The topic of food television is near and dear to my heart, because, frankly, I love it!
The discussion board What would you do to fix the Food Network? keeps getting bumped and people are suggesting ways the network can improve its programming. Supposedly, the Food Network’s ratings have steadily declined since they fired Paula Deen. I feel invested in the Food Network because I’ve probably watched it since its inception in 1993. Here are six changes I would make to improve its programming:
- Less competition shows, please!
One of the posters on the Chowhound board claims the Food Network offers so many competition shows because they gather the highest ratings.
As a grade schooler in the 90’s, I remember staying up late and watching the original, subtitled Iron Chef, the only cooking competition show I knew of. Now there’s Chopped, Chopped All Stars, and Chopped Canada. Jake and I love Chopped the most, but seriously, we only need one. Sorry Chopped Canada.
The Food Network has also frantically birthed Food Network Star, Guy’s Grocery Games, Food Truck Wars, Food Court Wars (OMG so much war!), Worst Cook in America and Rachel vs. Guy, to name a few.
A recent article on Deadline lists the 35 new shows the Food Network and Cooking Channel plan to add to their lineups. As you can see, a whopping 10/18 of Food Network’s new daytime and primetime shows are cooking competitions and two are undercover shows similar to Bar Rescue.
I haven’t even mentioned the baking-specific competition shows which brings me to my next point. . .
- Curb the baking competition shows.
I’ll admit, I am a little biased because I lean savory over sweet. However, I do love baking and I do so very frequently. I just don’t find it that interesting to watch people bake for extended periods of time.
Cupcake Wars & Last Cake Standing are two of my least favorite shows. I generally don’t like cupcakes and find Last Cake Standing confusing. Do those cakes even taste good? So much rice crispy sculpting and shiny, weeping fondant. I’d rather eat a hideous-looking but delicious-tasting cake, than a structurally-sound cake with fondant-covered rice crispy sculpting that shoots fireworks.
And what’s up with the judges making the pastry chefs carry their giant wobbling cake sculptures across the room to the podium? That’s just mean.
- Choose hosts with a good balances between personality & cooking talent.
It seems like Food Network values noisy personalities over cooking savvy, which I don’t’ understand because it’s possible to embody both.
How many Guy Fieris do we need?
Before you think I’m anti-Guy, allow me to share that I have seen every single episode of Drive-ins, Divers & Dives at least twice. I love the concept of the show, and, although his over-the-top presentation can grate on my nerves, he’s mostly ok in this context (although I feel bad for the featured restaurant chefs when he visibly acts nauseated when they prepare traditional dishes with ingredients like offal).
Now, there’s a second Guy. Jeff Mauro won season seven of Food Network Star and his delivery is like a caricature of Fieri with cartoonish reactions and his rhyming, slammer jammer phrases.
There is a subsection of America that is demanding more Guy and more Jeff and now they’re hosting everything from competition shows to The Kitchen talk show. They even have their own specials where they go on vacations with their families and eat stuff.
I want to see people cooking and talking to me like they would in real life. It is possible to find hosts that strike balances between cooking and putting on a show. My favorites include Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson of the Two Fat Ladies series. Their witty banter always kept me on my toes and they also seemed to be so authentically at ease with themselves in all of their quirks. Personalities aside, I can’t watch an episode without wanting to eat everything they prepare.
The same goes for Food Network’s Sunny Anderson, Amy Thielen, Aarti Sequaria and Chin-He Huang of Cooking Channel’s Easy Chinese. Say what you will about Ree Drummond. After watching The Pioneer Woman, not only do I want to eat everything she makes but I feel like I’m actually a part of her family. That’s got to count for a lot, right? I also think Alex Guarnaschelli is wickedly talented and appreciate how she doesn’t seem to put on airs.
I fell in love with Jose Andres after renting his PBS Spanish cooking series Made in Spain from Netflix and, honestly, Anne Burrell and Gordan Ramsey are subdued and endearing when producers let them cook in the kitchen by themselves instead of nudging them to scream at reality show participants for ratings.
- Continually aim to add more diversity to the hosting talent.
The Food Network likes to feature restaurants of all culture and ethnicities on shows like Restaurant Impossible, Drive-Ins, Diners & Dives, and The Best Thing I Ever Ate/Made. They also like to show their current lineup of hosts cooking a wide variety of foods. So why not increase the diversity of hosts?
For example, I’d like to see them hire more Asian hosts. I’ve seen Guy Fieri feature many Thai restaurants on Drive-ins, Divers & Dives and I’ve watched Giada De Laurentiis, Ree Drummond, Tyler Florence, Rachel Ray, Trisha Yearwood and even flippin’ Sandra Lee make Thai food. So why not hire a Thai host?
The Food Network seems to understand that America loves to watch hosts feature Asian restaurants and prepare Asian food, but it just doesn’t seem to want to hire Asian hosts to prepare Asian food. The same could apply to many other cultures.
- Rerun the old classics.
The Food Network uses much of its air space to show rerun marathons of Chopped & Diners, Restaurant Impossible, and Drive-ins & Dives. Why not add more variety by airing some of the old classics? I hope I’m not the only one that would tune in to watch Julia Child, Two Fat Ladies, Molto Mario, Door Knock Dinners and Sara Mouton!
- And then I just don’t get the point of these shows:
10 Dollar Dinners
There’s no way I could make any of these dinners for $10 even if I shopped at Dollar General, Aldi’s, or Walmart. Take a sampling of ingredients from the recent episode Appetizing Savings: Butter, blue cheese, milk, cream cheese, yellow bell pepper, olive oil, white wine vinegar, yogurt, fresh basil, a whole pound of ground turkey, raspberry jam, panko, one egg. . .
Where on earth are you shopping Melissa?
Who’s doing this math?
Lisa Lillian cooks like my parents tried to eat healthy in the 90’s.
Real cream and real butter are the devil, but let’s stuff our faces with artificially sweetened desserts and fat-free products.
Her recipes will probably include any given combination of sugar-free hot chocolate mix, garlic powder, FiberOne cereal, Laughing Cow cheese wedges and shirataki noodles, either cooked in the microwave or sautéed in a pan with exactly one spritz of cooking spray.
They’re “guilt-free” of course, because we should all feel really guilty about eating foods like entire eggs (instead of fat-free liquid egg substitute), olive oil, honey and whole milk mozzarella.
I record her shows for the same reason as I do Sandra Lee. Morbid fascination and curiosity. Who knows what strange and fantastical foods they’ll come up with next?
In closing, I’d want the Food Network to embrace the philosophy that variety is the spice of life. I’m not saying they should get rid of Guy Fieri, never feature cupcakes or ditch ALL of the cooking competitions. Just, try to mix it up and add more diversity in programming and hosts.
How do you think the Food Network could improve its programming or are you happy with it the way it is? Some friends recently shared their thoughts and ideas on my Facebook page.