ABC, Lorenzo Bevilaqua, Associated Press
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.
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."
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