And it's not costing NBC a penny!
TV Review: 'The Restaurant'
Fri Jul 18, 3:01 AM ET
By Ray Richmond
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - What's this? A reality series where no one's trying to get married, nobody gets voted out and good-ol'-fashioned hard work is the primary virtue?
Can it really be? And you're saying that there is no million dollars to be won? And instead we see money being (gasp!) spent? Hard as it is to believe, that's "The Restaurant," which -- as contrived as it occasionally feels -- represents something refreshing on the reality landscape.
The drama is in the main more organic than manufactured as we watch six weeks of the blood, sweat and tears that come with getting an upscale Manhattan eatery off the ground.
"Survivor" guru Mark Burnett is one of the show's exec producers, having guided the shooting of a show that NBC reportedly didn't have to pay a penny for.
Most of the bill was footed by enhanced sponsors American Express, Coors and Mitsubishi, whose wares pop up repeatedly during the first two installments. At one point, in fact, an AmEx card figures prominently in the story line itself. Ergo, a little bit of scripting no doubt factored into this unscripted drama to make the products the co-stars. Yet "The Restaurant" still fairly compels.
The show follows a Queens kid with the colorful name of Rocco DiSpirito, a celebrity chef-turned-owner whose previous gigs have included such New York hot spots as Union Pacific and Tuscan.
Cameras travel behind the scenes to capture the convoluted, mega-stress process of searching out locations and having to open a restaurant in the space of a mere five weeks.
Usually, it's something that requires closer to five months. So that in itself serves to unrealistically ratchet up the anxiety. Rome wasn't built in a day, but Rocco's nearly has to be.
In the opener, we see Rocco scout out spots with his financial backer Jeffrey Chodorow, interact with his Bragman Nyman Cafarelli publicist, hire a staff and put the building blocks in place to watch his dream turn into reality.
During the second installment, viewers ride shotgun as the restaurant opens with a "soft launch" that includes a fire in the kitchen, chronic disorganization, a dearth of red wine (a cardinal sin for an Italian restaurant), people bitching despite eating for free on the first night -- and general frenzy and chaos.
DiSpirito goes from being a decent, can-do optimist to a raving Type A lunatic ("Where are the clams? The clams! Where?"). And it seems real enough.
It's easier to give birth to triplets than to a big-time dining establishment, and that is made more than clear in "The Restaurant." And while there are times when the show tries to get more arty than it should with, for example, the liberal use of time-lapse photography, there is a genuine excitement driving the action.
No narrator is used, and these people are generally so absorbed in their jobs that any sense of playing for the camera evaporates.
By the midway point of the second episode (only the first two acts of which were supplied for review), things are looking grim for Rocco and his flashy new enterprise (news - web sites). We have a feeling it will succeed in spite of itself, however.
As a TV show, "The Restaurant" embodies a true reality-based original that isn't a carbon copy or a hybrid of anything else. If it's primarily a product-placement vehicle, it's at least a fun one to watch.
Mark Burnett Prods., Reveille and Magna Global Entertainment
Starring: Rocco DiSpirito
Executive producers: Mark Burnett, Ben Silverman, Robert Riesenberg
Co-executive producers: James Bruce, Jay Cannold, Mark Koops, Howard Owens
Supervising producer: John Feist
Producers: Bruce Beresford (news)-Redman, Kate Hall, Esther Reyes, Roy J. Bank
Line producer: Saskia Rifkin
Editors: Jonathon Braun, Sue Blainey, Alan Oxman, Sean Foley
Music: Russ Landau, David Vanacore