Life is anything but sweet on the set of OWN’s docuseries “Welcome to Sweetie Pies,” where conflict between the family at the center of the show impacted the production crew and left the future of the series up in the air.
“Sweetie Pies” centers on Miss Robbie Montgomery, a former background singer for Ike and Tina Turner, and her family as they work at their franchise of soul food restaurants in St. Louis. Recent episodes have spotlighted familial issues, including Miss Robbie’s son, Tim Norman, and his rift with his fiance as they plan their wedding. Meanwhile, sources say problems had been simmering for weeks off camera between the family and production staff.
Tension reached a boiling point during taping of season two in October between Norman, the staff of his restaurant and the production crew of “Sweetie Pies.” Details of the situation remain hazy, but there have been numerous heated exchanges between Norman and the Pilgrim Studios crew.
OWN attributes the volatility to the pressure placed upon Norman as he runs three restaurants, balances his relationships and takes care of his child while filming a reality TV show. Norman could not be reached for comment. There’s no word from OWN as to whether the conflict with the crew will be integrated into the narrative of the show itself.
OWN saw the problems between Norman, the family and the production crew as so serious that the cabler sent network co-prexy Erik Logan to St. Louis to attempt to calm the situation. Insiders say Logan arrived on the “Sweetie Pies” set with a security detail.
Cabler also offered the “Sweetie Pies” family help from life coach Iyanla Vanzant, who has her own OWN series “Iyanla, Fix My Life” that airs after “Sweetie Pies” on Saturday nights. They agreed, and cameras were present at the family intervention with Vanzant. It will ultimately be up to the family whether the footage of the intervention will air or not.
“This is a real family struggling with very real issues,” OWN and Pilgrim Studios said in a statement. “We asked life coach Iyanla Vanzant to travel to St. Louis to support them through this difficult time. Out of respect for their privacy and wishes at this time, the outcome of their work together is confidential.”
Dramatic conflict on the set of an unscripted show is not uncommon as reality stars are often seen shoving cameras or entering rehab during the production of a show. For Norman and many other average folk thrust into the spotlight thanks to a reality skein, the demands of filming and being in the public eye, combined with managing their personal lives, often becomes too much to bear. Even Alana Thompson of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” fame on TLC appeared undisciplined on her recent broadcast press circuit, telling Dr. Drew during an interview on HLN that she doesn’t enjoy being on TV because “fans come up to me [on the street] and I hate it.”
“Sweetie Pies” has been one of the few ratings success stories for OWN, a joint venture between Discovery Networks and Oprah Winfrey, as the net continues to find its stride as a relatively fresh face on the cable lineup. Skein pulls strong numbers in femme demos, including just under 1 million viewers during its season two bow in September. “Sweetie Pies” incident, however, conflicts with the OWN’s overall tone as a network, since the cabler is often seen as the antidote to salacious reality television.
Because of the on-set drama, the future of “Sweetie Pies” is still unknown. Production had been wrapping on season two’s 12-episode order when conflict began to erupt, and a holiday hiatus had been planned for “Sweetie Pies” before taping resumed in January to continue the second season.
January’s season two continuation is now up in the air, though, due to the conflict between cast and crew. Some production members and staff have exited amid the turmoil since the status of their jobs is presently unknown. All exec producers, including showrunner Craig Piligian, remain on board the series.
“We are finishing post-production on the current episode order that will air through December 15,” OWN and Pilgrim’s statement continued. “Right now, we do not know how this will affect the ongoing production or air schedule for next year. Our number one priority is the health and well being of the family and crew. We are hopeful we can return to production soon.”