NEW YORK (Reuters) - Call it post-recession reality TV. What the world needs now, it seems, is love, tough love from "The Fairy Jobmother," a new television show that is the latest British import for U.S. audiences.
Hayley Taylor, 43, a former hairdresser turned career coach, stars as a tart-tongued Mary Poppins with a clipboard who visits the home of one unemployed family per episode to help them get control of their personal lives and find jobs.
"Nobody likes to be told the truth," Taylor said in an interview with Reuters. "But it's tempered with compassion ... if a house is totally out of control, then it follows that the person feels out of control."
In her role as "Fairy Jobmother," which debuts Thursday on Lifetime Television, Taylor tells one young, unemployed couple with two kids that they must clean up their home, which means getting rid of dog feces on a carpet pad in the bedroom.
Executive producer Stephen Lambert calls Taylor's advice "classic tough love" but adds that "she cares about them a great deal."
"It's that combination of push and warmth," Lambert said, that endeared Taylor to British TV audiences and, in his opinion, will strike a chord with American viewers as well.
The hit British import makes its U.S. debut at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate is 9.6 percent and the economy is struggling to emerge from the deepest recession since the Great Depression. In the UK, the jobless rate is 7.8 percent.
"The timing is absolutely perfect," Taylor said, regarding the show's debut in America.
Lambert, 51, also created "Undercover Boss," another British hit adapted for U.S. audiences that follows corporate CEOs as they take low-level jobs in their own companies to learn what it's like to be an average company worker.
The two shows are among a growing list of programs about people struggling to make ends meet, including the upcoming series "Downsized" on the WEtv cable network. It debuts on November 6 and follows a family of nine whose home is foreclosure and who grow their own food and make their clothes.
Lambert said he dreamed up "The Fairy Jobmother" after filming Taylor, "a television natural" as he put it, for a documentary about government-funded training programs.
Taylor recalled that by October 2009, two months after the documentary aired, she had an offer for the show and after only a few months of shooting, she was on a plane to the United States to make an American version.
Taylor's "tough love" experience came naturally. She was raised in the plain-speaking, northern England county of Yorkshire that once had a large mining community.
At 16, she trained to become a hairdresser. Years later, while working in a large salon which had a training center, she was called upon to substitute for a teacher who was absent.
"I was looking at 16-year-old girls all wanting to be the next Vidal Sassoon. So I used humor. We worked on telephone skills, interviewing."
While there, she experienced a "thunderbolt moment" where she discovered she had a "passion" for helping others find work. Years later, she landed a job with a government-funded training program where Lambert discovered her.
But her new career path didn't come without some hard times along the way. At one point, her husband lost his job and left the couple scraping to get by with a one-year-old daughter. Taylor also found it difficult to finally reenter the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom.
"I know the psychological difficulty of being unemployed and the lack of confidence," she said.
Her recipe for job-hunting success includes helping people "find skills they didn't know they have" to go after jobs that now exist, and not necessarily one they once had.
Lambert said Taylor's new moniker, "Fairy Jobmother' was meant to convey "a sense of optimism."
"It's a difficult notion to make a program about the challenges unemployed people face," Lambert said.
Then again, that's what fairies are for.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte