TV fitness buff Jackie Warner gathers her team of hard-bodied trainers on the rooftop deck of her chi-chi Sky Sport & Spa. But this isn’t one of her typical sessions to amp up the staff for yet another boot-camp exercise.
“Doug is in the hospital,” she says of teammate Doug Blasdell, her face sullen. “The doctors have actually put him into a drug-induced coma.”
This unexpected scene played out in front of the cameras on Bravo’s reality show “Work Out” shortly after production began on the series’ second season in November. Within two months, Blasdell would be dead of reported kidney failure at 44.
“The first thing that crossed my mind was how do we deal with Doug’s death,” said Warner. “I didn’t want to exploit it, but we had to address it. This was a reality that we had to deal with — and we’re still dealing with it. But this is a reality show. He couldn’t just disappear.”
Blasdell’s death is confronted in the episode airing 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday, including the dramatic scene shot last fall.
Despite the loss, Warner, 38, says Season Two is shaping up to be “the sexy season” as the series delves further into the work and personal lives of the workout queen and her seven sculpted trainers.
The episode opens with tension among the trainers when Warner, who’s gay, hosts a “coming-out” party to showcase her new romance with the gym’s flirtatious staffer, Rebecca Cardon.
“Jackie’s just delusional if she thinks she can have an open relationship with Rebecca and not have all of us talk about it,” trainer Jesse Brune says in the episode.
“I was really surprised,” Warner says later of the staff’s reaction to the affair. “I mean, a gym is not a Fortune 500 company.”
Much of the success of “Work Out” is in its openness, whether it be among the trainers and their workplace infighting or Warner’s complex duality as a savvy, assertive businesswoman with a less-than-perfect love life.
In its first season, ratings for “Work Out” grew week to week, with more than a million viewers tuning in for the finale in August. The first two shows this season are up in overall households, almost 8 percent over the first two episodes in Season One, according to the network. And there’s growing interest online for streamed reruns of the series.
But for some critics, the show lacks the dramatic muscle of Bravo’s other reality hits — “Top Design,” “Top Chef” and “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”
“Most reality stars seem to come from shows where people are competing for a prize or a goal,” says Rochell D. Thomas, associate editor and columnist for TV Guide in New York.
“But this is a show about a woman, a lesbian, who started a gym and what it’s like to be a female boss. It’s not as sexy, it’s just that simple,” he continues. “There are some shows that people are drawn to because there’s something at stake. There’s nothing at stake here.”
Still, the network believes the strength of “Work Out” is in the relationships.
“One of the trainers in the show refers to (the team of trainers) as ‘a family,’ which is the interesting thing you’ll see throughout the show,” says Frances Berwick, executive vice president of programming and production for Bravo.
“There’s a lot of great, old-fashioned drama, and a lot of humor too. Plus the exercise thing ... all these layers to the show really separate it out from other reality dramas,” she says.