Reality television is more pervasive than ever. According to a recent Neilsen study, the genre…
The public flogging of the Franklin family.
It sucks when your TV debut gets pre-empted by a political debate. Lots more people would have seen your formerly fat self — prone to raiding the fridge at 2 a.m. — panting through a workout and tearing up as your ego is whittled away, all under the stern eye of a skinny, spandexed host.
Todd Franklin is still irked that few people in Metro Detroit got a glimpse of his family getting the tough-love treatment of uber-personal trainer Jillian Michaels on an early episode (air date: July 13, 2010) of Losing It with Jillian, a spin-off of The Biggest Loser that was canceled after just one season on NBC. He truly feels he could have touched more lives.
“They didn’t do anything to promote us,” Todd says.
Yet, had the Franklins of Huntington Woods not succumbed to Michaels and a huge NBC crew, they might have been stuck in their non-televised reality, a place that kept wife Amy simmering with resentment and daughters Lily, 10, and Chloe, 8½, terrified their dad would keel over from a heart attack and their mom would die from a smoking habit. Photo Credit: Brett Mountain
Without the pressure of cameras and the persistence of Michaels — who, in case you’re wondering, has a Jewish father, identifies as a Jew and lives in L.A., but strangely had her first-ever Shabbat dinner at the Franklins — Todd, 41, might not have adopted a far healthier diet and habits that include gym workouts a few times a week. The daughters would have continued to subsist on processed foods, and Amy, 40, might not have pursued a passion to become a yoga teacher.
The Franklins’ journey from ordinary to high-def began with a casting call for Michaels’ new show at a Macomb County Gardner-White furniture store. Todd, then a whopping 310 pounds, struck a chord with the casting team. The Franklins met with producers. They were flown to L.A. for a week and put up in a Beverly Hills hotel, with a spending allowance. Having logged their food intake and photographed the contents of their kitchen cabinets, they were put through a battery of physiological and psychological tests. But they still weren’t sure they wanted to do the show, the couple says.
“We thought it might be too intrusive, and we were worried about the light we’d be portrayed in,” says Amy. But NBC didn’t take the hint. “After meeting us in L.A., they were still emailing us and sending us video cameras to make video diaries.”
Then, in April of last year, a crew showed up to shoot footage of Amy doing her daily errands. One afternoon in May, after a camera crew followed Todd and the children to a nearby park, they returned home to find Michaels sitting on their couch, a thicket of cameras trained on the family. Within a half-hour, they were on their way to Franklin Athletic Club in Southfield.
The show was on, and this was their life —as the show’s producers wanted viewers to see it, of course.
They found us at the right time — it was beshert,” says Todd, a partner in a company called Plaintiff Investment Firm LLC in Royal Oak. “I was a walking stroke. I was defiant; I was a dick at the beginning; I was mean. As the show progressed, you could see me softening, and I realized I had more value [than I’d thought].”
“That’s when I was giving him ultimatums,” says Amy. With the cameras rolling, she let her feelings spill over.
“Todd thought everything was swell. He was heavy and unhappy and wasn’t feeling confident. I was beaten down emotionally. So many things have changed with him. He had a horrible temper; we were walking around on eggshells. We all stopped enabling Todd,” says Amy, who was suffering the loss of her business, a children’s clothing store.
In the “intervention” scene around the dining-room table, Todd’s mom, Edee Franklin, Amy and a few friends tell Todd they love him, don’t want to bug him about his weight anymore, that he has to want to change himself, etc.
In another scene, filmed in a boxing ring, Lily and Chloe take turns telling their parents how much they love them and want them to get healthy. Todd tells them how much he loves them and wants to be around for them.
No punches were thrown, but more tears were shed.
The week was emotionally wrenching and physically demanding. Plus, Todd and Amy were ordered to live in sweats and avoid looking good.
“When they were here filming us, we each had our own producer,” Todd says. “I was at a boxing place trying not to throw up, or I’m at Subway filming a commercial. Amy’s having coffee with Jillian,” and the kids were in the hands of producers or friends.
At the end of each day, Amy says, she and Todd would get into bed and stare at the ceiling, wrung out from working out and moving around and sharing feelings.
“There was a lot of crying,” Todd says. “It was bad stuff that had been built up in your body for a long time. It was a terribly fatiguing workout that was wringing it out of you.”
Amy found Michaels’ advice about parenting a bit difficult to take, given that Michaels isn’t a mother. Although the host developed a good relationship with Lily and Chloe, she and Amy clashed.
“We had conflicting personalities; she’s a tough Jewish woman, and I’m a tough Jewish woman,” says Amy.
Yet, she acknowledges that the timing for such an adventure was right. When her business fell apart, she regained some of the 100 pounds she had lost after gastric-bypass surgery. Michaels gave her the tools to take off and keep off the weight. Amy now eats five small meals a day.
“I’ve been dieting my whole life, and I’ve never been this successful,” she says.
“I wanted to stay married. Todd was not a happy person, and a lot of it had to do with him not liking the way he looked or felt. It was really intense.”
When Michaels and crew returned six weeks after the taping for the “reveal” — the results show — Todd flaunted a physique that was 30 pounds lighter. Amy had lost 15 pounds. A crew did her hair and makeup.
Needing a backdrop for the reveal, the crew made up a new birth date for Lily and set up a carnival to celebrate the faux birthday. She was able to invite 100 friends.
Then the crew left, sprinkling fairy dust on its way out: NBC fattened the daughters’ college funds, paid for Amy’s classes to become a certified yoga teacher and paid for a personal trainer for Todd for a month.
The cycle from wretched to blessed was complete. It was a wrap. Not bad for a week of looking “fat and ugly,” as Amy puts it.
Todd, who is active with Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit, is 90 pounds lighter than he was before the show was taped. He’s become a devotee of healthy eating and exercise. He’s stopped berating himself.
Amy is teaching yoga and thinking about starting a new store. She dumped bad eating habits for better ones. She buys organic mac ’n’ cheese and other healthy snacks her kids like. And, she returned to plain view the candy jar that disappeared during the taping of the show. It’s there, but nobody’s tempted.
“I got my life back,” he says. “I agree with [Jillian’s] belief about lifestyle. I don’t diet. It was about changing my life.”
Todd says he and Amy are closer now, they put less pressure on their children, and he’s more confident in his work.
“It made us more positive. [The show] was the catalyst, but it was up to us to hold it. We chose the better way. We decided to stay the course and hopefully live together healthily for a long time,” he says. Photo Credit: Brett Mountain
WHAT THE FAMILY LEARNED
Don’t diet. Alter the way you approach food, but it’s not realistic to eat 1,200 calories and work out every day.
Get to a gym. Do yoga.
Don’t set unattainable goals.
Don’t weigh yourself.
Get a pair of “goal pants” you want to fit into.
Don’t deprive yourself. If you want a candy bar, cut it in half and put the rest in the freezer for another day.
Talk to your children about what they’re eating instead of telling them they’ve had enough to eat.
Feed your children dinner when they come home from school so they don’t subsist on empty calories that keep them grazing until the evening.