Large-Size Shows Reshape TV Landscape

by | August 5, 2009 at 2:08 PM | Cover Story, TV News

With obesity rates tipping north of 30% in some parts of the country, and Americans trying to do something about that by spending $40 billion a year on weight-loss programs and products, fat is clearly a relevant topic.

Of course, with television viewing traditionally mentioned as one of the biggest enablers to the problem, network execs have thought it best over the years to largely keep the issue of chubby out of prime-time.

But that is changing.

From Fox’s summer relationship series “More To Love” to Oxygen’s plus-sized competition show “Dance Your Ass Off” to Lifetime’s large-lawyer-focused dramedy “Drop Dead Diva” to BET’s upcoming late-night talk show with Mo’Nique, there are a growing number of programs on television starring talent who might not have made it onscreen in years prior.

And as Salon.com writer Kate Harding noted, it “has everyone from CNN to the Onion puzzling over why pop culture is suddenly fascinated with fat. Are we looking to ridicule these people and feel better about ourselves? Do we need ‘thinspiration’? Are the 60-odd percent of Americans classified as overweight or obese just psyched to see people they can relate to for once?”

“Most of the TV execs

I talk to are big women too.” – Mo’Nique

Harding theorizes it’s “all of the above.”

But there may be another, simpler reason.

“The pendulum swung too far with image makers trying to keep women scared about fat, and making women crazy for so many years of seeing only one image of beauty,” ‘More To Love’ host Emme, a ground-breaking plus-sized model and bestselling author, told Fancast. “I think the public had enough. We have a real serious problem of anorexia in our country and we also have a problem on the other side, of obesity. There can not be only this tiny window of acceptance. We are different. You can’t ostracize the predominant [portion] of society. The average American woman is a size 14. When we only see images of size 2 and 4, that doesn’t work.”

“You can’t ostracize the

predominant [portion] of society.” – Emme

“Most of the TV execs I talk to are big women too,” said Mo’Nique, plugging her new talk show at last week’s Television Critics Assn. tour in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s time for us to stop thinking there’s something wrong with us just because we have a big belly.”

“I think people get tired of seeing the same thing on TV all the time,” added Luke Conley, the bulky former offensive lineman who is the sought-after romantic interest for competing plus-sized female contestants on Fox’s recently launched “More to Love.” “I think it’s cool to finally to be a bigger man on TV.”

Indeed, among the creatives who think up shows and the network executives who greenlight them, there is an increasing awareness that the audience is consumed with weight-loss issues and is interested in exploring those.

For “Drop Dead Diva” producer Josh Berman, that works out pretty well, because he’s pretty much obsessed about the topic, too.

“My father was a plastic surgeon,” he told Fancast recently. “So, as children, we grew up on fad diets. Eating and food issues were front and center at the Berman house.”

Berman’s series, which he says seeks to destroy the “beauty myth” that only thin people can be attractive, is one of several weight-conscious shows currently running on Lifetime, which just came under new management last year.

Also on the schedule is the lower rated “DietTribe,” a reality show focused on a group of friends trying to lose weight together.

SHOWS RESHAPING TV:

  1. More To Love: An eligible man romances plus-sized women.
  2. Dance Your Ass Off: Contestants struggling with weight try to dance their way thin.
  3. How To Look Good Naked: Women dissatisfied with their bodies are given makeovers.
  4. The Biggest Loser: Contestants work to shed pounds and win the $250,000 prize.
  5. Ruby : An obese woman works to lose weight and maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Likewise, Oxygen’s recently launched “Dance Your Ass Off,” a reality show in which contestants seek to shed the most pounds through vigorous, music-inspired performance, also seeks to strike an inspirational tone.

The show is hosted by Marissa Winokur, a Tony-winning former “Hairspray” star who – as also a former “Dancing with the Stars” contestant who lost a bunch of weight while appearing on that show – embodies the kind of positive energy Oxygen is going for.

“I think my story is every 36-year-old woman’s story,” Winokur explains. “I’ve gained weight, I’ve lost weight, and I’ve gained some of it back. There are very few women out there who have been skinny their whole life.”

For “More To Love’ executive producer SallyAnn Salsano, it’s all about telling a real story. “This is not a show about making fun of people who are overweight,” she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s a genuine emotional story. We’re not treating them differently than on any other dating show. It’s not like we’re having an eating contest to get a date. There’s no bikini model segment. It’s about people finding love.”

But, asked Harding, who noted that Roseanne had put plus-sized women on the map more than a decade ago, does “it actually represents progress” for those who wear larger sizes?

“There are very few women

out there who have been skinny

their whole life.” – Marissa Winokur

“I think it’s fantastic,” Peggy Howell, public relations director for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m really glad to see the average person represented on television, because the statistics say there are more of us who are fat and obese than there are of people of average size or thin.”

Margaret Cho, who co-stars on ‘Drop Dead Diva,” told the Huffington Post that she believes a show like hers “makes things get better.”

Ruby Gettinger, who stars on Style’s hit series ‘Ruby,’ which chronicles her efforts to lose weight (she once weighed over 700 pounds), knows she has had a positive effect on lives.

“It’s amazing, so many people are on this journey with me,” she told Fancast. “I get stopped in the street, they tell me how they lost 50, 80 pounds, they walk for the first time, or I get these emails even from young kids telling me they are anorexic and getting help.”

“It’s amazing, so many people

are on this journey with me.” – Ruby Gettinger

For her part, Mo’Nique thinks it’s wonderful that TV’s dominant creed of 120-pound-and-under stars begins to give way a bit to talent that better represents the viewing population. However, she thinks entertainers like herself have to set the right example.

The 42-year-old “Monique” says she’s down from a high weight of 262 to 220 pounds – a weight that is definitely heavier than 99 percent of the TV population, but good for her.

“I hope the message that it does send out is that we can be big women, but let’s be healthy big women. I have two sons who are three years old, and I have a 19-year-old son. I want to meet their children, and I want to meet their children’s children. I want to be here, so I had to lose some weight… But I can’t get too much smaller, because my head is so big.