Twists on Proven Formulas + Likeable New Stars = Food Network Winners
Sunday, December 03, 2006 | posted by Mike
UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comment by Don at the end of the message. Feel free to follow his lead or to add your $.02.
All right...I’m tired of “news posts” this week. We all know the true reason to start a blog: Foisting your opinion on others.
A lot was made a little while back about the “loss” of Rachael Ray to chat show-land and the fact that the Food Network was in need of someone to step up and supply the star power. Paula Deen and her party show and the return of Nigella Lawson from across the pond were cited as the remedy.
Prime time programming on the FN has been very good of late, but I don’t think it’s because of some new, glamorous star. Rather, they’ve debuted a number of new shows featuring interesting spins on existing formulas and which star interesting and engaging personalities with whom we can easily identify.
Admittedly, I cringed whenever I saw the promos for Ace of Cakes, with the welding torch and the guitar playing, but the show has been something close to fantastic. With its ensemble cast of quirky “characters” and the built-in storyline of having to complete the cakes for a deadline, it plays out just like a workplace comedy along the lines of The Office.
The Hungry Detective, a riff on the food travel show, may be filling the spot of $40 Dollars a Day. The big difference between the two shows, however, is the personality of the hosts. Rachael Ray was an obviously polished television personality. And it was hard to believe that she was just dropping in these shops and restaurants. Chris Cognac, however, seems like someone you know. And so, when you see him visit a place, it’s a bit more believable. I know that it’s all perception, but I’m more likely to try out one of Chris’s places because it just feels a bit more familiar. Also, when you look at the later episodes compared to the Las Vegas pilot, Cognac has become quite a bit more polished without losing his “everyman” attitude.
But the freshness hasn’t been relegated to new faces. Bobby Flay’s newest show, Throwdown!, has been quite enjoyable. Now, everyone likes to rip Bobby for what I call the “smirk factor.” And, yes, it’s hard to deny that Bobby likes him some him. But the beauty of Throwdown! is that it takes “Bobby” and makes him more likeable because it puts him in a position to lose once in a while. Even on Iron Chef America, when Bobby loses, he’s losing to a trained and accomplished chef. When he loses on Throwdown!, he’s losing to someone like you and me, and that humanizes him.
It will be interesting to see if this trend continues with Dinner: Impossible. There aren’t many chefs more refined and esteemed than Robert Irvine, so the conceit of putting him in an over-the-top situation might be just what the show needs to make him more of a hero. If not, you end up in the same situation that we see with Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen, where people just see Ramsay as the heel.
The Food Network is always going to need it’s “aces” or “anchors” or any other sports metaphor you want. But programming a full week’s worth of TV means you need to find and develop new shows and talent. Mary Alice broke the news on food network addict that Ace of Cakes will be renewed for a second season. Hopefully, we’ll hear the same thing about The Hungry Detective soon, too.
Rachael Ray is a star now, but she became popular because people identified with her message of quick, easy cooking. It’s always nice when you can find a natural on-air talent, with charisma and looks, to whom the audience responds. But they’ll also respond when they see themselves on the screen. And that’s a big part of the appeal of Food Network’s current slate of programs.
Labels: Bobby Flay, Chris Cognac, Duff Goldman