When Gwyneth Paltrow asked to join the chef Mario Batali and the food writer Mark Bittman on their planned cooking and travel show set in Spain, executives at American Public Television actually debated whether it was a good idea. In an era when publicity potential dictates many programming decisions elsewhere, public television remains wary of celebrity, despite its own well-chronicled lack of money to promote its programs.
But in the end Ms. Paltrow, the 35-year-old star of films like "Shakespeare in Love," was admitted to the group, and the show, "Spain ... on the Road Again," is already a game-changer for public television in terms of attention. Even Ken Burns, PBS's biggest star, didn't get a segment on "Oprah" for his epic World War II documentary series last year; Ms. Paltrow and Mr. Batali, however, nabbed an entire hour of exercise talk and Spanish cooking on Wednesday.
This week stations will find out whether the publicity, which included a four-page spread in People magazine, an article in Glamour and features in food and travel magazines, has paid off in viewers when the 13-week program begins at various times around the country. In New York, Channel 13 will run the hourlong episodes at 3 p.m. Sundays, grouped with its other more traditional in-kitchen cooking shows. But Channel 21, like many other stations nationwide, has confidently scheduled it right in prime time, Mondays at 10 p.m. With its breezy style and banter, Willie Nelson theme song and car-mounted cameras to catch the scenery whizzing by from a passenger point of view, Charlie Pinsky, the director and executive producer, said the show is "going after more than just the traditional PBS audience, and we think we're going to bring new