Half-baked or warmed over?

A real-life chef's signing to play a chef on TV leads a writer's imagination to boil over.

March 04, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

News item: Food Network sensation Emeril Lagasse is signed by NBC to star in a sitcom about a TV chef with a family.

To: Mr. Jeff Zucker

President, NBC Entertainment

Dear Jeff:

Thanks for the green light on "A Spice of Life." (It's a working title. We're working on it.) Those who love Emeril and his Cajun ways from "Emeril Live!" will still see him holler his trademark "BAM!" and "Let's kick it up a notch!" as he throws spices and ingredients into the mix. The adoring studio audience will play itself - just like on the cable show - and a small band plays for him.

He'll still be forceful, charming and brash. But the sitcom built around his show promises hijinks aplenty. For instance, as Emeril sweats the details of one week's program, pushy producer Joy Behar presses him to use a tasteless recipe favored by an author she's hoping to date.

We see Nancy Travis as a workaholic lawyer wife who thinks she's the better cook! And maybe the Olsen twins could appear as Emeril's cheeky, knowing teens. There's also the pint-sized Pepsi girl.

Plus, once NBC's checks clear, we'll start casting the busybody neighbor and the crusty but lovable uncle who teaches everyone life lessons.

It looks like things are really coming together.

Bon appetit!- Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth Thomason

Dear Harry and Linda:

Jeff's personal trainer passed on your note to me, and I love the show's concept. It's great. It soars. In terms Emeril might appreciate, four stars. Maybe five.

Just a couple of tiny, little suggestions. (They're almost so minor I hate to mention them.)

We need more zip. I know you were thinking "Home Improvement" meets "Seinfeld." But the whole genre of sitcom is beginning to wilt. Take a look at "Frasier." Here at NBC, we're strongest in the hour-long form. You can generate those precious character arcs that you writer types so love.

So I'm wondering: Why don't the two of you whip up some edgy police drama that draws on Emeril's unique and hitherto hidden talents as an investigator with romantic possibilities? Think "Food Cops" - something along the lines of "CSI" meets "Julia Child."

For the name: What about "Chef and the City"?

Sincerely,

Winthrop Skolnick

NBC Assistant VP for Program Development

Dear Winthrop:

We're a little surprised to hear from you - not simply because you stopped returning our calls last summer after we rejected your earlier conceit for Emeril's new show as "Baywatch by the Barbecue," as inventive as that was.(Yes, Hasselhoff was available, but we still think people won't believe him as a top-flight restaurateur whose chief attributes are intelligence and discernment.)

Of course, we're honored that the network - particularly Jeff - would want us to develop an hour-long show. Such prominence! Such prestige!

So we've reworked our original plan considerably. Emeril will be divorced, living with a wisecracking gay brother whose demeanor covers an inner pain, and their grouchy but loveable dad.

A laid-off cop with a degree in forensics, Emeril has graduated from a culinary institute and is pursuing his long-dormant dream of opening a French Canadian cafM-i on the lower East Side of Manhattan. Joy is the pushy restaurant manager with her own agenda.

During sweeps, Wolfgang Puck can appear as himself in a very special episode of what will henceforth be known as "Too Many Cooks."- Harry and Linda

Dear H&L:

Mr. Skolnick shot along your memo, which shows a certain clarity - like that of split pea soup. I haven't talked to Mr. Zucker about this (he's a busy man, you know), but it strikes me that a new direction might well be in order.

So, as I might have said to your buddy Bill Clinton: Pardon me. To be specific, pardon me for my proposed tweakings. Despite the predictions of some of my now-former colleagues, ABC's reality show "The Mole" has taken off, and "Survivor 2" is proving every bit as strong as the original.

The pressure's on to find our own breakout reality programming. And I think we may just have found it in your own charismatic culinary genius.

Here's what I envision: A professional chef - a maestro, really - is shown at work in a kitchen that would be the envy of every weekend gourmet. He would be surrounded by cameras, showing his artistry from a slew of angles. Guests could come onto the show and cook with him. And a rabidly worshipful audience, present in the studio, would provide an interactive feel with cheers and applause that Emeril could feed off.

And let's tweak that title. I think the name "Emeril Live!" has a catchy ring to it. Don't you?

Yours,

Fielding Mellish

NBC Academic Intern

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