Tuesday, January 10, 2012


When I was maybe 17 years old, the only cooking shows available were Julia Child during the week, and the occasional show over the weekend on PBS. This is how it was until November of 1993 When TV Food Network arrived on the scene...I didn't see it at first, probably a good thing as they had some kinks to work out. I believe it was almost a year later before I got to see any programming... and when I did, I thought it was fantastic.

The shows production value, well let's face it, they were horrible. But the beauty of it was the simplicity, the on air talent, and the format. People standing and facing you in your living room and talking about food. They were talking about food in an honest, enlightening, engaging manner that made you feel comfortable and excited about food and cooking. It made me feel the same way I did so many years ago while watching Julia Child, Martin Yan or Burt Wolf (Burt in his earlier shows, which were more about cooking and less about how distinguished and sophisticated people travel). It was electric for anybody who loved food and cooking. I would turn on TV Food Network when I got home, leave it on while I was cooking, and at times, it would stay on until it was nearly time for bed at ten or eleven o'clock at night.

The network had some talented people on during the late nineties including but not limited to: Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Ming Tsai, Jamie Oliver, Tyler Florence, Sarah Moulton and so many more. Granted they were stand and stir shows, but loaded with cooking technique and information. It was something myself and many more people were happy to watch but that was a problem. I happened to be in a larger market that got the network fairly early, but at that time (1998 ish)  it was only available to about 28 million or so viewers...In 1999 the network only had an overall 0.2 rating which meant only about 84 thousand people a day were watching the network. The good news was it was growing, and in 1999 was scheduled to break even and would start to make a profit that following year.

In 2000 the powers that be decided to make the "stand and stir" show format something only to be seen during the day. Prime time was now going to be "entertainment focused", uh....Food Network....shouldn't there be food in there someplace?! They started creating shows based on competitions, taking chefs out of kitchens and deliberately creating shows to generate sex appeal. This was when the base crowd, including me started to grumble. Then came 2004, enter Brooke Johnson the new Network President, who hates the "Stand and Stir" format... this is where things started to go south on a rocket ship. This is where we started seeing cooking shows turn into drama competitions. We also start to see "personalities" instead of cooks. Why would you want to have cooks on a Food Network? Beats me, but Brooke sure knew. For a while though she was wildly successful. I'm sure if I was juggling chainsaws next to the bearded lady while sitting on the two headed calf, I'd draw a hell of a crowd too. The problem with that is people eventually grow tired of the freak show....there's a reason the circus doesn't stay in one town.

I wrote an E-mail to Brooke Johnson as well as several key people at the Food Network to plead with them to stop the madness. I described how they were driving their base away, and if they didn't stop soon, there would be nobody left to turn the lights off when they finally slipped the rabbit hole. I never got a response from anybody...In all fairness, I probably never made it through their spam filter...But, I'll bet they could put together one big ole can of spam! Ignoring mine and probably several thousand other emails begging for sanity, Food Network started cleaning house, and see ya later actual cooks and chefs....Hello shit show! Yes, send in the clowns.... by lowering the cooking and food content, upping the drama level and adding personality they chopped the integrity of the network to the lowest common denominator. They whored themselves out for fast rising ratings in exchange for their dignity and the respect of the people who made them what they were up to that point.

I haven't watched anything on the Food Network in five or six  years. I haven't watched because, Why would I?! There is nothing good or entertaining about it, and their slipping ratings are proof of this. Last year they slipped by more than ten points in the fourth quarter. Look at the people they have, and the shows they have them on, some times three and four shows a day featuring the same personalities. I love lobster, but if you jammed it in my face four times a day forever, I don't care how many new ways you find to serve it, eventually I'm just not going to eat it. I'm not going to drag these people through the mud, The network is doing a fine job of this all by themselves. One of their shows is a  poorly done ripoff of Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares", I say they should have a show where you bring in somebody like a Gordon Ramsay but instead of being a professional in the field of cooking, make it in the field of network executives... and have them visit Food Network!

