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Food TV: Culinary Wasteland

Jan
14
2008

I happened to catch an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” the other night. He was in Singapore for the show’s season opener on the Travel Channel and, for a change, didn’t eat anything particularly outrageous – other than the bull penis. I enjoy Bourdain’s writing but I’m not tremendously fond of this show. It’s essentially a travelogue and Bourdain’s nearly inflectionless delivery is tiring. But despite all that, it’s the best food show on television because Bourdain clearly loves food. The same can’t be said of the culinary wasteland that his shows once called home, the Food Network.

Click to view larger versionI recall watching Bourdain’s first television show, “A Cook’s Tour,” on the Food Network. It was cutting edge food TV, not always about cooking, but certainly about exploring different cuisines and tastes. Back then I watched lots of shows on the Food Network because there was serious and interesting cooking going on. Emeril Legasse, who by turns irritates and amuses me, was in top form. Sara Moulton was doing some fun things in the kitchen – food I wanted try cooking and eating. Mario Batali was cooking traditional Italian dishes and making rude remarks about French cooking. Alton Brown was showing that food science could be interesting and entertaining.

Those were the good old days. Even then channel had its share of stupid shows about making potato chips or Ding Dongs and Rachel Ray was around, but limited to 1/2 hour a day. But in April of 2004 Brooke Johnson was named president of the Food Network. At the time the rumor mill and various food blogs were saying that Johnson was going to shoot for that ever-popular demographic, 18- to 28-year-old men.

The rumors now appear to have been true. FN has dumped Moulton, Emeril, and Batali, cooks in other words. They’ve started shows like “American Iron Chef” and, if that wasn’t bad enough, “Next Iron Chef.” And is there any cooking more guaranteed to appeal to males than Paula Deen’s which is heavy on the fat and sugar, served up with faux maternal love and approval? Deen is every man’s ideal mother or grandmother.

Clearly, the days of real food and real cooking are almost gone. Here are examples from a recent day’s schedule:

09:30 — Ham on the Streets: Think of Animal House without the humor. People who think they’re cute and funny almost never are.

10:00 — Glutton for Punishment: Another frat boy playing with food. Come on, frying eggs on a sidewalk is about food? Television shows that think they’re cute and funny almost never are.

11:30 — Easy Entertaining: A show about creating meals for parties isn’t so bad, people need ideas and advice. Pretending to have a party every day is silly.

12:30 — Semi-Homemade Cooking: It’s a semi-cooking show, featuring a semi-cook, using semi-food to create absolutely pure dreck. My god, the host Sandra Lee color coordinates the food with her wardrobe.

14:30 — 30-Minute Meals: The greatest boon to dieting I know of. Anyone who can watch the amazingly insipid Rachel Ray without becoming bulimic has a cast-iron stomach. As a friend of mine said, “I can read the back of the box, what do I need her for?”

16:00 — Semi-Homemade Cooking: See 12:30.

18:00 — 30-Minute Meals: I think I have Ebola, I’m bleeding from my eyes and ears.

18:30 — 30-Minute Meals: Please God, take me now.

21:00 – Food Network Challenge: Twenty dishes in the show’s 40 minutes run-time? This isn’t television, it’s a slide show. As such they should reduce it to no more than 15 seconds per slide, two minutes per slide is just boring.

Emeril, Batali, and Moulton are still being rerun the principle being, I suppose, that if you pay for the content you might as well squeeze every penny and every bit of flavor out of it. Alton Brown is still around (although I suspect he’s probably taking drugs to suppress the emptiness in his soul) and “A Cook’s Tour” is going to be re-run (causing great angst to Tony Bourdain). But with people – dare I say babes – like Rachel Ray, Sandra Lee, Giada De Laurentiis (“Everyday Italian,” by the way, she can actually cook — how’d that happen?), and the frat boys prominent it’s clear the rumors were true. Johnson was is serious about reaching that younger male demographic.

So now we find that the Food Network has nothing to do with food or cooking and everything to do with men and sex — pure sugar and fat that will go straight to your mental waist. Fortunately Julia Child’s original shows are available on DVD, I need something to get the taste of the Food Network out of my mind.

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