Scottsdale resident Margaret Clark and her grandson, Billy Butler, of Gilbert, may seem like an unlikely team to produce a television show. But their intergenerational brainstorming is behind “Food*Ball,” a strange conglomeration of cooking show meets game show meets sports.
The idea for the series started when Clark took then-12-year-old Billy on a trip across Italy. As they toured the restaurants outside Florence, Billy turned to his grandmother and said, “I don’t think other kids know about this kind of food. I wish I could do a TV show where they could learn about it.”
A light bulb went off in Clark’s head. “Why don’t we sketch something out?” she suggested.
They spent the rest of the trip planning their concept, taking notes while traveling on planes and trains.
When they returned to Arizona, Clark didn’t let go. She admits to an ulterior motive: “I used this as a tool to keep company with him, so I wouldn’t lose him over the years.”
Clark had no experience in production or broadcasting. She was a retired accountant who had worked at the Phoenix car dealership she and her husband owned before selling it in 1993.
What made her think she could pull off creating her own TV show? She’s clearly the type of person for whom nothing seems impossible: Her favorite phrase is “You just run it up the flagpole and see what happens.”
“I’ve always wanted to do something creative, something fun,” she says. “Before [as an accountant], all day long, it was just numbers. I wanted something new.”
When she produced a pilot for the show, Billy was one of the main characters.
Clark remembers the day they first miked Billy for his scene. “Thank you,” he said, “I now know what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Clark’s heart fluttered with fear. “Not an actor!” she said.
“No. I want to produce and direct.”
Their dreams came a step closer to reality when they met David Rawlings, owner of Drop Frame Pictures Productions in Gilbert. He was already producing a celebrity-interview golf show, “Match Play with Ray Adams,” for FOX Sports Arizona.
In December 2013, he reviewed the pilot, which he described as a “giant cotton ball without much shape.” He suggested narrowing the concept “so the audience knows what’s going on.”
Clark’s son Keith, who lives in Texas, came up with the idea of mixing in a sports element.
“Of course, being a Texan, he suggested football,” Clark says.
“Food*Ball” airs at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoons on AZTV7/CABLE 13. It goes something like this: Local teens are divided into somewhat clueless two-player teams and pitted against one another to serve up challenging and healthy cuisine for a panel of Phoenix-area judges.
The show that was once just a sketch in a notebook now appears in the 13th largest market in the country in a favorable time slot following “Access Hollywood.”
And as for Billy Butler? Now 18, he has graduated from Chandler Preparatory Academy and will attend Woodbury University in Burbank, Calif. this fall. His major? Film, of course.