CANNES, FRANCE – In reflecting on nearly two decades in the spotlight, chef and entrepreneur Jamie Oliver said it’s just as tough for him to get a show commissioned today, as it was when he first debuted on screen in BBC2′s The Naked Chef.
“And I am exclusive to a channel, and I can go nowhere else, it’s tough,” Oliver said to a packed audience attending MIPCOM in Cannes on Monday (Oct. 15).
The renowned British chef said that when he pitched the idea for his 2007 show Jamie At Home, Channel 4 wouldn’t fund it so Oliver decided to make the show himself, along with UK content creator and distributor Fremantle. The British pubcaster eventually bought the show despite Oliver saying its initial reaction to the culinary format was that it was “not Channel 4.”
“But what is?” Oliver questioned.
The chef-turned-television personality said at times he’s surprised at what content of his, which spans hundreds of hours, travels. In his 2005 series, Jamie’s School Dinners, Oliver tried to improve the health of UK school meals. He described the issue as a “very British problem.” But he said the show found success in Germany and Australia, despite those countries not having the same food system. He points to the program’s themes of how society treats children as practically universal.
He also noted that it’s at times a challenge to figure out what content will speak to audiences.
Oliver said he knew that for many people, they haven’t decided what they are going to cook for that evening until the afternoon. That insight led to him going to then-C4 chief creative officer Jay Hunt and telling her he wanted a daytime show. Hunt said he was the first person to come to her wanting to be “demoted” from primetime – which Oliver was – to daytime. But the chef had an idea, which came to be 2010′s 30 Minute Meals.
At a time that Oliver describes as having an obsession with the idea of “contemporary”, there is still an audience looking for content that involves quality and care.
When he first dipped his toes in the television world with The Naked Chef in 1999, Oliver said he was naive about the media industry but didn’t trust television. When he pitched the series, he wanted the approach to be stripped down and bare, a program that took place at his home with his friends.
He said the show came at the right time: women were in the workforce, but men were not taking the reins in the kitchen as much as they should have been. The Naked Chef , Oliver said, helped change the idea that “cooking is for girls, to cooking could get you girls.”
Produced by Optomen Television, The Naked Chef originally aired on BBC2, and ran for three seasons.
As for maintaining and building relevance, before the dawn of social media, Oliver used to get feedback largely from touring and book signings, but with the advent of social platforms, he can have “deep engagement” globally about what audiences want.
“I think if you’re curious, passionate and dedicated to quality, you will always deliver for a channel in any territory,” Oliver said.