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Waist Not!

March 5, 2009 By:
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Big girls don't cry but Sharon (left) and Helen do shed weight.
Sixteen tons and what do ya get?

Seven seasons of "The Biggest Loser"; reality TV at its best.

Okay, maybe not 16 tons. But "almost eight tons, that's for sure," relates David Broome.

And this Tennessee Ernie Ford of the foodies should know; as executive producer of a program that fosters a feeling of waist not in a nation where obesity is a growth industry -- maybe, in these astringent economic times, it's only growth industry -- Broome oversees must-mitzvah TV, a Tuesday-night reality series of thinning out the herd mentality that is eating the nation alive.

And "Biggest Loser" is on a win-streak, gaining viewers and admirers as grossly overweight contestants face off on the scales of justice and win prizes for shedding pounds.

Pound for pal -- this season is split into couples competing -- each relishes the chance to be provided counseling and coaching, exorcising the deli demons through exercise and balanced diets instead of their seesaw schedule of everyday eating.

See for yourself: Is life to die for or to diet for? Contestants make up their minds -- and make up new diets -- in trying to puzzle this perplexing problem.

No puzzle for Broome, swept away with figuring out how to juxtapose the jumbo jigsaw so it all fits into compelling TV. A man of a thousand pieces?

"I always wanted to do a show in this arena," says the nonstop founder of 25/7 Productions, whose membership in a 24-hour gym had him going to the mat for good health.

It was at that gym that Broome first saw a flyer for someone seeking out a trainer. "It was a desperate cry for help," he recalls. "A matter of life and death."

He wasn't deaf to its shout-out and implications. "How do we stay healthy in life?"

Fade in on ... fading fat men and women, losing weight, gaining esteem through steamed veggies while shedding their vegetative status through exercise. Fat chance for a producer?

"Obesity," reasons Broome, a vegetarian who, in a carnivorous incarnation, had been stocky before taking stock of his lifestyle and losing 35 pounds, "is a worldwide epidemic."

And "Biggest Loser" may well be the shot heard 'round the world: Editions have popped up in many countries, making it a kind of universal health-care provider.

Not that everyone scales it a sensation. In the beginning, recalls Broome, an organization concerned with the images of the overweight threw its own weight behind a boycott of the show. That's before they realized that the image Broome and others were trying to convey was positive, not negative.

It didn't help him win over the network either by wanting the word "loser" in the program's title. But, after a seven-year-itch of a success that's scratched out impressive ratings, NBC and HDL are lipid in love.

And that first cast of heavyweights? "We asked that they put their faith in us."

They kept the faith -- and the diets. "Our program works because we are respectful of the people involved and because we are very on top of every medical issue they could have," with nutritionists and doctors on hand at all times, explains Broome.

And "Biggest Loser" is at the top of its game -- contestants are voted off each week, but often remain in the loop -- in so many ways. The series has spun off books, tapes and an audience that observes what's on screen and grabs itself by its own love handles, encouraged to shape up.

"Subliminally, many of those watching begin to feel better about themselves, which is a factor in the show's success."

Nibble on this amuse bouche: Ethnic groups "have their own foods to deal with." But "we've never done a season along racial lines, or ethnic lines."

Admittedly, if there is a Jewish "What's My Line?" in life, it's one that starts at the restaurant's door. "It is a culture," says Broome, a member himself, "that stresses, 'Essen, essen, essen!' "

It hits home -- as does hamantashen. Pour on the pounds during Purim? Even Haman had to let out his borscht belt. Yet Jews don't need a holiday to declare holy war on weight. "I was just over my mother's house for a family meal, and she had made 56 courses," he kibitzes.

What courses through his veins is not high cholesterol -- he and his family eat healthily -- although Broome and brisket go way back: "What's not to like about a Katz Deli pastrami sandwich that's six miles high?"

The high and the mighty come down to earth on "Biggest Loser," which has celebrated success as a piece of cake -- without the cake -- on the advent of its 100th episode. And if millions of viewers have become weight watchers, the spread of its taste is astounding.

In Israel, the series' sabra stand-in, "Laredet Begadola," begs the question: Does eschewing chewing with your mouth open save on calories? Eat Middle Eastern? Recent reports about Mediterranean diets dish that the land of sand dunes does well by its sandwiches: Humus won't make you humongous, although filling up on falafel can fell any dieter.

"I love falafel," says the 152-pound Broome of his wayward weakness.

Broome -- who's achieved celebrity status through other 25/7 productions, such as "Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope," and "New Year's Eve Special With Ryan Seacrest" -- may be cresting with "Biggest Loser."

"This is so much more than a TV show," it's nearly talmudical.

After all, reasons Broome, one need not look further than Torah to understand that "to save one life is as if you have saved the world."

And he's helping, one contestant's calorie at a time.   

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