Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Cooking's A Drag!

A friend passed along this article (from Phoenix's own Arizona Republic) about a cooking show (a "quirky" one, no less) featuring drag queens, celebrity guests and all on an Air Stream set! Well, the pilot show has William Shatner. I just hope he doesn't land up singing. At least something other than pollution problems and major urban sprawl has come outta the Valley of the Sun.

'Drag' cooks up a market

Erica Sagon
Arizona Business Gazette
Sept. 9, 2004 12:00 AM

Hanging on the wall in the offices of Green Couch Productions is a map of the United States with push pins pricking Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City and roughly 130 other cities.

Each pin is a spot where the TV production and advertising company's quirky cooking show featuring drag queens and celebrity guests will be aired this fall. You won't find the show in Phoenix, though, where Green Couch is based and the show is produced.

That doesn't surprise, or bother, the show's creator, Scott Weiner. His only goal was to get it on the air, anywhere.

Set in a kitschy kitchen of an Airstream trailer home, Cooking's a Drag follows a sassy drag queen's quest to make cooking fun, funny and fashionable. Celebrity guests help whip up dishes like no-bake cheesecake and burgoo in front of a live audience.

Green Couch will film eight episodes later this month, but it will need to come up with $1.5 million to $3 million to cover a season's worth of shows, which is 26 episodes. For the first eight shows, Weiner has booked celebrities including Erik Estrada, Gena Lee Nolinand Dennis Rodman.

Weiner has already doled out $500,000 to cast and film a couple of pilot shows. He tapped private investors, venture capital firms, product placement sponsors and wealthy arts advocates.

A Phoenix-based syndication company has sold the show to stations reaching 65 percent of the country. That's not bad for getting the pilot - featuring William Shatner - in June, said Diana Foster, co-founder of Coyote TV in Phoenix, which is distributing the show. Still, 75 percent coverage is needed to hit the show's break-even point.

But Green Couch could rake in maybe millions of dollars if it sells its show to a cable network. That would be a big boon for the small company, which is made up of five people who work at a funky, urban building in downtown Phoenix. The building houses about a dozen creative companies - nearly all of which have had a hand in Cooking's a Drag.

But turning over Cooking's a Drag to VH1, the Food Network or A&E would force Weiner to give up more control of the show compared to going the syndication route.

"We're completely happy either way," Weiner said. "We're trying to retain the most control of the project creatively and keep our sanity."

Cooking's a Drag is company's most fun project, said Weiner, who runs Green Couch with his partner Troy Gregurich. But it has gobbled up the most of the small company's resources, and TV production is not all they do. Weiner transformed his business into an advertising agency while he waited for his cooking show to take off.

The chances seemed bleak 4 ½ years ago, when Weiner was armed with just a shoddy 5-minute pilot shot inside a Maytag store at Tatum Boulevard and Thunderbird Road.

"At that point, I was laughed at," Weiner said. "I was told no advertisers would want to be a part of this."

The turning point came at a national convention in Las Vegas where producers pitch their shows to TV executives. There, he learned that if the recipe for success calls for knowing someone in the industry, a good substitute is to do something crazy.

The company held a casting call for a host at the convention, and about 100 drag queens showed up to preen for Green Couch's cameras.

"The turnout was amazing, and we just stopped traffic at this convention," Weiner said.

The stunt caught the attention of network executives and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, which taped the parade of drag queens for a later show.

Foster, who distributes the show, said Phoenix TV executives aren't interested in Cooking's a Drag, yet.

"Its not their cup of tea," Foster said. But if the show does take off, "somebody in this market is going to say, 'Why didn't I pick that up?'"

Weiner said the show's success could be a win for Phoenix.

"This is our opportunity to put us on the map as a city that has real national television production coming out of it," Weiner said. "It's time for Phoenix."

Reach the reporter at erica.sagon@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-7353.