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Food Network to Go After Young Demographic with...Paula Deen
Thursday, August 24, 2006 | posted by Mike

Paula DeenAccording to The Wall Street Journal, things at the Food Network aren’t going so well. An article ran in yesterday’s edition with the title “As Stars Lose Spice, Food Network Bets On Sassy Southerner” (subscription required) that paints a fairly bleak picture of ratings on FN, stating that numbers are down sharply from a year ago with Emeril Live down 7%, Food Nation with Bobby Flay down 10%, Iron Chef America down 11% and Molto Mario recently cancelled. Not pretty.

The article also states “Food Network’s profits and overall audience continue to grow,” but that the concern is in the decline in ratings of some of their “flagship programs.” And so, the article explains that they’re going to try to “augment fading stars, fend off competition from rival networks and attract a younger audience” by, in part, developing a new show starring Paula Deen. Paula’s Party will debut on September 29th and it will be a “raucous show” with segments such as “trying on a young audience member’s stilettos, telling jokes and staging a live crab race. She named her entry 'Cocaine Connie.'”

Obviously, reaching out to a larger, younger audience is a great way to offset some of the issues that other parts of the network are experiencing. But, honestly, does Paula Deen, appearing in what seems to be a variety show, really sound like the answer? I understand she has her appeal and plenty of fans (personally, her food looks fine, but I tire of her shtick in about 38 seconds), and she is a home-grown talent, which is a great way to create and continue a pipeline of talent. But she’s a grandma now, albeit a sassy grandma, and I just don’t see her as a way to connect with a younger crowd. I guess it’s funny when she throws a stick of butter onto her two cups worth of string beans, but there’s just no way I’m making that dish, and health-conscious people feel the same way.

I really don’t believe that younger FN fans want “entertainment” in lieu of cooking. These are young people who see cooking as an artistic outlet, a hobby and a means of living the good life. Show them people their age (Dave Lieberman, Giada De Laurentiis, Guy Fieri) cooking and enjoying food. Bring in/back established stars (Jamie Oliver, Anthony Bourdain) who connect with a younger crowd…you already have Nigella Lawson lined up! And just let Alton Brown do whatever the heck he wants. He’s the Martin Scorsese of the Food Network. Even if he was to turn in a stinker every once in a while, the prestige of the great work he does more than makes up for it.

But don’t give me racing crabs.

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