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Compare & Contrast
Tuesday, June 26, 2007 | posted by Mike

So why, exactly, do we have three food competition reality shows running at the same time? I'm guessing that part of it is the fact that reality shows have traditionally started as summer replacement series and so there is an aligning of the planets around that. Maybe the food gods just like seeing me fidget as I endure three hours of programming a week.

I was thinking about that when I came across two reviews comparing and contrasting the Big 3 (as Hell's Kitchen, Top Chef and The Next Food Network Star shall be collectively known from now on). One is a blog entry and the other is a newspaper article, but they both seem to hit on all of the usual points.

Namely, those points are the fact that HK caters to the sadistic crowd, TC is for "serious" foodies and TNFNS is the feel-good show focused on personality. Regular viewers of all will undoubtedly see nuanced differences between the shows and may protest, but I think that pretty much captures things in broad strokes. The shows know where their bread is buttered and keep that in mind. If good art challenges you, then popular entertainment gives you what you want (or at least what you think you want).

The one show that has really broken with its traditional format this season has been TNFNS. I understand the urge to get the contestants out of the kitchen and into some interesting situations. The challenges have been fairly successful in their own rights, although they did come off a bit like a group episode of Dinner: Impossible. The producers felt they had to shake it up a bit and that's understandable.

The problem is that the new format hasn't given us enough insight into the central question of the show, which is who would make the best Food Network personality. Unless they plan to skip the food preparation show in favor of a more lifestyle program (and there is no indication that I've seen that they will) when it comes to their six-episode commitment to the winner, we're going to need to know less about whether Rory can make a lasagna in an Army base's kitchen and more about whether or not she's a complete disaster reading from a prompter. I'm not the only one thinking this, as I've seen a bunch of bloggers and folks in the comments section saying things along the lines of, "I think X is interesting, but I have no idea what his/her show would be like."

And so, TNFNS is getting back to it's roots next week. They'll be doing a full on-camera demonstration. And is there any doubt that the presence of Alton Brown will make this the best episode of the season? Nobody on the network has a greater understanding of the camera, how it works and how the on-air talent works with it than Alton Brown. Plus, from the preview, it looks like he's in his scruffy, Grizzly Adams mode, and that's always a good sign.

I, for one, am looking forward to getting down to brass tacks with these guys, and figuring out whether it will be worth tuning in when the new show debuts.

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