Thursday, September 21
If you haven't checked out Ace of Cakes, it airs Thursday nights (tonight!) on Food Network at 10:30/9:30 Central. It's a fun show and not your run of the mill "reality TV" (as Mary Alice will go into below).
Mary Alice is Charm City Cakes' general manager and is featured along with Duff Goldman and the rest of his staff on the show. After being initially hesitant to even watch the show, I quickly found myself liking a lot of the staff that's featured. It really seems like a fun environment to work in.
And with that, let's welcome Mary Alice!
Me: First of all, thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I know you are a very busy lady. I'll try to keep it short and sweet.
Mary Alice: No, thank YOU for being the super dooper double plus awesomest ever.
Me: Now I know you must get asked this all the time, but how does it feel to be working with a former segment producer of Rescue 911 (co-executive producer Kelly McPherson)? Wasn't that just Shatner at his best?
MA: That's so funny you asked that because when I found out Kelly worked on Rescue 911 I flipped a gasket. It was one of my favorite shows as a kid... there is always a happy ending! Kelly was with us for the first week of filming and not only is he seriously one of the best people I've ever met, ever, in the history of people (I know people always say that about the people in charge of movies and TV when they’re interviewing but this time it's really true), but more importantly he has some FANTASTIC stories about Rescue 911. Apparently whenever there was a reenactment that involved a child that had fire or falling or any kind of danger, they had this grizzled, salty little person stunt man who always played the kids, who was kind of grouchy about it. He tells the story much better but needless to say I will never watch R911 repeats the same way again. I didn't even ask about Shatner. What was I thinking? Will do for sure ASAP.
Me: According to the Food Network (FN) Web site you used to work in marketing for nonprofits. How'd you get acquainted with Duff so well that he walked into your office and offered you a job?
MA: Duff and I met in college. He was the Maintenance Assistant for my dorm and one day I dropped a necklace down my sink and he came to retrieve it for me. We've been friends ever since (going on 12 years now). About a year and a half ago he needed a manager at the exact same time I needed a less-stressful work environment (so I could have time to start my own business). The timing of me coming to work for him was kismet.
Me: That's awesome. Congratulations on getting the FN show Ace of Cakes; I hear it's already doing quite well in the ratings. Who approached you guys to do it?
MA: It's a longish story but in a nutshell, Duff used to be involved with a local theatre company (I was too, actually) which produced, among other productions, a live cooking show called "Fuck you! Let's Bake!" in which Duff prepared food live onstage for the audience with a rock band backing him up, the requisite scantily clad assistant girl, etc. It was hilarious. We got to pelt him with eggs at the end. At one point someone videotaped it. Duff gave the tape to his brother Willie, who is in the TV business out in Hollywood. It got passed around hither and yon and eventually Authentic Entertainment told him they liked it and then came out to the bakery about a year and a half ago to make a "demo reel". They shopped it around to a bunch of networks. Food Network had already had Duff on a couple Challenges at that point and really liked him so they picked up the show. And here we are! That's the short version, anyway.
Me: Wow. I notice in the opening title sequence that you are the only named, female "character" while the rest are simply titled "the girls." Whose decision was it to make you a more central figure of the show?
MA: What I was told is that the reason not everyone is named in the credits (our baker Adam and decorator Richard got cut out completely) was because of timing. It's a ½ hour show and they needed every second for the actual show so they tried to keep the credits as quick as possible. I was kind of bummed about that and hope they will consider including everyone in the future. As for who decided to include me more in the show, I would guess that was producer Kelly and the other folks at Authentic Entertainment's decision.
Me: Well, I am for-certain glad you are a big part of the show. I think I read somewhere that the FN crew shot 6 initial episodes with you guys. How long were the cameras there and did that disrupt the normal workings of your already-busy cake shop?
MA: The crew was there from May through the beginning of July. Each week of filming turned into one ½ hour episode. Not that we ever forgot they were there or anything (anyone who says that is lying) but they really didn't get in our way too much. They really respected that Charm City Cakes is Duff's business and that our work comes first before the show. The only time it got frustrating was literally the last night they were there, when we filmed the opening credits. It took forever and everyone was totally pooped out. But honestly, that was it. The rest of the time was very laid back and fun. All the folks on the crew were about our age and super rad. We all really got along really well, so that helped tremendously. It was like summer camp.
Me: How much input did Duff and all of you have in the look and feel of these first few episodes? Your show—and I guess The Next Food Network Star—are really the only "reality-based" shows (I'm not thinking about the travel shows) on the network. Do you think it's sort of the Food Network's version of Real World?
MA: I think that the producers had an idea of documentary-style-reality when they got there, and the pace of things at the bakery lends itself really naturally to that. It’s definitely a first for the Food Network because it's completely unscripted and spontaneous. The Next Food Network Star is "reality tv" but it follows a pre-determined process, whereas Ace of Cakes just is what it is. We had no idea what the show was going to look like at all – we saw none of it until it premiered. It was really nerve wracking because we had no idea how we would be perceived but we've been incredibly happy with every episode so far. It is kind of Real World-y in style (testimonial interviews, quick editing, etc) as it is a bunch of 20 and 30-somethings working and fighting and laughing in a big space together. But it's not Real World in the sense that it's not really formulated by a production company, they just came and filmed us as we were naturally.
Me: That's true. It's rare to see a "reality show" these days that wasn't the invention of a group of producers. I really only ask about that comparison because, as I commented in my initial review, there seems to be this "rockin'" music track playing continuously throughout the show (a la Real World). Are you guys all rock stars in real life, too?
MA: Well, not all of us are in bands but we are all really passionate about music. The only single thing about filming that was really really cruddy was that we couldn't play music in the bakery while we worked (because of sound and copyright issues) which was very hard to get used to. We listen to music all day long, every day. There is always a stack of ipods next to the stereo and we all take turns picking tunes. As for actual musicians, Duff is in a band, Geof is a singer/songwriter, and Katherine is in a band.
Me: I really wanted them to use my brother's band for the opening credits (sorry, blatant fraternal promotion – check out Clutch at www.pro-rock.com) because it would have been perfect but at the end of the day it’s all about the benjamins. The "rockin" tracks you hear on the show are from a canned music service -- I have actually heard a couple of them in other commercials recently. It's funny, I'm like, "why do I know this rockin' background ditty?"
AND THAT'S IT for Part 1. Be sure to come back tomorrow for the exciting Part 2 of my interview with Mary Alice where she discusses the public's reaction to the show (and its impact on Charm City Cakes), the potential future of Ace of Cakes, and her personal opinion of Rachael Ray!
Please check out Ace of Cakes tonight on the Food Network and this new, fun Web site for the show: www.aceofcakestv.com! Mary Alice would thank you!