Alison Sweeney, producer dish about 'The Biggest Loser: Families'
By Christopher Rocchio, 08/22/2008
According to The Biggest Loser executive producer Mark Koops, the show's upcoming sixth season wil be all about family.
"I think as we look to reinvent within the same genre that we work in, one thing that kept coming up in research and feedback and on the message boards and from fans of the show was that it starts at home," Koops told Reality TV World during a Thursday conference call.
"Many of these issues start when you were either a child at home or couples who get married, and they all say the first year they were married they put on 10 pounds, and the second year they put on another 10 pounds -- because they get comfortable and they begin to take it easy. So we really thought both of them brought incredibly interesting dynamics. Family is the key theme throughout the episodes. It's not just that they're related, but we really play the family dynamic throughout the series."
The Biggest Loser: Families will premiere Tuesday, September 16 at 8PM ET/PT, and host Alison Sweeney -- who also participated in the conference call -- said the reality weight-loss series' sixth installment will begin with "four teams of husbands and wives versus four teams of parents and their children."
"We really wanted to keep it the core family, keep it the nuclear family," Koops told Reality TV World. "I think there's a lot of takeaway for everybody who's watching the show to take back and use it in their own family's lives."
Just because of the show's sixth-season format, Sweeney said she didn't approach the cast any differently than she normally would.
"Every person is on their own journey. So even though they come together as a family, they each have their own experience. So for me, I have to approach it with what's appropriate for that person in that moment," she explained to Reality TV World.
"Each experience and each week is something new and different. That's what's amazing about these relationships that we create when we're there together -- it's such an intense experience for all of them that I'm so happy to be part of it. I feel it's my job to be their biggest cheerleader but also to get at what's going on with them and how their progress is going."
While Sweeney may be taking the same approach, she said family members competing on The Biggest Loser are "different" than individual participants.
"Something that strikes my heart very closely is the parents and their kids, and how parents take responsibility for being the role model that brought their child to this point and seeing how they deal with, 'Okay, I'm sort of part of why you're here. I'm part of the problem, now let's both be part of the solution,'" she told reporters. "Obviously emotions run high and feelings go extremely deep in all the people involved."
Koops described The Biggest Loser: Families as a kick in the pants for its participants, and not only when dealing with weight loss.
"It's definitely the way of the show to force them to confront not only their weight issues, but the other issues in their lives," he explained. "I think seeing it play out -- whether it be parent and child or husband and wife -- it really forces them to address their relationships and how they're going to move forward."
Helping the participants move forward will be Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels, who will reprise their trainer roles for the crop of sixth-season contestants.
"I think they're one of televisions great double acts," said Koops. "I think they compliment each other. I think their dedication to the contestants goes far beyond what we could have ever expected, and I think that comes through. I think people really feel that Bob and Jillian are speaking to them even if they're not on the march."
Sweeney added the dedication of Harper, Michaels and the contestants is the part of The Biggest Loser that still somehow largely ends up on the cutting room floor despite the show's bloated two-hour broadcasts.
"For me, the part that is most heartbreaking that you don't see -- you see them working out in the gym -- what you don't see is that it's literally six to eight hours a day. There's no way obviously to fit that into a two-hour show. Jillian and Bob, I've known them to stay there until 1AM with the contestants and help them early the next morning," explained Sweeney.
"These contestants, this is their job. It's not just even a job, it's a career that they choose for the four-and-a-half months that they're on campus. While we try to show as much as we can, what you don't see is how comprehensive it is, how intense it is. It just never stops."
After all, not only are the contestants constantly trying to lose weight and live healthy, but they are also competing for the show's $250,000 grand prize.
"I think they always go into it with the motive of wanting to lose weight, wanting to get healthy, wanting to change your life -- you can't subject yourself to something over that period of time without having that goal in mind. But the money is a nice incentive too," said Sweeney. "You don't want to lose. You don't want to go home. You want it. Obviously the money is part of that, but it's the competition -- the spirit of challenge. I think that's what they all embrace and all use to help them lose weight."
Koops described the competition as "one of the unique aspects of the show" because "while the contestants are definitely competitive, they are their own support structures as well."
"Obviously there's elements of game play that come on. I think this season, we found the contestants working really with one goal, and that was to learn how to manage their lives better and how to become healthier," he explained before adding that throwing weigh-ins was specifically something producers are trying to curtail.
"I think the one thing we practiced and preached before this season was play the game hard, but don't play the game with the scale. Do the best you can every week on the scale, and let the game come secondary. The contestants this season really took that to heart."
NBC had announced in February that The Biggest Loser's sixth season would follow the same "couples" format as the show's fifth installment this past spring. However that plan changed in April when NBC announced the Fall 2008 installment would be a "family edition" -- with another season featuring couples instead slated as midseason primetime programming.
"We will definitely revisit it, seeing families in the future. But I think equally with the seasons coming back-to-back -- with the finale of this season being December 16 and the premiere in early January of Season 7 -- we'd like to put a fresh take on it," Koops told Reality TV World about the possibility doing another family edition after next spring's second couples edition.
"But definitely look for families to come back in the future. In terms of story and excitement, the results far exceeded our expectations and hopefully the audience will go on the same incredible journey we've been on with these contestants."
While he didn't outright discredit the idea, Koops also made it clear a season featuring former contestants returning for another go isn't on the immediate horizon.
"I think we look at the hundreds of thousands of people who have wanted to be part of the show," he explained, adding former contestants "would never come in as heavy as they once were."
Sweeney elaborated that former contestants should also already have the tools to live a healthy lifestyle.
"It's just one of those things where we've given you those tools. Whether you choose to live the rest of your life at that goal weight you had at the finale, or you choose to allow it to even out at some other clothes size or whatever it is," she said.
"We're not here to tell you what your ideal weight is or what you should look like because that's not what our show's about. Our show's about getting you healthy and giving you the tools you need to live the rest of your life in a healthy way that you're okay with."
"I'm definitely planning on working as much as I can all the way up through until the last minute. Mark always teases me because I'm extremely optimistic about how long I'll be able to stay," she said. "A lot of it is because I'm such a fan. I love being there with them, I love seeing their progress."
While she's an optimist, Sweeney quickly added she's also a realist.
"Obviously Mark and the network had to prepare," she said. "I'll be MIA for a portion of it and they have plans for that."