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Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson made his "Year of Food" announcement during his speech Thursday.

Sacramento 'Change Game' reality show still in planning stages

Published: Saturday, Mar. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 3, 2013 - 2:11 pm

It's a fun, timely TV idea. It's just not as far along in its development as Mayor Kevin Johnson suggested in Thursday's State of the City address.

Johnson, in announcing 2013 as the city's "Year of Food," touted a 13-segment run of a reality show called "The Change Game," set in farm-to-fork-happy Sacramento and promoting healthy eating and local agriculture. The mayor said the show would air on public television station KVIE.

But KVIE, though highly supportive of the project, has not yet committed to airing "Change Game," and the series has not yet been shot.

KVIE has given "Change Game" creator and executive producer Rabbi David Wechsler-Azen a "letter of interest" based on talks with Wechsler-Azen, according to Michael Sanford, the station's vice president of content creation.

See a trailer showing what 'The Change Game' reality show might look like.

The letter "officially expresses KVIE's interest in the 'Change Game' series idea, and articulates the belief that we think it's a good fit for our PBS audience," Sanford wrote via email.

The letter also states, according to Sanford, that if "Change Game" "meets KVIE and PBS editorial and technical standards, we would likely schedule it for broadcast and encourage other (PBS) stations to do so."

The mayor based his remarks Thursday on information provided by Wechsler–Azen, said Julia Burrows, executive director of the mayor's Greenwise Joint Venture nonprofit.

"Change Game" would feature teams of teenagers – a key demographic in healthy-eating campaigns – competing in "Apprentice"-like challenges meant to promote healthy, local food consumption and the development of business skills.

For Wechsler-Azen, the KVIE letter represents a strong enough commitment that he's going forward with fundraising and casting. He plans to cast five teams of 12 teens in April and May, and aims to start shooting in June. He has brought on Jeannine Glista, executive producer of the long-running PBS series "BizKids," as a consultant.

"Basically, (KVIE) is saying, 'If this turns out to be the quality we expect, we will air it,' " Wechsler-Azen said. "Sponsors can know this is going to air and will not end up in a bin somewhere."

"Change Game" derives from an idea similar to that behind Fresh Producers, an after-school nonprofit that Wechsler-Azen founded and for which he serves as CEO.

Fresh Producers is "an educational program that combines nutrition, food systems – where does your food come from? – and business education," Wechsler-Azen said. "We use produce to teach kids how to become producers."

Through Fresh Producers, students at some Sacramento City Unified schools sell produce during fundraisers instead of the usual candy bars or sugary snacks. When students sell healthy eating, they start to believe what they are selling, Wechsler-Azen said.

Hiram Johnson High's Fresh Producers club has raised thousands of dollars over the years, Wechsler-Azen said, and two years ago sent students to an entrepreneurial competition in Chicago.

Hiram Johnson student John Adams has shed 30 pounds thanks partly to knowledge gained through the club. It "made me look at what's on the back of every bottle and can" in terms of sugar and salt content, Adams said.

Wechsler-Azen said knowledge, not dieting, is the goal of Fresh Producers and will be of "Change Game" as well.

"Change Game" is seeking teams representing south, North and central Sacramento and West Sacramento and Elk Grove. They will face off in challenges likely to involve visits to farm fields and interactions with local chefs. Interested teens can find out more at

The show ultimately will have a winner but won't eliminate contestants after challenges like other reality shows do, Wechsler-Azen said. "It is non-elimination because we want them to keep working" toward promotion of local agriculture and healthy eating," Wechsler-Azen said. "Our premise is not, 'You are fired,' but 'You are hired.' "

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