Addicted To Food
Credit: Oprah Winfrey Network

Treatment shows have enjoyed a long shelf life on TV, but while it all started with drug addition and hoarders, OWN attempts to change viewer’s perceptions with its newest original series, Addicted to Food, premiering tonight at 10 p.m. In the eight-part docu-series, eight eating disorder patients seek treatment with therapist Tennie McCarty at Shades of Hope, a treatment facility in Buffalo Gap, Texas. We spoke with producer Brad Lamm, a board registered interventionist, about the idea, what he thinks of other treatment shows, and the five reasons Addicted is different from the rest.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s you role in the show?

BRAD LAMM: It was about five years ago that I said to Lisa Erspamer, the EP at the Oprah show and a good friend: “I’ve been using this place in Buffalo Gap, Texas to help people who are addicted to food. And it’s a sacred, holy, amazing, you-gotta-see-it place.” That started a conversation about setting a show there with therapist Tennie McCarty, who’s really the heart and soul of the treatment center, which is called Shades of Hope. With so many of the people struggling with eating disorders, it’s certainly not about the food, the diet or losing 30 pounds. It’s about making that internal shift that’ll help a person walk free from food addiction. Over the last few years, not only have I used it a lot, but I also took my brother there a few years ago. And Lisa saw that there was really something special taking place there and that Tennie was a special voice in this realm.

So how did that conversation turn into the show?

I shot some tape about four years ago. I had taken a client down there and I interviewed Tennie, and I shared that with Lisa. As we brainstormed, I went back with Harpo to explore more. Lisa was really the architect of taking this idea of something great happening and being able to put it together in a TV show. I’m a clinician, I work with families and help people break addiction. But translating that in compassionate way to a television show is a whole other challenge. Lisa put amazing work into it to make it work as a TV show. It’ll change the conversation people are having around food addiction.

There seems to be a trend from rehab shows to hoarding shows and now to addiction shows. Why is that?

Reality TV has opened people up to the possibility that if cameras are around, it’s not such a terrible part of the [treatment] process. I think we’re focusing more on the everyday addictions that are keeping us from the lives we want. Hoarding is a train wreck. I wouldn’t count that as a legitimate treatment show. The purpose of that show is to make an entertaining show out of someone who has a mental illness. I would not have pitched this show to anybody but Oprah. It’s such a special playing field. I’ve tried to be careful that I invite people who really have a compassionate point of view about helping, not going in and saying, “How can I exploit them to make good TV?” That was never the goal. The goal was always how can we help revolutionize these lives and give the viewer at home some takeaways and to change the way they feed themselves?

It’s pitch time. With so many treatment shows out there, tell me five reasons Addicted to Food is different:

1. First and foremost, it’s Tennie McCarty’s work. Not only has she walked away from life threatening food addictions, but she has helped people break from their own food addictions for over two decades. Tennie is able to disarm the client and let them help her help themselves. There are very few people who can do that. In the whole country, there are a lot of eating disorder clinics but there is only one that I refer food addiction clients to, and that’s Shades of Hope. Tennie is a miracle worker.

2. The Oprah Network allowed breathing space for this to unfold in real time. There was never a conversation of, “We gotta shoot this in three weeks.” It was: “What’s the program? How can we follow along as people recover?” The desire of many of the shows on TV today is to create entertainment. If your mission is to help people get better, you’re going to end up with a very different TV show. I’m proud that Addicted is watchable as a TV show but the people involved in it have also transformed their lives.

3. Buffalo Gap, Texas is an amazing setting. The clients aren’t only isolated, but it’s almost like this island our eight participants land on and we’re able to see their lives transform in a really un-rushed way over 6 weeks. We weren’t going to rebuild Rome in a day. This was going to take real, hard, dedicated work and that’s what we did.

4. Tennie’s approach is that this is an inside job. You’re not going to diet your way into health. You may lose weight, but if you don’t make that internal shift, you’re not likely to keep off the weight. The bread and butter of the show is that three pounds that is most overlooked in all these other shows: our brains. We’re focused on that spiritual transformation.

5. It’s a family run treatment center that helps people get better. There was never a question of, “What can we do to help clients sleep together or create crazy obstacle courses for TV?” The focus was helping people heal. On many of those other shows, that’s not the focus. Certainly there’s drama on Addicted to Food because the life of somebody whose newly recovering is dramatic, chaotic and painful, but there’s also lots of joy, triumph and beauty. I think we shine and capture the light on that as much as we do the other.