Julia: Borrowing Hollywood buzz for the real thing on PBS

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The late French Chef Julia Child is getting a burst of extra attention with the Aug. 7 release of Julie & Julia starring Meryl Streep as pubTV’s breakthrough, endearingly unpretentioius cooking teacher.

So both PBS and WGBH, Child’s earliest pubTV home, are capitalizing on the movie debut with an online compilation, an in-person panel recorded for the Web, and a retrospective August pledge special.

Child may have appeared casual in The French Chef, but viewers didn't see the prep work.

Child may have appeared casual in The French Chef, but viewers didn't see the prep work. (Photo: Paul Child, courtesy of WGBH.)

PBS’s video portal just launched an online anthology of five French Chef episodes, eight of Baking with Julia and 13 of Julia Child Cooking with Master Chefs. A related “Bon Appetit Collection” page holds 13 Made in Spain programs and 23 segments from Everyday Food, including recipes and cooking tips.

“Obviously, there’s so much attendant buzz around a movie on Julia Child starring Meryl Streep,” said Kevin Dando, PBS director of digital and education communications. “We created the site because we know a lot of people are searching for her on the Web and we have the best content that is easily searchable, and more available than anyone else.”

“People will go home from the movie and inevitably do Google searches” for Child and her shows, Dando added. On search engines, “we track really high for Julia Child and anticipate a nice bump.”

Also from PBS, for August pledge, comes a retrospective of a few of Child’s most memorable French Chef shows: “Bouillabaisse à la Marseillaise,” “To Roast a Chicken” and “The Omelette Show.” The program includes conversations with noted chefs plus commentaries from Streep and author Julie Powell, who wrote the book on which the film is based.

On July 14, WGBH and Columbia Pictures partnered for an advance screening of the upcoming film in Boston. It was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Atlantic food writer Corby Kummer and including Child’s friend Jasper White, her book editor Judith Jones, and French Chef producer/director Russ Morash. A recording of the chat will be available through the WGBH Forum Network on the date the movie opens.

Attending the screening were more than 200 major donors, members of the board, folks from the local film and cultural community “and some of the most lauded chefs in Boston,” said WGBH spokesperson Chika Offurum.

Similar collaborations have worked well for pubcasting in the past. James Dunford, American Experience series manager, said the show sometimes works with movie studios on promotion of docs and theatrical films on related topics. The movie A Beautiful Mind in 2001 was based on the same book on mathematician John Nash as AmEx’s A Brilliant Madness, which was under way for 2002. “So we sat down with Universal Studios, and a publicist mapped out shared strategies,” Dunford said. “If the author was doing an event for the film, he’d also mention our documentary.” At no cost to public TV.

The film Becoming Jane, which came out in July 2007, meshed nicely with Masterpiece’s series, The Complete Jane Austen, which aired from January thorugh April 2008. Olivia Wong, series senior account exec, said a screening in Tribeca of the theatrical release included a promo for the series. A discussion after the film included star Anne Hathaway and Masterpiece Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton. All of that was serendipitous, she said. “It was really one of those fate things—just good timing.”

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