If the Atkins and South Beach diets threw an unpleasant light on potatoes, the History Channel provided an ample platform for rebuttle on a recently aired episode of Modern Marvels.

The show featured plenty of background, history and nutritional information about the product, and shed some light on the high-tech nature of the business today in “The Potato,” which premiered on Modern Marvels in late January.

“This would not have come to fruition or been the piece it was if our industry members who participated were not so passionate about this industry,” said Meredith Myers, spokeswoman for the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board, which first lent its expertise to History Channel researchers nearly 18 months ago.

“It showed, and their participation spoke volumes about how passionate the folks are about the industry.”

Last year, proclaimed the “Year of the Potato” internationally, served as inspiration for the program, Myers said.

“We’ve got this public relations program, and we’re always looking for new and different ways of extending our message in the consumer media, however possible,” Myers said.

The board’s agency, St. Louis-based Fleishman-Hillard, pitched the idea for a potato-based show to the History Channel and began working with researchers, Myers said.

“It’s got relevance because we’re celebrating the potato and all its relevance to diets throughout the world,” Myers said.

“We began working on it with producers 18 months ago. They followed leads from everywhere.”

Industry view

Researchers talked to chefs who have designed potato-centered recipes to producers in the fresh, dehydrated and frozen sectors.

“They also went and talked with a number of growers throughout the industry,” Myers said.

“Basically, they criss-crossed the nation to get this perspective on the potato industry. They went to the fields and looked at the many different varieties of the potato.

Among the growers interviewed for the show were David and Keith Masser of Sacramento, Pa.-based Sterman Masser Inc. and Don and Lee Thibodeau, owners of Fryeburg, Maine-based Green Thumb Farms.

“I believe the show promoted many of the health benefits that the potato has to offer,” David Masser, vice president of sales and marketing for Sterman Masser, said, adding that the show’s production crew spent a day at his facility.

“Our industry is still recovering from the negative press associated with the low-carbohydrate diets. Any positive press and coverage we can get to show the potato is actually healthy and good for you is just phenomenal.”

A segment with Don Thibodeau provided insights into the industry’s technological innovation, Masser said.

“His explanation of GPS technology was informative, educational and showed our industry is filled with smart, innovative, hard-working people and there’s so much more that goes into growing a crop of potatoes than people may realize,” Masser said.

“If anything we showed them that our industry is filled with technological minds and innovation and we apply these things every day to produce a high-quality crop.”

Don Flannery of the Maine Potato Board provided an overview of the potato industry, Myers said, adding that the show also featured U.S. Department of Agriculture geneticist Chuck Brown.

Seed to store

The show explained the growing process, from planting to harvesting, Myers said.

“They were very technical about how this process happened and really emphasized the technology behind the whole cultivation process,” she said.

“They animated it, so viewers could get an idea about how this happened and how technologically advanced the industry really was.”

The show also offered a comprehensive view of the nutritional value of potatoes, Myers said.

“A number of industry folks were in this piece and spoke so well of potatoes, and, for me, the highlight was that they got the nutritional benefits in the first 10 minutes of the show,” she said.

Barb Shelley, spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City-based United Potato Growers of America, said the program hit all points that had to be made.

“I was so pleased because it showed the resourcefulness of growers,” Shelley said.

“I learned something new myself … It was fascinating storytelling and the facts were correct because they gave the U.S. Potato Board a chance to weigh in.”

Total viewership for the potato episode of Modern Marvels on Jan. 28, Jan. 30, Jan. 31 and Feb. 8 was nearly 3.5 million, according to the U.S. Potato Board.

“This program puts potatoes front and center in viewers’ living room when they’re watching TV,” Myers said.

It also served as an effective rebuttal to the negative fallout potatoes took from the Atkins and South Beach diet crazes of a few years ago.

“The most important part was the nutritional value of potatoes — that was made very clear,” Shelley said.