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Elliott Barges Into Food Network

November 13, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Knock-knock.

Who’s there? Gordon.

Gordon who?

Gordon Elliott, a towering Australian with a chef, camera crew and disarming wit in tow as he invades American kitchens with the aim of providing a good meal and gentle tweaking for ``Gordon Elliott’s Door Knock Dinners.″

The weekly series, a newcomer to the Food Network, airs 9 p.m. EDT Monday.

With Elliott orchestrating the controlled madness, it’s refreshingly quirky. Barging into the homes of the unsuspecting was something he originated on ``Good Day New York″ and ``CBS This Morning.″

``You’re in TV land now,″ Elliott tells one surprised member of the Olivo family in Nutley, N.J., in Monday night’s episode. ``I know it looks like your home, but it’s all very strange.″

Strange indeed. While a chef is foraging in the pantry to pull together an instant meal of pasta with Camembert, a trio of singing waiters prepares a serenade and Elliott reviews photos from Sal and Rebecca Olivo’s recent trip abroad.

``Very classy, Sal,″ a smiling Elliott says, critiquing the man of the house’s shorts-and-shirt European wardrobe.

Even Elliott’s best shots are affable, not gruff. ``This is the Bethlehem for people who like matched napkins,″ the host says, noting that domestic guru Martha Stewart grew up in Nutley.

With its homespun sweetness, ``Door Knock Dinners″ is an antidote to the extensive menu of shows in which average Americans are exploited as caricatures (Jerry Springer, are you still out there?) or as game pieces in the ``Greed″ follies.

Elliott, a talk show host for three seasons in the mid-1990s after his ``CBS This Morning″ gig, is glad to have found a different seat at the TV dinner table.

``This is much nicer to do than a talk show. You don’t have to negotiate the emotionally challenged. I sometimes felt like a psychiatric maitre d’ on that show,″ he said between bites of cereal at a Sunset Boulevard hotel.

He was in town last month for the first episode of ``Door Knock Dinners,″ which aired live on Halloween. The new venture, otherwise taped on the East Coast, is ``very nice. We’re not hurting anybody. It’s a bit silly. I like the show being a bit silly.″

Asked to produce a list of influences, Elliott cites the British comedians he watched as a boy on television, including such eminently daffy types as pop-eyed comedian Marty Feldman.

Elliott muses further. ``Who took advantage of ordinary people? I can’t recall. What an awful man ... I’ve become.″

Not at all. The 6-foot-7-inch Elliott, a real ham on wry, comes across as an overgrown kid with a gleeful fondness for his door-knock victims _ who, he figures, are poised for his arrival.

``I think the language of media and the culture of celebrity is so pervasive that people are totally convinced that their 15 minutes of fame will arrive, and I’m it. I am the fulfillment of the Andy Warhol dream.

″ ‘Oh, darling, there is an actual TV show at the door and it does want to come in and make our lives famous,’ ″ Elliott trills in a faux American accent. ``In that respect, they’re very ready. And the kids are, ‘Yeah, yeah, let him in.’ In their life, their greatest dream is that they’re going to become famous.″

The professional cooks, such as Tyler Florence of New York City’s sleek Cafeteria restaurant, are simply duped, Elliott maintains.

``The chefs have no idea what they’re getting themselves into,″ he said. ``They just hear ‘Food Network’ and have visions of prestige and fame dancing in their heads, until they turn up and realize they’re being taken out to the boondocks of New York to cook a curry in a Staten Island cottage from old Chinese takeaway.″

Elliott has wrapped the first 21 ``Door Knock Dinners″ episodes for Food Network and was preparing to fly off to Sydney for work on a series pilot that would take his gatecrasher technique to other countries.

``If you can imagine me trying to talk my way into a house in a foreign language,″ Elliott says.

The very thought makes him giddy.

``It’s a kick in the pants,″ Elliott says with a booming laugh.

___

COP COMEDY: ``Battery Park,″ a sitcom about police detectives working together in New York, will join NBC’s midseason lineup. Created by Gary David Goldberg (``Spin City,″ ``Family Ties″), the series will star Elizabeth Perkins (``Big″) as a hard-nosed captain and Justin Louis as her head detective. The network announced a seven-episode order.

EDITOR’S NOTE _ Lynn Elber can be reached at lelber``at``ap.org

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