In what appears to be the first-of-its-kind, a new reality TV show focused specifically on diabetes will be airing this summer on the Discovery Life Channel.
Created by celebrity chef Charles Mattocks, a type 2 himself since 2009 who happens to be a nephew of the late great reggae music legend Bob Marley, this new "docu-series" features five PWDs (people with diabetes) with both type 1 and type 2 aiming to change the way they think about their health.
What makes this even more unique and intriguing for our D-Community is that it's also a first in bringing on a diabetes industry player as the sole sponsor. Yep, California-based MannKind Corp. that makes inhaled insulin Afrezza, is the sponsor of this reality show, which will include featuring the company's late founder Al Mann on the TV show's website. We'll get into those details in a moment, but first let's have a look at this upcoming show itself.
The kicker is the show's name, Reversed.
(insert PWD sighs and eye rolls here)
OK... We totally get it what a controversial concept that is in our Diabetes Community -- invoking all kinds of baggage related to "reversing" and "curing" diabetes, the T1-T2 distinction conflict, and all the medical science debates over what we know and don't know about diabetes overall. But before you tune this out based on the name alone, we urge you to take a step back and keep an open mind.
As D-peep and show creator Mattocks says himself:
"This show is about people with diabetes who will change their lives -- emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It's not so much about reversing diabetes, as it is about changing one's lifestyle and attitude, changing who we are as people, and bringing out the best in all of us."
Meeting Charles Mattocks
First off, it's important to know about the man behind this show. Here's a quick intro:
Aside from his family connection to Marley, Mattocks is known as 'The Poor Chef' for his love for cooking affordable, healthy meals. Through the years, he's been featured in films (like the 90s movie Summer of Ben Tyler with James Woods where he played the title character) and on TV ranging from CNN to the Dr. Oz Show and The Today Show. After his T2 diagnosis in 2011, Mattocks began touring the world to meet and interview people with diabetes globally, taking on a range of D-advocacy roles from becoming an International Diabetes Federation Blue Circle Champion, to helping write an ADA cookbook, to producing The Diabetic You documentary film, and even developing a gluten-free chocolate snack dubbed the "Charles Bar."
He's certainly done quite a lot, and while his brand of advocacy may not be everyone's style, you can't argue that he's really made some waves in the diabetes world over the past six years, leading into to this new show.
Really, Diabetes Reality TV?
To be clear, this is not the first time a reality TV show has dabbled in life with diabetes -- from the MTV TruLife episode back in 2012 that featured three T1 PWDs, to a T1 teen mom, and the American Idol competition in 2015 featuring Adam Lasher, a T1 nephew of Carlos Santana. Apparently, even DJ/hip-hop legend Doctor Dre (who lives with T2D himself) has been talking about creating his own D-related reality show, given his complication-ridden T2 that's led to him losing his vision.
But Reversed does appear to be the first national reality show 100% dedicated to diabetes and its management.
What you'll be watching is five PWDs in a house surrounded by beaches and palm trees at the Milbrooks Resort island retreat in exotic Montego Bay, Jamaica.
The idea for Reversed started taking shape three or four years ago, with some early teasers and promos aired back in 2014 with a completely different set of PWDs featured. As his own D-advocacy and personal diabetes story evolved, Mattocks continued looking for partners, and late last year got what he needed to bring this dream of his to life.
He's now teamed up with MannKind Corp. as the sole sponsor, began production early this year and just wrap up this past month, to start final editing before the show airs in July. The introductory season will feature 10 episodes.
We're urged not to think of this as a competition-style reality show, like Survivor or American Idol where someone's voted off at the end of each episode. Mattocks remains a bit coy on exactly how it will play out to avoid spoilers, but he says pretty much everyone will finish the way they're supposed to -- by achieving some health milestones, or just learning more about about how they can best care for themselves.
Mattocks says he thinks of it like recipe-sharing -- you see a dish that looks good and add that to your repertoire, and maybe by sharing it more widely you can inspire others to adopt some of the ingredients into their own lives -- whether it's better BG testing, healthier eating or exercise habits, or just changing how we think about life.
