Reality Check is a Deadline feature series covering the players, programs and trends in reality television.
The title “hardest working man in show biz” is a hotly contested one but certainly Gordon Ramsay has his name in the mix. With a mini-empire on Fox, the chef is no wallflower in either his opinions or his work ethic with five shows on the network. The most recent Stateside offering of the Order of the British Empire recipient is MasterChef Junior, which debuted in September last year with Ramsay will again be joined by restaurateur and winemaker Joe Bastianich and chef Graham Elliot joining Ramsay judging would-be chefs between the ages 8-13. Produced by Shine America and Ramsay’s One Potato Two Potato, the series served up strong ratings in its Friday slot and has been renewed for both a second and third season. Shooting in Spain for the UK version of Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay reflected on the other side of him that MasterChef Junior revealed, how to stay at the top of your game and the need to refresh.
DEADLINE: Gordon, you’re a big picture guy, what’s the state of unscripted TV today?
GORDON RAMSAY: The state of unscripted television right now is edgy. It’s compulsive viewing. I think it is about jeopardy in unscripted drama, which is something that a lot of producers fail to spot. For me, the essence of Reality TV is all about drama. So, I think bringing pressure is healthy whether it’s a professional chef or a domestic chef. Because the only way ever to really identify the true purpose of how good they are is submerging them under pressure. So I say it’s no different than a live football game because it’s about the intensity.
DEADLINE: Well, you are certainly known for being intense but this past season we saw another side of you with the debut of MasterChef Junior. In the heat of the Emmy campaigns, what do you think the reaction is to this other Gordon Ramsay?
RAMSAY: Look, every coin has two sides. Whether it’s Ryan Seacrest or Adam Levine or me. I get frustrated sometimes when my anger is misconstrued as being too aggressive. You know successful individuals tend to be very passionate. In my case, I want the best so I liken it to being a football coach or a soccer coach. But to your question, it’s secretly a relief to reveal that other side of myself on camera but it’s actually always been there. But MasterChef Junior is the first time audiences in America get to see the balance. That’s how I am with my own kids: firm but fair.
DEADLINE: So, with that firm but fair comment in mind, what was MasterChef Junior about for you?
RAMSAY: MasterChef Junior for me was about working closely with these kids and getting them to reeducate their parents to understand that food is as important educationally as Math and English and it’s important that we don’t take it for granted. Stopping the junk food and Eating well is partially about cooking well and having the skills to do that. For me, the show was a personal journey to try and revolutionize the meaning of what we eat and to some extent make the parents feel guilty and give the kids the confidence to look after themselves and eat healthy. It was about trying to be a mentor and that’s always been a part of me. So I’m hoping in this context that MasterChef Junior will show Emmy judges that there really is another side to me that maybe hasn’t bee exposed so much before.
DEADLINE: You made your first TV appearance back in the late 1990s and really started taking off around 2004 with Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in the UK. A lot has changed in Reality TV since then, with some veteran shows struggling. What do you see as the big shift in unscripted TV?
RAMSAY: Well, viewers are so much savvier now than even a few years back. So the integrity and the intelligence of the viewers today are far more important than ever before. Youngsters, especially my demographics, are bored more easily nowadays. So I’m trying to change up the formats, I’m making them more vibrant and bringing in a little bit more realism in there, less fake. I think today you have to a a little bit more honest and I’m trying to sort of almost deglamorizing some of the shows which is far more pleasing to the high octane sets and formats that worked 10 years ago. Look at the success of The Voice and how the judges’ get up there and open up with a cracking song. They put themselves in the competitors’ situation more often and that’s what I’m doing now. But first of all, and this has never changed and never will, I take nothing for granted.
DEADLINE: So where does the future lie for Gordon Ramsay?
RAMSAY: You know, part of it is change. Because having five shows on a network is sort of unheard of. So, with the responsibility that brings with it, I think I’d rather step down and become more focused on what I’ve got as opposed to running things in to the ground. So Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, Hotel Hell, all need refreshing eventually. MasterChef needs refreshing. So I will turn it upside down, reposition it and maybe hand the position over to someone else one day. I want to continue creating. I’m so grateful for where I am, what I’ve got and the amount of support I’ve received. So you can’t sit on your laurels.
This is the second of five Q&As with some of the heavyweights of Reality TV. FremantleMedia president of entertainment programming North America Trish Kinane will be next on Friday discussing American Idol, America’s Got Talent and the importance of authenticity.