'Supernanny' appears in Evansville

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Posted by madcityradio.com on October 24, 2008 at 14:39:20:

The Nanny diaries: British 'Supernanny' brings magic touch to Evansville family

EVANSVILLE -- Primly climbing out of the black British taxi that delivers her to the rescue, the Supernanny of the English-speaking world looks every bit her part: Tailored skirt, hair in bun, spectacles on nose. Her accent: authentically London. Her black umbrella: aloft and at the ready.

ABC and Ricochet productions, the company that produces the TV reality series "Supernanny," bill Jo Frost as a "modern-day Mary Poppins," and they're not far off. Frost doesn't sing in the show, but she does exercise a kind of magic as each week she enters the life of a frustrated family rife with naughtiness, puts an enchanted finger on the problem, then bucks up the parents with no-nonsense advice about creating loving new boundaries for their kids.

Frost and her production crew were in Evansville this month to film a segment about a "young family with three children, including twins," said Frost, who (after politely offering her interviewer a cup of tea in her production trailer between takes) added that she couldn't give particulars about the locals, or exactly why Supernanny was called in to save the day.

"Like a lot of relatable families, they need structure and consistency so that they can work together and resolve the issues that are breaking down the family dynamic," she said. "At first I found it extremely tough, and they plowed on through. It was tough for them to hear the truth, but they both really want the change, so I'm halfway there."

On a mission

Single and 38, Frost -- who does not have children of her own -- got her start babysitting as a teen and became a professional nanny after college.

In Britain in 2004, she wowed producers of a new TV concept and was crowned TV's Supernanny; by the following year the show expanded to the U.S. She's also written three books on parenting.

Frost and her crew don't consider their trans-Atlantic project entertainment; they consider it a mission.

"This is the realest' reality show there is," said on-site producer Tommy Corriale, watching as three cameramen filmed Frost's taxi arrival at the Evansville home on a rainy morning. "We don't script it. The teaching is all hers. It's totally documentary-style. It's really cool."

Initially, said Frost, the reality-TV label "made a lot of Americans really quite skeptical."

Over time, "the audience has been able to judge for themselves and recognize the good work that's being done. I think after four years of doing this show, people really have had the opportunity to see for themselves the work we do out here.

"I'm in the house with the family, but obviously it's a big production that supports the work that I do," she added. "Families have come forth now in recognizing this is what I do, and it's OK for them to actually call and say, yes, we could do with some help as well."

Problems are common

Families can apply to be on the show via a questionnaire on the ABC Web site, with questions like "Do your children exhibit extreme physical behavior (i.e. hitting, scratching, spitting)? Do they engage in behavior that destroys the house/toys/car, etc.?"

The hour long "Supernanny" airs locally at 8 p.m. Fridays on Ch. 27 WKOW. The episode featuring the Evansville family will air sometime before next May, the network said, but no date has been set.

Shows already in the can this season address a host of new real-life issues for "Supernanny": out-of-control teens, hearing children who are being raised by a deaf couple, parents on the verge of divorce.

And infants. "A lot of people don't know that I started looking after babies as a nanny," said Frost. "So there's plenty of babies on this season."

In both British and American families (they're not that different, said Frost, "although American reporters would love me to say they are"), the most common problems are a "breakdown in communication; lack of consistency, so there's no follow-through; lack of structure; (and) events that may not have been foreseen, and the impact of that can be very overwhelming.

"Certainly on a whole, society's evolving and changing, and I've certainly recognized in America there's a lot of uncertainty of how families survive and keep their head above water," she said. "I feel that outside influence as well as inside influence.

"As parents we've got to do as much as we possibly can in the home, and we hope that our governments support us in being able to give us the aid we need as well."

Occasionally, Frost has referred her TV families for therapy, "because the reality is I'm only working with a family for a certain amount of time," she said. "So if I think they need more support beyond myself after I've finished the fundamentals, that is something that Ricochet offers to the family."

'Everybody's got a story'

Frost grew up in London with one brother, 18 months her junior, who today runs his own electrical firm.

"I had parents who were very supportive, and they worked very well together," she said. "They seemed to have it down.

"My brother and I have a very close relationship. Did we fight like cat and dog at times? Yeah, we did, but we love each other dearly and we have a nice relationship."

Though in real life she lets her hair down and dispenses with the eyeglasses, people still recognize Frost in public.

"Some days I have quiet days and some days they're not so quiet. Everybody's very receptive and supportive, and very lovely actually, everybody across the board. They come over and give you a hug, or say you've made a difference here and there. It's nice to get that positive feedback. Everybody's got a story."

In each show, Frost spends several days with a family, then leaves to let them try to weave her recommendations into everyday family life.

She returns to critique what has gone on in her absence and offer additional pointers. During those several days off in a region, Frost likes to pamper herself with exercise and a massage -- and sightsee.

"I'll have a ponder around," said Frost, who rented quarters in Madison while working with the Evansville family. "That's the nice thing about having those days off: The spontaneity can just blow through and I can take it as it comes.

"I'll see if there's some local cuisine, some nice restaurants in the area, and just take a look around. I like photography, so I'll take some photographs. It's quite nice when you get to a new place; you can feel around and just see what's in the area."

And what does Frost do when she's not writing a book or swooping in with her film crew to help some British or American family?

"I spend time," she said, "with my own family."

(Gayle Worland, Wisconsin State Journal)

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