I know how to increase your ratings, start showing food, and actual cooks, cooking food on the Food Network. Sure you're gonna loose some of your other viewers.... but they're mostly there to see if the puffed rice cereal cake is going to fall at the end of one of your twenty awful mega extreme super duper cake competition shows. The Food Network is just silly and awful, but I'd like to help you out Brooke. I'll be glad to come down there and fix what's wrong with your programming. I'm just hoping part of the dress code isn't clown makeup, because trying to watch any of shows for even a little bit makes me want to order peanuts, and I keep looking for the other two rings. We would have to start slowly, but I know we could do it. Besides if we weed out all the shows that weren't fun, weren't entertaining, weren't based on food or cooking, there will be no shows, and no personalities either for that matter. The viewers that you left cold and crying in the rain, will come back...If you give them something to come back to.  


  1. Totally agree with you Pavlov. Food Network used to be the only thing I'd watch and I learned to love cooking from it. Now it's not worth turning on at all. Overblown, obnoxious personalities and contrived contests are not for me.

  2. Pavvie - I was one of those who lobbied my cable company weekly and got TVFN when it first hit TV. Time Warner Cable carried it on channel 44 - it shared that channel with WNJN. TVFN was on in the midnight hours and NJN the rest of the day. I was glad I was a morning person who awoke with the birds so I could view this milestone station placed on the air by God... Just For ME.

    Pre TVFN (Pre Cable for that matter) I remember flipping through my SEVEN channels, not including fuzzy UHF, in search of that overhead shot of someone stirring a pan. It was usually the Frugal Gourmet or Graham Kerr/Galloping Gourmet and of course Julia. When TVFN hit the airwaves I thought I had died and gone to Heaven as I watched people like David Rosengarten share his culinary knowledge; and enjoyed reruns of Julia Child and James Beard (the guests on Beard wore HEAVY mics around their necks).

    When TVFN became the MTV of culinary television, I too launched a campaign to rein them back in. They made a conscious decision to abandon their core audience...you know...the ones whose financial support allowed them to air their programming in the first place ==> US. Moronic shit started airing - like The Secret Life Of ...? and other BARELY food related shows.

    Then, the Emerilization of TVFN became rampant. Emeril appeared everywhere doing everything, including a short lived half hour comedy. I think it ran for 3 episodes. (OK, it was 11. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0285359/ ) The burnout had begun. David Rosengarten bowed out early, probably from exhaustion. Sara Moulton hung in for a while and I agree, she was personable and knowledgeable but MAN, was she spread thin. Two Hot Tamales eventually high-tailed it back to New Mexico.

    A particular low - Two words that should strike fear into the hearts of anyone who loves being near a stove: Sandra Lee. For some reason TVFN thought that it was the 1970's - Pre-Julia Child and "Americans wanted something quick...from a mix." Sandra color-coordinated her way into every trailer park in the US. And let me tell you, I had my way with her shows quite frequently, publishing scathing reviews on discussion boards - including the now defunct TVFN boards. It was fun - Those who read my reviews were warned against trying to eat one of her inedible garnishes.

    The damned game ("competition") shows that were supposed to churn out the next "stars" of the medium - what happened to them? They fell flat with the exception of Guy Fieri - who is a caricature of...a baffoon wearing a bowling shirt.

    Where does that leave us now? Same as MTV. We have the VH-1 of culinary programming - The Cooking Channel. It's nice. It's diverse. And I just hope TVFN has the fucking brains to leave it alone and not try to morph it into another monster that will lose all credibility in the culinary world.

  3. Sad but true @The Gardener...

    Chiffy, I read a transcript from an interview with Brooke Johnson. One of the questions they asked her was, "Do you cook?" her answer, "Yes. Not well, but I’ve learned a thing or two since being at the Food Network." I know you don't have to be a Chef to run a network, but you don't seem to be too into food...How in blue blazes can you know what your audience want's to see?! How will you know what's good? IT is, and has been...Sad, just sad...

  4. Jesus! I could have written this myself - I too have not watched TFN in some 5+ years - in fact, I have no idea what kind of programming they now have, I've just written it all off. I'll always remember discovering, 'Good Eats', and thinking I'd died and gone to heaven. Whatever happened to Good Eats?