Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Top Chef's Odd Cirque Diss

See this?

It's the graphic Top Chef uses every time they go to commercial this Vegas-set season. Notice how the Zumanity sign is so prominent that, proportionally, it's larger than several major resorts and it's pretty much the only thing that's readable? (This is a screenshot from the online show; on TV it seems even bigger and much clearer.)

That made me rather curious. Was there some relationship between Cirque's risque show at New York-New York and the blockbuster TV food competition? Bravo's reality shows are well-known for not being shy about such things.

Very oddly, no. Not really. Erin Burcham, the publicist for Zumanity, tells me she, too, was surprised -- pleasantly, of course -- that the sign is getting such prominence because not only was there no behind-the-scenes product-placement arrangement but there's actually no Cirque-related challenge in the entire Las Vegas season of Top Chef.

WTF? How do you do a 16-week season of a TV show set in Vegas, trapeze all over the city and not ever directly involve the biggest entertainment influence in the city? Could they go to Orlando and avoid Disney World?

Turns out, there was a plan for a Zumanity challenge, but it was called off a day or so before it would happen. It involved making dishes from foods considered to be aphrodesiacs -- chocolate, oysters, etc -- and having some of the Zumanity cast members help judge. Burcham isn't sure why it was canceled except that she did hear that Top Chef did a challenge involving Cirque in a past season. I looked it up, and there were Ka performers were involved in the Season One finale (which took place at the MGM Grand) in 2006.

That's a long, long time ago. Cirque folks apparently submitted lots of suggested challenges for this season of Top Chef, but none were accepted except the Zumanity one. Then it was axed.

Burcham was diplomatic because, of course, she's thrilled her show is getting this enormous amount of free publicity every week which is, arguably, better than an appearance in an episode. And the finale has yet to be shot, so it's possible there could be some Cirque involvement.

Still, it seems so strange that something so identifiably Las Vegas -- and not in a crass way that Elvis impersonators are -- would be left out, don't you think?


Sous Chef said...

You are right, bit strange leaving it out. Product placement gone wrong ?

mike_ch said...

They photoshopped the marquee to remove the name of the resort, not wanting to give them free advertising I suppose, and didn't bother to remove Zumanity.

Because of O's permanent placement on the Bellagio marquee, I've seen it show up this sort of way a few times.

Bay in TN said...

Dear Steve,

You know I love you to death, and Miles, too, so if I sound a little harsh in this post, I apologize.

What is your deal with the Top Chef disses? It's like you're trying to provoke a controversy where there isn't one.

Top Chef is a "reality competition show." That doesn't mean it's real. And it doesn't mean it's an advertorial. You're a journalist; I'm an ex-ad copywriter. "Advertorials" were normal for my colleagues and me in the mid-90's, and they exist now in "reality" TV. It's not advertising, but it definitely isn't objective editorializing. So it's ... well, c'mon, Steve, it's evil. But it's part of life.

Top Chef already did a Cirque challenge. They also already did an "aphrodisiac" challenge. Both of them were pretty awful. I can understand why the producers didn't want to go back to that realm.

As for Top Chef not showing off the best of Las Vegas, well, gosh, Steve, it's a Bravo show! It isn't a Las Vegas tourism commercial. I don't recall any of the restaurants that were mentioned in the Top Chef seasons in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, or Miami. The show doesn't exist to showcase the cities that host them -- it exists to make money for Bravo. And furthermore, not one of those seasons "set" in a city actually ended in that city -- all the finales are taped somewhere else. Do I remember any restaurants in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or some place in California Wine Country? Erm... no! No, I don't!

I think Las Vegas should be happy that the M Resort has been mentioned so many times. That's about the best you can expect from Top Chef exposure. I was thrilled this last Wednesday night to see that the Springs Preserve was mentioned. Thrilled! Ecstatic! Then they didn't even use the Café at the Springs Preserve, nor did they mention Wolfgang Puck's menu or anything else that's really memorable.

If you want to know the truth, Steve, I think Las Vegas would do better to pay attention to the Food Network's "Chefs Vs. City" series. They did one little episode in Las Vegas. And I, who go to LV as often as possible and get off the beaten path as much as I can, called up my sister after watching that show -- and I yelled A LIST of restaurants and venues at her that I wanted to try. One episode! Chefs of whom I've never heard! And I desperately wanted to go to the places they raced through.

Tom Colicchio is sexy, oh, yes, he is. And I love "Top Chef." But Steve, I don't love it for highlighting city cuisines. I love it for the drama. I hope you cut it some slack and let it go on being what it is. And honestly, if LV wants to get in on the Top Chef thing, they should be more forthcoming about sponsorships at high-end resorts and restaurants, and less about Cirque product placement.

I could be wrong. Of course.

Love the podcast!!!! Wish I could drunk-dial you and Miles sometime soon!

Anonymous said...

I suppose you have to watch the show to come to the conclusion of why Cirque was not included or why Cirque must be included. Las Vegas is many things, but it is possible to visit the city and NOT see any Cirque shows. I've done that plenty of times. I've seen previous shows and I must say, Las Vegas isn't Cirque. Las Vegas was there before Cirque and it will continue to be there after Cirque unlike Orlando which was put on the map precisely because of Walt Disney World.

I would like to say, if anything, Wynn and his properties should be in Top Chef. He is Mr. Las Vegas more than Cirque ever was.