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'The Restaurant' plans midseason return to NBC, but is chef Rocco on the menu?


By Wade Paulsen, 09/30/2003 

Is it the concept that makes a hit, or is it the star? In the case of NBC's The Restaurant, the network and the producers disagree -- even though the show has been renewed and a new six-episode season is scheduled to begin as soon as the February 2004 sweeps.

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As we reported before, NBC's original offer to pick up a second season of The Restaurant, a surprise summer hit, revolved around Rocco DiSpirito, the celebrity chef whose restaurant Rocco's on 22nd Street was featured on the show. An NBC spokesperson described Chef Rocco as a "real star" who could keep audience interest. However, the article featured no quotes from the show's two owner-producers, Reveille (a production partnership led by Ben Silverman) and Magna Global Entertainment, who hired executive producer Mark Burnett to bring the concept to the air.

According to Max Robins at TV Guide, a second season of Rocco is still NBC's desire now that the renewal is complete. In fact, an NBC source is quoted in the article describing the second season thusly, "Now that Rocco's has been up and running for several months, we will get to see what happened in the aftermath of its very public opening. Can the place sustain the momentum it built?"

However, again, all quotes here are from NBC sources. Why? Perhaps because the owners-producers of The Restaurant don't share NBC's vision regarding the indispensibility of Rocco DiSpirito. The Hollywood Reporter quotes Silverman as saying that there are two alternative futures for The Restaurant, and Rocco only figures in one of them. "We're either going to continue working with Rocco -- and there are incredible story lines that haven't yet been dealt with -- or we're going to launch a new Restaurant with a new chef, and we might even do both," Silverman said.

Why the public split between the producers and NBC? We can think of two reasons: money and product placement.

The first Restaurant was an experiment by the advertising powerhouse Interpublic -- the parent company of show owner Magna Global -- in producing a show funded solely by product placement. The strong ratings for the show proved that the strategy could work. However, one thing that The Restaurant didn't do was pay its "cast." The payoff for Chef Rocco was the funding to open his restaurant plus the promotional items such as the Mitsubishi SUV.

This time NBC is willing to pay some up-front production money in return for significantly less product placement. Naturally, a burgeoning superstar chef like Rocco DiSpirito would expect to be paid some of that money in return for the disruption caused by a second filming season. Thus, a decrease in advertising opportunities and an increase in the demands for compensation make a second season with Chef Rocco less appealing to the producers than to NBC. On the other hand, it sounds like the producers could be persuaded to use Rocco for the current show if NBC commits to an additional series of The Restaurant featuring a new venue.

So, will we see Chef Rocco in The Restaurant 2 on NBC? It's too early to tell. But we're sure that everyone's lawyers and agents are busy negotiating the proper balance between licensing fees, compensation and commitments to additional shows.

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