Jeff Rumaner, better known as Stretch — the heavy-metal sculptor, restaurateur, Crossroads Arts District developer and TIF commissioner — is about to take his reality-TV career to the next level.
After guest appearances on several unscripted shows, including “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “Monster House,” “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” and “Guy’s Big Bite,” Stretch is starring in a pilot called “Hungry Men at Work” for the Spike cable channel.
Spike is trying to expand its audience (median age: mid-20s) to include men in the 35-to-49-year-old demographic.
“Hungry Men at Work” will pair top-flight chefs with men working dangerous jobs around the world. The pilot was shot this winter on the frozen tundra of North Dakota, on the gas-rich Bakken Shale Formation. (Some readers may recall a five-part series on Planet Green earlier this year, “Boomtown,” about the newly rich North Dakotans who owned mineral rights in the formation.) Plans call for later episodes to be filmed with men fighting wilderness fires and drilling oil in the Arctic.
“It’s not just another show where you throw ingredients in the bowl,” Stretch said this week. “It gives you the chemistry, the science behind the foods, like how cayenne helps the blood flow, the spinach has iron. We have great graphics too” — courtesy of the same team that does graphics for “Deadliest Warrior.”
Earlier reports declared that Stretch would definitely host a show on Spike, though that was not quite true. “Hungry Men at Work” is not guaranteed a spot on Spike’s schedule, though a spokesman confirmed it was a full-length pilot. Most reality concepts only make it as far as a short presentation or “sizzle reel,” so the fact that an airable pilot was made speaks both to the concept and to Spike’s faith in Stretch.
Stretch said he’d made pilots for two other cable channels recently and was a finalist for a hosting gig at National Geographic Channel.
This sudden spike in attention is hardly surprising, given the reality TV industry’s enormous demand for fresh personalities and ideas. As I reported in “The Reality Decade,” about 600 different reality series aired in 2010. This level of production has reduced ideas to commodities, with network executives getting pitched the same concept hundreds of times. What makes the difference between a failed pitch and a network pilot is usually a personality who can break through the clutter. For Spike, making its first-ever forays into food-and-drink TV, that person appears to be Stretch.
Earlier this year, he met with 3 Ball Productions, which is behind another Spike show, “Bar Rescue,” now in production with a scheduled July airdate. Though Spike wouldn’t confirm it, the meeting with 3 Ball almost certainly means Stretch will be one of the on-camera experts on that show, which helps turn around failing bars the way Gordon Ramsay on “Kitchen Nightmares” helps turn around failed eateries.
The road to Spike began in 2009, when the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” made a stop in Kansas City. The producer of “3D,” David Page, was taken by the larger-than-life owner of Grinders restaurant, and tried for a year to find a reality vehicle for Stretch. Page is producing “Hungry Men at Work.”
That 2009 taping was serendipitous another way: Guy Fieri, the show’s host, and Stretch became fast friends.
“We just kinda clicked,” Stretch said. “We started hanging out at the (American) Royal and had a few beers. His crew was here. They were pretty cool. He’s kind of a rock-and-rolly guy, likes trucks and cars. We talked just worldly stuff.”
Stretch flew to Italy today to prepare for a live cooking show for 1,000 members of the U.S. Navy, part of the America’s Chefs program Fieri helped to start. Stretch did an America’s Chefs program at Guantanamo Bay last fall.
“We don’t just do a one-hour show,” he said. “We work with their chefs. We tweet their recipes. We do a little stage presentation, give free s--t away, have a lot of fun.”
Then it’s off to North Carolina to kick off the Guy Fieri Food Tour, which will visit Kansas City’s Midland Theater May 30 and 19 other cities. In all, he’ll be gone for more than a month, entrusting Grinders and the rest of Stretch Inc. to his staff.
“I would not be able to do the show, do America’s Chefs, do my restaurant, do my work, travel the world, without the staff and people I have,” Stretch said, who bought out his partner’s interest in Grinders one year ago.
“I took them all out to the Rieger last night for dinner. They’ve just truly kicked ass.”