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'Huge': The big idea

”Hairspray” star Nikki Blonsky leads ABC Family’s new series about a camp for overweight teens

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Nikki Blonsky is no different from most people when it comes to wearing bathing suits in public: She hates it. So the Hairspray star wasn’t exactly thrilled to see her tank-suit-clad body displayed on a billboard to help promote Huge, a new ABC Family series about a camp for overweight teens that debuts June 28 at 9 p.m.

”It was the shock of a lifetime,” says Blonsky, 21, who plays Willamina, an outspoken girl who’s comfortable with her bigger build but whose parents force her to attend the camp. ”I thought they just wanted to take extra pictures,” continues Blonsky, who had no idea the swimsuit shots would be part of the ad campaign. ”Surprise, surprise! It shows up [on a billboard] in L.A. But it was so freeing! There I am, up on a billboard next to American Apparel ads with skinny, skinny models. I think it’s a bold statement.”

With the continued ratings success of weight-loss reality shows like NBC’s The Biggest Loser and Oxygen’s Dance Your Ass Off, several networks are hoping the trend will translate to scripted series about fat folks. But unlike the diet-obsessed reality TV world, these new shows aren’t just about losing pounds. On Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva (Sundays, 9 p.m.), which debuted last summer to rave reviews, Brooke Elliott stars as a supermodel reincarnated in a plus-size attorney’s body who battles criminals, not the bulge. Meanwhile, the drama on Huge comes from heavier issues like boyfriends, eating disorders, and sexual orientation. Says Blonsky, ”This is really groundbreaking because I don’t think there’s ever been a full plus-size cast, non-reality, where kids can see actors playing relatable characters who look like them and are going through issues like them.”

And on CBS’ new fall comedy Mike & Molly, Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls) and Billy Gardell (My Name Is Earl) play a good-natured pair of portly singles who embark on a romance. Granted, the fat jokes flow freely — the couple meet at Overeaters Anonymous, which Molly’s thin sister, Victoria (Katy Mixon), dubs ”the chub club” — but chronicling the diet struggles of two plump protagonists was not the primary goal of writer Mark Roberts (Two and a Half Men). ”I liked the idea of starting a relationship from square one and seeing the growth in that,” says Roberts, who’s executive-producing the comedy with Men creator Chuck Lorre. ”The fact that they have this as a common problem is something we can use to underline the humanity of the comedy. It’s certainly not something we are going to use to go, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to put a fat joke in there?’ In many ways, the weight issue is something we had to use to get regular people back on TV.”

The trend is a much-needed step away from television’s fat-phobic tendencies, says Peggy Howell, a spokesperson for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance: ”I’m disappointed in shows that focus entirely on weight loss. Those shows are unrealistic because they take people out of their normal settings and put them into unnatural living situations. I would be delighted if these new shows focused on fat people living their lives and just being people.” Roberts says that’s exactly his plan for Mike & Molly, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep the show about romance rather than calorie counting. ”I may gain a few pounds,” he jokes, ”just to stay connected.”

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