When E! Networks’s Style channel wants to add a new program to its lineup, it generally turns to its in-house production team. The 24-hour U.S. cable net will loosen its purse strings to make an acquisition, but only occasionally for the right show. In three years, it has acquired seven series – Nigella Bites is one of them.
‘This is the type of programming E! looks to acquire,’ says Stephen Croncota, senior VP of programming for Style, about Nigella Bites, which debuted on the channel early this year. ‘Something with a modern sensibility. Instead of the same old cooking show featuring someone at a chopping block with food already defrosted and prepared, [host Nigella Lawson] presents the ‘you have a half-hour to get food on the table’ [reality],’ he explains. ‘She is a single mom with a professional career. She is not a waif and she is not 22 years old. She lives a very real life, and our audience can relate to that.’
Filmed by a small crew in Lawson’s London-based home, Nigella Bites first aired on the U.K.’s Channel 4 in 2000 with five 30-minute episodes. C4 commissioned the original series to British prodco Pacific Productions, but the second series (10 x 30 minutes) was produced by Flashback Television and Lawson’s Pabulum Productions, both based in London.
The Nigella franchise has since expanded – one example is the addition of Forever Summer With Nigella. Budgeted at £80,000 (US$125,000) per episode (about the same as Nigella Bites), this 8 x 30-minute series focuses on no-fuss summer recipes from around the world. It was fully commissioned by C4 and began airing on the U.K. broadcaster in September.
Croncota recently announced Style’s acquisition of Forever Summer, which will air on the channel beginning in mid-November. While he readily acknowledges Style’s faith in Nigella now, it wasn’t always thus. Croncota admits that when Style execs first viewed Nigella Bites, they wondered if it was ‘too British’. However, the cablecaster took a chance on the show and it hasn’t looked back since. ‘It is our hope and intention to be involved with everything Nigella,’ Croncota says.
Style will soon have more to acquire. C4 is launching a new 3 x 30-minute winter series called Nigella Bites Less. Barbara Bellini Witkowski, director of sales and coproduction for C4, says this program will focus on a lighter way of eating throughout the winter months. ‘Nigella is a very important face for our channel,’ she adds. ‘She fills the camera with a friendly, open smile. She is articulate and elegant. Men love the show because she’s attractive and sensual…women identify with her normal life, nice house and functional kitchen.’
In addition to her cooking show, Lawson is a prolific writer and has been published in several magazines and U.K. newspapers, including Vogue, Gourmet, Bon Appétit and The Sunday Times. She has also written two companion books to her series Nigella Bites (How To Be A Domestic Goddess and Nigella Bites) and one to accompany Forever Summer. Since September, Lawson has also been writing a column for the Dining In/Dining Out section of The New York Times.
Inspired by the success of Nigella Bites, Croncota says Style would consider other acquired programs. ‘Both E! Entertainment Television and Style have their doors of acquisition wide open for great ideas and new stars.’