Ben Mack wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to get out of Cam Newton in late February of this year.
The Carolina Panthers quarterback and NFL MVP was coming off the crushing Super Bowl loss earlier in the month, and Mack, a producer for Newton’s Nickelodeon show, didn’t know what to expect.
“I really wasn’t sure what frame of mind he’d be in to do this really big undertaking,” Mack said in a telephone interview this week. “We pretty much used his entire offseason for this show. He showed up every day and I could tell on our first meeting that he was totally focused on this, which was really cool to see.
“Despite the bitter loss at the end, this man was ready.”
Newton’s show, “All In with Cam Newton,” debuts June 3 at 8 p.m. on Nickelodeon. There will be 20 half-hour-long episodes featuring up to 35 kids chasing their dreams with the help of Newton and a mentor.
Magician David Copperfield and basketball great Lisa Leslie are two of the mentors in the show, which was taped in Los Angeles for nearly three months this offseason.
“We’ve got so many great messages back from the families, especially the parents, after we shot with the kids,” Mack said. “Some of them felt really empowered after working with and hanging with Cam. Self-esteem and confidence – these are the buzz words the parents are sending back to us after their kids worked with Cam.
“When you have someone who’s older and as successful as Cam is in your corner saying, ‘Yes you can do it and I’m going to back you up,’ it’s hard to beat that.”
An aspiring chef
Marnie Schneider saw that in her daughter, Goldie, who taped a show with Newton in April.
In January, Goldie wrote an essay about why she loved to cook for a cooking show that never got off the ground. That production company passed her audition tape and essay along to Newton’s show, which was looking for a child to come in and cook.
The show reached out to Schneider, and within a week the wheels were moving.
“Goldie spent a day cooking with him and going grocery shopping with him,” Schneider said. “Cooking is so out of his … he’s like me. It’s hard. He’s an athlete. But he loves Lucky Charms. That’s the extent of his cooking.”
Here’s how a typical show goes: Newton is prepped with knowing the child’s name, age and a little bit about what he or she has a passion for.
He asks questions getting to know him or her. He then pairs the child with the mentor – an expert in their field – and the child and Newton learn together.
“He dives in with the kid and learns and he’s a fish out of water as they’re doing it with a mentor,” Mack said.
The show paired Goldie, 13, with Susan Feniger, a well-respected chef based in Los Angeles who starred in a Food Network show and was on Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
Feniger gave Goldie and Newton a list of items to pick up from the supermarket and bring to her restaurant, Mud Hen.
“He has this really funny personality,” Goldie said. “He was very playful with the camera guy. He’s a big character and he’s kind of like a big kid.”
Mack knew exactly what Goldie was talking about. He said Newton gave nicknames to the crew members, just like he does with his Panthers teammates.
Mack, an Emmy-nominated producer who has worked on shows such as “Project Greenlight” and “Project Runway,” said Newton was playful but always locked in. They filmed four or five days a week, with some tapings going the full 9-to-5.
“He’d sit down with the crew during lunch and he’d just joke around and talk. It was the little things,” Mack said. “He brought so much character and humor to the set. I think a lot of people expect professional athletes to be aloof. So when they’re on, they’re on, and when they step away they don’t want to be bothered.
“But Cam was present. Every time he showed up, he was present.”
There’s more to the show than helping three dozen kids reach their dreams, though.
“It’s a ton of humor and a ton of heart,” Mack said. “It’s a rare gem where you’re putting positive stuff out into the world through entertainment.
“We’re hoping that kids watching it will also feel empowered and maybe get a clue as to what they want to do with their life when they watch some of these kids work with Cam.”
As for Goldie, it was an experience of a lifetime. She knew who Newton was before the show, but now she has a real reason to root for him.
“I already ordered my Panthers jersey,” she said. “So yes, I am now a Panthers fan.”