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Uncanny nanny

The brat pack's most feared and beloved family fixer works her mojo in a Palm Harbor home.

By CHASE SQUIRES
Published April 3, 2006


photo
[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Let the tantrums begin! Supernanny Jo Frost is on her way in; presumably, poor manners and hissy fits will be on the way out.

For naughty children, the flash of purple in the driveway can mean only one thing: the Supernanny.

Jo Frost, the London nanny who became a star on American television last year delivering child-rearing advice that's part Mary Poppins and part drill sergeant, landed in Palm Harbor last week. Her targets: two boys, 4 and 7, and one troubled family.

The identity of the family is secret. But Frost's methods are not.

"I'm really here to help this family," Frost says during a break in taping. "Most of the parents, when they come to us, they have an intuition that something is not right. They just don't know what. Sometimes, they just have to have someone come in objectively and help them talk."

It sounds simple. But the results Frost gets each week seem amazing, and Supernanny draws nearly 7-million viewers.

Two years ago, she was a working nanny when she landed a role in the 2004 British version of the show. Last year, she began a version for ABC that is translated and broadcast around the world. She said she has no formal training, no counseling degree, no courses in psychology.

What she does have is experience.

In 16 years as a nanny, she was struck by how little families talked. Rather than fix behavior problems, she says busy parents settle for quick fixes, anything to get through the day.

Meanwhile, problems fester. Nothing gets better.

"You deal with the surface things, just make it stop," she says. "Finally, it escalates to the point where it's affecting the whole family."

So deal with it, Frost advises. In fact, she says families could "fix" themselves if parents and children would focus on their relationships for eight straight days, the way she forces them to when taping an episode. But without someone to make them take a break from lives dominated by school and work and soccer games and shopping and driving, parents and children let days and weeks slip away.

"The most important thing a parent can give is time," she says.

Frost, 35, says the one thing she hasn't had time for is to settle down and have her own children. She'd like to, she says, but with television production in two countries and her second book due out in July, she isn't in one place long enough to get serious about a personal relationship.

Production for the show is remarkably low-key. In contrast to the circus atmosphere around another ABC reality show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the cast and crew of Supernanny go nearly unnoticed. There were no blocked-off streets, no police to direct traffic last week. Just Frost, director David Sullivan, a handful of camera operators, sound technicians and field coordinator Lisa Christy.

On the first walk-through, Sullivan radios for taxi driver Barry Lynch a Winter Park business consultant who happens to own one of about 200 London Taxi vehicles in this country to drive up to the target home.

Frost is inside the shiny black cab, getting final touches on her makeup. Already attired in her trademark purple suit, she still wears green sparkly sandals, not yet ready for her pumps.

Everyone pitches in. Sullivan asks a camera operator for advice; Frost notices the naughty children have scrawled their names in the concrete walkway and suggests a shot.

On the third run-through, Sullivan notices two neighborhood girls, Alyssa and Jena Reback, waving to Frost as she drives up.

Frost waves back, but Sullivan's crew reports they will end up in the shot.

The girls, excited enough to draw welcome messages in chalk in their driveway, are herded out of camera range.

In an aside, they whisper about the little boys Frost is about to meet.

"They need the Supernanny," Alyssa says.

Frost has seen the videotape the family submitted, but she never knows what to expect when she meets the children for the first time. As the camera shows each week, children quickly lose any awe they might have had of the Supernanny. They have tantrums, talk back, hit, throw things. Frost says there are a lot of families who live like that.

"I've been given such an amazing opportunity," she says. "One family gets helped on TV, but it's seen around the world. I hope it helps other families, maybe they get one thing out of a show, and it helps them. I don't believe any children are born bad, but it's about getting to the bottom of the issue: What's really going on?"

By the end of each show, Frost has helped parents and children make progress, and the once-naughty children have taken to the nanny they call "Jo Jo." Millions will see their progress when the episode airs, probably late this month or in early May.

There is one downside to her fame as a woman who loves all children, Frost says. She knows parents have started invoking her name, threatening to "call the Supernanny" when their children act up.

She laughs about it.

"I suppose I've become sort of a bogeyman."

Chase Squires can be reached at (727) 893-8739 or squires@sptimes.com His blog is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/tv.

[Last modified April 3, 2006, 08:58:26]


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