Former Pittsburgher, Jon Hein, to host food show


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Former Pittsburgher Jon Hein first made his mark in the media landscape when he popularized "jump the shark," a term coined by Mr. Hein and college buddies in the late 1980s after watching the "Happy Days" episode in which the Fonz actually jumps over a shark on water skis. "Jump the shark" became shorthand for the moment when anything great veers off course and loses its greatness.

After writing a book in 2002 based on his website, jumptheshark.com (he sold the website to TV Guide in 2006), Mr. Hein began his second act working for Howard Stern as a contributor to Mr. Stern's satellite radio show and his Sirius XM channel.

For his third act, Mr. Hein has become host of the new series "Fast Food Mania" (10 and 10:30 p.m. Sunday, Destination America). But he sees some crossover between his love of TV and fast food.

"They go hand in hand," he said in a phone interview last week while finishing production on the first season's 10 episodes that visit assorted national and regional fast food chains. "What's better than watching the series finale of 'House' with a bucket of chicken from KFC? It just seems like a natural combination to me."

Each episode of "Fast Food Mania" features visits to three or four restaurants. In Sunday's premiere episode Mr. Hein is off to White Castle, Texas-based Whataburger and Chick-Fil-A, where he experiences what it's like to camp out for a new restaurant's grand opening.

"I didn't know the first 100 people at a new franchise get free Chick-Fil-A for a year," Mr. Hein said. "It's a hidden menu item, the kind of minutiae people like me love to learn and go out to explore first hand."

"Fast Food Mania" is all about the love of fast food and fast food culture. Airing on the Discovery-owned network Destination America, the series is anathema to the network Destination America replaced Monday, the tree huggery Planet Green. "Fast Food Mania" doesn't spend time worrying about the health implications of consuming fast food.

"A lot of these places do get a bad rap," Mr. Hein said, acknowledging the health concerns associated with fast food. "When you go into a fast food place, I think you make a bargain walking in. You're looking for a meal that's tasty and may not be the healthiest thing. I don't think you should have it every day. Morgan Spurlock did a good job showing that. We're celebrating these places and the spirit behind them."

Mr. Hein said he's only put on 5 pounds since beginning production of "Fast Food Mania" because he said his diet hasn't changed all that much.

"If I'm not taping the show, I'm eating this way," he said. "It wasn't that much of an adjustment for me to make."

He auditioned to host "Fast Food Mania" by bringing a fry fork from Nathan's Famous, which he used to go to with his father at Coney Island after moving away from Pittsburgh.

"You need to know the inside of fast food to understand the significance of a fry fork. Nathan's is the only place you can get it, and it's associated with childhood memories and that's really what the spirit of the show is about."

Mr. Hein lived in Mt. Lebanon from kindergarten through fourth grade and he still has family in the region, including his grandmother, Evelyn Engelberg, who resides in Squirrel Hill.

"I pushed for us to visit the Original but we didn't get there," Mr. Hein said of the Oakland hot dog shop commonly known as The O. "Maybe in season two."

Destination America is carried locally by Comcast (Channel 873 HD, 113 on traditional Comcast systems, 103 on former Adelphia systems), FiOS TV (168 and 668 HD), Armstrong (440 or 125), DirecTV (286) and Dish Network (194).

'Daniel Tiger' update

Production continues on "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," the new PBS Kids series from the Pittsburgh-based Fred Rogers Company. A premiere date has not been announced but if PBS adheres to its usual pattern, the show will likely start on Labor Day.

When I stopped by the FRC office inside WQED in Oakland in late April, executive producer Kevin Morrison showed me segments of completed episodes.

Each half-hour episode will feature two, 11-minute animated stories featuring Daniel Tiger (son of Daniel Striped Tiger from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood") and his friends (also descendants of the live-action show's Neighborhood of Make-Believe characters).

Between the two animated stories and after the second story, a live-action interstitial will air. While the cartoon portions are being produced in Toronto, the live-action segments (3-5 minutes per episode) are filmed in Pittsburgh.

Both animated stories adhere to a common theme (in the pilot episode, it's disappointment) and that theme, an element of the story or music from the episode is carried through to the interstitial.

In the episode where Daniel is disappointed after his birthday cake gets smushed when he shakes it around while carrying it home from a bakery, the interstitial features a child, dressed in a red sweater like Daniel wears (with a Trolley emblem), baking a cake with Gaynor Grant at Gaynor's School of Cooking on the Southside.

Another interstitial includes an ode to the original "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" by revisiting the Crayola Crayon factory in Easton, Pa.

A trailer for "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" can be seen in Thursday's Tuned In Journal blog post at post-gazette.com/tv.

Channel surfing

History scored big with its first scripted miniseries, "Hatfields & McCoys," which drew a record 13.9 million viewers to its first telecast Monday, the largest audiences ever for a non-sports, ad-supported cable program. The miniseries topped itself Wednesday night by drawing 14.3 million viewers to its finale. ... Starz will air a "Spartacus" marathon next week and for the first time the series will air in chronological order, beginning with "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" (9-11 p.m. June 8 and 15), continuing with "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" (9 p.m. Fridays June 22-July 20) and concluding with "Spartacus: Vengeance" (July 20-Aug. 10). ... Andie MacDowell will star in Hallmark Channel's first scripted series, "Cedar Cove," playing a judge in a small town. A two-hour pilot movie will air late in 2012 with the series to follow in early 2013. ... Two additions to the CNN roster this week: John Berman, formerly with ABC News, will move to CNN to anchor "Early Start" (5-7 a.m. weekdays) and chef Anthony Bourdain migrates to CNN as host of a new weekend program to air in early 2013.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Two and a Half Men," "Harry's Law" and HGTV shows. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on new CW reality shows and the return of MTV's "Teen Wolf." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "Mad Men," locals on reality shows and the "Hatfields & McCoys" ratings win. Subscribe or listen at post-gazette.com/podcast.

tvradio

A portion of this column first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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