The show will feature a host of experts: cooking and diet professionals, a diabetes educator who lives with type 1 herself, and a yoga instructor and other health professionals to handle the more "offical" medical issues covered.
What About the Term "Reversed"?
“When you look at the definition of ‘reversed’ in the dictionary, it’s about slowing down the physical progress of something. That’s what this is," Mattocks says. "When we talk about where (the show participants) were when I first met them to where they are now, they have reversed the direction they were going – not necessarily diabetes, but they've turned around how they think about themselves. To see them do a 360-degree reversal of where they were, that inspires me.”
Hmmm. So it's a philosophical reversal they're after?
“Yes, we’re seeing a reversal in mindset, that’s what it's about. We get caught up on that word, and it’s really holding us back and hindering us from where we could be. Because it’s not about reversing diabetes at all,” he says.
Certainly an interesting train of thought...
In a recent podcast, Mattocks talked with three of the PWDs who participated in thes show -- two type 2s, and a T1 who just started on Afrezza after being on the show. Interestingly, during the 15-minute podcast, the trio talked about how they didn't expect the show to be as life-changing as it was, helping them acheive better D-management and health habits. One of the T2s named Jerome said it's "exactly what he needed" to change his mindset and since the show's production wrapped up, he has not only lost weight and felt better, but with help from his doctor he's managed to dramatically cut down his insulin intake and other medications.
They all agreed the show wasn't keyed in on or overbearing on messages of weight loss, low-carb or plant-based eating, but rather about finding what works best for each of them in making healthier choices. The T1, a woman named Felice, spoke on the podcast about her 43 years with T1D and how she was "heading into the deep hole of D-burnout" before going on Reversed, and since then she's been able to change her attitude and perspective. She started Afrezza in mid-April, which she says has translated to only one basal injection per day instead of seven multiple daily injections, fewer hypos and much more stable BGs.
These personal PWD accounts were certainly very convincing that the show has merit.
Beyond this introductory season, Charles is pondering future options -- a live-recorded version, celebrity cast, and even going beyond diabetes into other health conditions.
"We think we have something special here, and we do think we're going to be changing lives," he said.
Sponsored by Afrezza / MannKind Corp.
As noted, MannKind is currently the show's sole sponsor, so they get full play, including a display ad on the show's website with an image of the late Alfred Mann, who created the company and passed away in early 2016.
MannKind's Chief Operational Officer Mike Castagna tells us that as sponsors, they have no involvement in the show's development or content. While one participant will be using and demonstrating Afrezza on the air, that wasn't a requirement and was not even intentional product placement.
Castagna says they've created a storyboard for a commercial -- something that show coordinators say will be 1-minute long, rather than 30 seconds as the FDA usually mandates for pharma ads. (We mentioned this in our recent coverage of MannKind's wish to become "the Uber of diabetes.")
Whether this helps MannKind's business with Afrezza is anyone's guess. But you can't fault the company for thinking outside the box here.
Castagna recognizes that the word "reversed" is controversial, particularly when you have celebrities such as Halle Berry and Drew Carrie who've used that word to essentially claim erasing their disease. He says it's clear that diabetes can't be erased, and it's about educating the PWD masses on management basics.
"How many shows focus on diabetes? I can't think of any," Castagna says. "We have shows focusing on plastic surgery, emergency rooms, on pain, but there's nothing out there like this to raise awareness. That's why it's important that somebody does something, and why MannKind is sponsoring this. We can debate the word 'reversed,' but I don't think that's the right debate to be having -- even though I wouldn't argue it shouldn't be used. But the debate should be why we aren't we raising awareness about achieving better health outcomes? That's what I hope comes out of the show."
Hopes, Fears and Reality (TV) Checks
It's an interesting concept and we're certainly going to check it out this summer. Will the show really be educational? Or will it just serve to fuel misconceptions? We're a bit nervous about exercise and eating themes that can turn into blame for PWDs about why we don't all just "reverse" our diabetes with simple lifestyle choices.
For his part, Mattocks isn't worried. He's convinced it will be all positive reinforcement.
If all goes well, this show could be a win-win for everyone. We shall see...
It deserves a chance, if nothing else. So keep an eye on your TV listings this summer, D-Friends.