Is the Food Network becoming less about food and more about entertainment? As a die-hard Food Network fan, it pains me to say that it probably is.
It’s been interesting to watch the network evolve from a slew of educational cooking shows to this new era of reality competition. Don’t get me wrong, some of those competitions make for great television- I am a sucker for Chopped and Iron Chef America. I just love the drama! However, I miss the traditional shows such as Good Eats with Alton Brown and Emeril Live with Emeril Lagasse. Call me old fashioned, but there is something inspiring and mesmerizing about watching a talented chef prepare a meal while explaining the step-by-step process in his own words. A wave of nostalgia flooded my mind when I heard that the network completely stopped making its own cooking shows. I know this sounds dramatic, but it felt like a piece of my childhood was gone forever. All that’s left are the memories I have of my mom and I watching old-school cooking shows while preparing Thanksgiving dinner, or waking up on rainy weekend mornings and making breakfast recipes that we learned days before.
So, why the shift from internal production to competitions? From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, a tell-all book by Allen Salkin, reveals some scary truths about the once groundbreaking television station. Apparently, ratings have significantly declined just within the past year. You can imagine the pang of anxiety that hit Food Network when it found out that HGTV took the cake in terms of viewership in the first half of 2013. Producers needed to re-win the hearts of viewers by offering a fresh take on food entertainment. Thus, the competition format emerged. Salkin explores this phenomenon in his new book as well as a variety of other juicy topics including the scandal with Paula Dean.
It’s no secret that the end goal of any big television network is to make a profit, but it’s not everyday that a book comes out revealing the specific ways a particular network reaches said goal. The facts in this book will be a major eye-opener to Food Network fans to say the least, however, I would be surprised if it caused a full-fledged public relations crisis.
Salkin makes a point to say that he truly believes the “hosts genuinely want to educate the public about food,” and I would have to agree. I don’t think any behind-the-scenes book could convince me to think that the hosts have a hidden agenda. And, to be honest, I would actually be heart-broken if I found out Michael Simon HATED cooking and only competed on Iron Chef America for the paycheck. On the flip-side, it is obvious that the Food Network has its own agenda, and like Salkin suggests in his book, sometimes those two agendas don’t match up.
So, I will pose this question again: is the Food Network more about entertainment than it is food? Yes, just like every other television network. Does that fact discredit the chefs in any way? No, not at all.