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What do they think, we’re idiots? Does the Food Network think the average American can’t figure out How to Boil Water or put a pot roast together? Do they think we want more reality/date-type shows with soap-actor quality sex appeal? Are there guys in a boardroom somewhere in New York City giving the nod to more vapid television based on last year’s Neilson ratings and the MTV demographic? I think the answer’s obvious if you’ve watched the network recently: Food has taken a back seat to big business at TFN.
Back in the day, long before Date Plate and Food Fight, shows like Taste with David Rosengarten and Malto Mario were big draws because the hosts were real, most certainly not camera ready and spoke honestly and passionately about food. If Rosengarten didn’t like a particular brand of proscuitto, or a piece of equipment he’d give it the old heave-ho over the shoulder, right there on camera, with an unapologetic rant explaining the act. I loved watching the guy just to see what jaded concept he’d rip into next. His enthusiasm for food was front and center, never in question.
Mario would simply leave you staring at the television dumbfounded, trying to figure out how he could cook and plate all that beautiful food, give an eloquent dissertation on the importance of Campagnia, and interact with his guests all in the same breath. I found him fascinating, inspiring even, balancing himself delicately between bawdy and cuddly while revealing a passion ten times more intense than anyone cooking on television today. But he just disappeared, his two eponymous shows shelved, even in reruns.
A recent conversation with a former programming director only confirmed my suspicions that the network is more interested in profitability than substance. He threw around phrases like “trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator,” “behind the curve,” “not interested in being number 1” and “unfortunate corporate inertia” when describing the “new” company modus operandi. He sadly remarked that the company was founded with a focus on innovative and quality programming but has shifted that focus toward knock you over the head shallowness and mass-market appeal. According to the former programming director the company blatantly becoming synchronous with HGTV, the painfully sterile and difficult to watch network of do-it yourself shows.
The flimsy stable of new shows only authenticates this claim. It seems the underlying principle that ties new shows like Everyday Italian, Date Plate, The Barefoot Contessa, and Food Fight together is homogenization. The edgy quality that first attracted me to the network has been decidedly toned down, relegated to late night programs like A Cook’s Tour and the ever-popular, but also later than prime time, Iron Chef. If this tells you something, the higher ups at TFN even poo-pooed that show when pitched, according to the former director.
I want to like the Food Network, contrary to opinions expressed here. And there are still some signs of hope, Tyler’s Ultimate and the cultish Good Eats spring to mind. But the network is arguably a shell of its former self, relying on pastel sets, beaming smiles and teleprompted amateurs to lead the charge. As a culinary professional I feel left out of the loop. I sincerely believe this isn’t what the creators had in mind.