting.”
Pushed aside in a power struggle, this is the first season Roth hasn’t been involved in “The Biggest Loser.” He said he hasn’t watched it, but he’s clearly kept tabs on it. There are mixed emotions: Ratings are down considerably, which would naturally provide a sense of vindication that his creative input has been missed. But Roth retains an ownership stake in the show, with a financial interest in seeing it stay on the air and succeed.
“The Revolution” was a difficult concept to sell in part because of its unusual structure. Each person’s story takes five months to unfold in real time, five days to be seen on the air. That sets up a complicated filming schedule. From a production standpoint, he must cater to viewers who want to follow the story every day, yet make sure that people who come across it only occasionally are not left confused.
Roth’s initial pitch came without the experts like Gunn and Pennington. ABC pushed for their inclusion because its executives wanted to be sure viewers would learn things that could help their own lives, instead of just looking in on others, said Ann Roberts, senior vice president of ABC Daytime.
“It’s not just a weight loss show, it’s not just a makeover show, it’s not just a health show,” Roberts said. “It’s all of them.”
“The Revolution” may benefit from “The Chew” getting a five-month head start on ABC’s schedule.
“The Chew,” a food show, faced considerable hostility from soap opera fans when it replaced “All My Children,” said Carolyn Hinsey, author of “Afternoon Delight: Why Soaps Still Matter.” Hinsey invited some of her followers to post comments about “The Chew” on her website and got a blistering response.
The average audience for “The Chew” is 2.19 million viewers, down 7 percent from what “All My Children” was delivering the season before, the Nielsen ratings company said.
But ABC said the ratings are improving and its daytime audience is getting younger, a key factor in the change. “The Chew” and “The Revolution” are cheaper to make than soap operas, although the network won’t say how much, and ABC believes they speak to a growing interest in information-based programming.
“`The Chew’ was more of a lightning rod for the anger and maybe now the anger has subsided a little and there’s some resignation involved,” Hinsey said. “So maybe some people will tune into `The Revolution’ because they took their anger out on `The Chew.’ Also, `The Chew’ is a terrible show.”
Roth understands that he’s in a delicate situation. But he believes that not giving his show a chance would be a little like basketball fans blaming arena beer vendors for the NBA lockout.
He tries not to pay too much attention to the issue, but he wanted to be sympathetic to fans who feel disappointed to be losing their favorite daytime drama.
“Part of me realized it’s the end of an era for television and I wanted to make sure we had respect for the many years of television that the soap operas provided,” he said.
With a nearly 200-episode commitment from ABC, “The Revolution” is going to get a fair shot to develop an audience.
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