LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Jennie Garth, a familiar face on TV of the past 20 years from her roles on "90210" and "What I Like About You," is quickly becoming a regular presence on an even smaller screen -- the web.
She made her first leap to online with a starring role as a high-heeled, high-powered executive in Candace Bushnell's "The Broadroom," a web series sponsored by Maybelline and distributed by More magazine last fall. This week, the actress is taking a more down-to-earth approach as the host of "Garden Party," an NBC Universal web series focusing on healthy eating, distributed on iVillage.com and sponsored by Clorox's Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing.
Ms. Garth seems to have arrived at her newfound web fame by accident. "The Broadroom" was a chance to do a network-quality TV show with a shorter production schedule, she said, while "Garden Party" allowed her to play her favorite role -- a working mother of two daughters.
"I liked the educational aspect of the show because as a mom, I know how hard it is to get kids to eat vegetables," Ms. Garth told Ad Age. "I learned how to let my girls help me peel veggies like sweet potatoes. If you give them a job to do when it comes to cooking and preparing their veggies, it makes them want to eat more."
"Garden Party," co-developed and produced with Hidden Valley Ranch's entertainment agency, Matter, will feature a different vegetable each month for the next six months, beginning with broccoli this month. Each episode will showcase various ways for parents and kids to prepare the monthly veggie, as well as interactive features such as a "Cook and Tell" cookbook, a "What's for Dinner" meal planner, and a user-generated message board for moms to share veggie stories.
The series will also be supported by a significant ad buy from Hidden Valley Ranch promoting "Garden Party" across a variety of NBC Universal properties in addition to iVillage, including NBC daytime and prime time, cable networks and mobile applications, as well as distribution on iTunes and other video-on-demand platforms.
"There's literally no platform a mom could be in love with where she couldn't see this," said Cameron Death, VP-NBC Universal's Digital Studio. The show will also focus less on how Hidden Valley Ranch can enhance a healthy meal, but will instead enable the salad dressing to brand the overall experience of healthy eating, he added.
"The key is really the content. You won't see the heavy-handedness some less-elegant productions have done in the past," Mr. Death said. "We have to be respectful of all the viewers by not crossing the line into an advertorial."
Madison & Vine recently caught up with Ms. Garth to discuss her recent forays into web entertainment, the importance of vegetables to her and her family and some social-media lessons she's learned from her husband, actor Peter Facinelli ("Twilight").
M&V: This is your first time hosting a series for a sponsor, let alone an educational food show for the web. What did Hidden Valley Ranch bring to the table, so to speak?
Ms. Garth: They brought some yummy ranch dressing, for one thing. That stuff is like pure gold because if your kids don't eat something they'll feel like they're having a fancy little treat. It's a helpful incentive, like a tool for parents to incentivize kids to eat more vegetables because they can eat them with ranch dressing. They came up with so many simple ways to get people to pass along this information to mothers and parents and to get their kids to literally love their veggies and have fun with them. It was an interactive and different approach that I liked.
M&V: There used to be a stigma around celebrities doing sponsored series because they felt too much like infomercials. What put you at ease about working with Maybelline last fall on "The Broadroom" and now Hidden Valley Ranch on "Garden Party"?
Ms. Garth: I have definitely seen some sponsored series that feel like infomercials, but I think that time has passed and viewers are smarter. Advertisers and networks like NBC really seem to know they need to be creating great content first to create an environment for the advertiser message, not the other way around. My passion is about motivating as many families as possible to learn about vegetables and healthy eating together.
M&V: Why was cooking vegetables so important to you?
Ms. Garth: Honest to God it's a big problem for us to get our kids to eat healthy foods. With the chronic obesity in America, it's more important than ever to not only feed kids healthy foods but to teach them how to make healthy choices on their own. It seems silly, this idea of a vegetable party, but when you think about the gravity of it and the importance of it, it's fundamental that you teach your kids how to take care of themselves.
M&V: This is your second web series, following "The Broadroom." Anything you learned that applied to your "Garden Party" experience?
Ms. Garth: Well, I learned I never want to work in a high-rise building. But doing those series is not a huge time commitment and for me that's valuable, but I also think they're really cool and reach a lot of people.
"Garden Party" was my first educational web series, which I really enjoyed. I liked the format of being able to talk to somebody. As an actress I enjoy dialogue and doing scenes, but this was an opportunity to reach out directly to the women watching. I'm one of those women who likes to chat and share knowledge and pass it around.
M&V: Did you get any feedback during your experience with "The Broadroom" that made you realize it was clicking or finding an audience? How will you interact with viewers throughout "Garden Party?"
Ms. Garth: "The Broadroom" was so new there weren't a lot of web series happening at the time, so it's hard to compare it. The first day it went up the server shut down, so clearly people weren't prepared for a show like that. But you don't realize the impact you can have on the web. My husband is Mr. Twitter, and it makes you really think about the impact you can have when you're talking to hundreds of thousands of people.
For "Garden Party," we're doing an event in March in New York, so that will give me a chance to interact with fans in addition to the recipes and tips on the site. So I look forward to what the future holds for it.
M&V: The web also used to be considered a dumping ground for content not considered good enough for TV. How do you think these two shows will change that perception.
Ms. Garth: You really just need to look at the quality of the shows -- there's really no difference between what you see on TV and what you see in digital. In fact, people have even more ways to see this than normal TV. We're working with the same production teams at NBC who produce shows like "Monk" and "Psych" -- the only difference is viewers watch online, on video-on-demand and mobile.
M&V: What are the benefits to doing web series vs. serialized scripted TV?
Ms. Garth: First of all, it's not just a "web series" -- with Garden Party, moms can watch it on iTunes or video-on-demand or online at 4 a.m. -- NBC and iVillage are giving us busy moms a choice that lets them watch and learn where and when they want. For me as an actress, I get greater flexibility in terms of scheduling and can provide my own point-of-view and opinion about what moms will like best -- they get to hear from me firsthand and we're learning together!
M&V: Any other tips you can share from your experience in the vegetable gardens?
Ms. Garth: Never give a hose to young kids. They were supposed to be spraying off the vegetables, but of course they sprayed the farmer, me, the cameras. Everybody got wet, but we had fun.