ABC’s Great American Baking Show, the US version of the UK’s hit Great British Bake-Off, typically airs over the holidays, but it’s casting now for the 2020 season that will film this spring and most likely air later this year.
Only amateur bakers—people without formal training and who’ve never worked full-time as a baker—can apply, and applications are being accepted at bakingshowcasting.com until this Friday, Feb. 28. What are producers looking for? And how does production and filming of the competition differ from GBBO? I talked to a producer to get answers.
The American version—which was judged in its early seasons by Mary Berry but is now judged by Paul Hollywood and Sherry Yard—first premiered in 2015, and used the exact same format and tone as the hit UK version. It’s sometimes been known as The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition, when its challenges are all themed to the holidays.
The most significant difference is that it has American contestants. The other major difference is the production schedule, which is invisible to viewers but can certainly affect the contestants.
It’s rare that on reality TV a “week” is actually seven days, but that’s the case with The Great British Baking Show, which films over several months, giving contestants a full week between each episode. The episodes are filmed on weekends, with the signature bake and technical challenge filmed on Saturdays, and the showstopper filmed on Sundays. Contestants returning home to practice during the week.
But the ABC version, which films in the UK and has used the same tent set as the UK version, films over a more abbreviated time. How does that work? In 2016, for example, filming took place between mid-September and mid-October, with episodes filmed about every two days, with a day off in between those blocks.
JC Gregg, who appeared on the show in 2017, said he “practiced baking throughout the summer before heading to London, where he and his competitors spent more than 15 hours a day baking and taping the show,” the Kansas City Star reported. “It took two days to record each episode with a day off in between to get ready for the next day’s challenge.”
And Vallery Lomas—who won season three, the season that was pulled from the air because of sexual harassment complaints about judge Johnny Iuzzini—told Forbes that “They were in front of cameras for two days, and then went back to the hotel to practice on their day off, before returning to the set.”
Her cast “[was] put up in an apartment hotel, and received a per diem for meals and incidentals of 50 pounds (about $65). But that didn’t cover the expenses of equipment,” Forbes said.
Are those things still true? And what do producers want in a contestant? I asked a Great American Baking Show executive producer for insight.
Answers to questions about how casting and filming of The Great American Baking show works
I interviewed Tricia Clark, the co-executive producer of The Great American Baking Show at Love Productions USA, and asked about casting and the eventual production.
Among the things she told me were that the contestants get challenges so they can practice well in advance of the actual production, in addition to being able to practice between episodes.
The goal, she said, was “to see everyone succeed”—which, when you think about it, is pretty radical for a reality TV show, since many shows thrive on failure and conflict.
Andy Dehnart: Who’s your ideal contestant for The Great American Baking Show?
Tricia Clark: The ideal candidate for our show is an amateur home baker who is passionate about baking with a wide variety of baking skills. We are looking for someone that is comfortable with everything from cakes, cookies and meringues to bread, pastries and puddings!
Does the number of baking shows on American TV today make it harder to find contestants?
Not really. This show draws people who wouldn’t normally apply to be on a baking show but are moved to do so for the love they have for baking and the experience of the tent.
Can you briefly break down how the casting process works? Does it eventually involve any actual baking for producers?
Applications are read in our office and are evaluated by culinary professionals. If selected, bakers will be asked to a tasting. The callback is an in-person bake in Los Angeles.
Since the American version films episodes consecutively (instead of just on weekends like the UK version), does that change anything about how you cast the show? Are people more or less available as a result of that schedule?
This is a commitment of time from the moment you are cast to the finale. We have been fortunate to find great people in previous seasons who have been able to make it work. We hope to do the same this season.
Considering that production schedule, how much time do contestants get to practice the signature and showstopper bakes? Do they find out what those are during the casting process—before leaving home—or only once they’re on location?
The cast members are given weeks to practice and fine tune their Signature and Showstopper bakes before they enter the tent. We do our best to have everyone as prepared as possible—we want to see everyone succeed.