“We Wish Them The Very Best”
I can't say I'm completely surprised. Although it happened a little faster than I thought it would, ABC's decision to ax the afternoon gabber/eater The Chew was pretty much a foregone conclusion. The cooking show that replaced the venerable soap opera All My Children back in 2011 will itself be replaced by an expanded version of the popular newser Good Morning America this coming September. Oh, well. É vita. (That's Italian for c'est la vie.)
I've been up and down about The Chew for most of its seven season existence. My initial reaction when the show debuted was “The Chew is a little hard to swallow.” I went on to say that “after a few bites I'm honestly trying to like The Chew, but it's simply got to get better.”
I've never liked the cutesy name: The Chew was intended as a play on words to its lead-in talker, The View. (Somebody at ABC actually got paid to come up with that one.) And I was none too enamored of the cast, either. Mario Batali was the undisputed star of the piece and, frankly, the only reason I tuned in in the first place. Somebody obviously owed celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz a favor and paid it off by giving his cute but clueless daughter Daphne a co-hosting gig. Top Chef alum Carla Hall was flighty and unfocused, “Iron Chef” Michael Symon proved his mettle to be more like aluminum (foil?), and “style expert” Clinton Kelly must have seen the end of his What Not To Wear road coming and decided to just go along for the ride.
The first few episodes were nearly unwatchable as the fractious five struggled to become a cohesive unit. Mario, Michael, and Carla did their best to draw on their food TV experience in an attempt to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but it was apparent that Mario was phoning it in and that Michael and Carla were still searching the Yellow Pages for the number. And, as I observed at the time, “Watching the real food experts on the set prepare drool-worthy dishes and then watching Ms. Oz throw a handful of psyllium husks on a bowlful of yogurt was like watching a gourmet food truck crash into the front of a health food store.” Of Clinton I said, “With no real food experience and a personality that vacillates between supercilious and just plain silly, he adds little to the show, although his tablescape segment on Day 3 was interesting. Maybe he'll grow on me.”
And he did. So did Daphne. Carla toned down the shuck and jive a little and although Michael still “caramelized” everything in sight instead of just browning it, he developed a great rapport with the other four and with the audience as well. Mario was Mario right up until the end, which, of course, is what led to his downfall.
Now, ABC is denying that Mario's recent fall from grace over his unsavory behavior and an ongoing NYPD investigation into his sexual peccadilloes had anything to do with their decision to truncate the program. They used the “Godfather” defense: “It's just business.” The fact that The Chew's inevitable association with the man in the orange Crocs and the precipitous seventeen percent drop in viewership among the critical 18 – 49 female demographic after his outing plunged ratings back to freshman season levels when all the disgruntled soap fans were still organizing protests obviously had nothing to do with it. They just needed another hour for GMA, so bye-bye Clinton and company. Ri-i-i-i-i-ght!
It didn't matter to me: I stopped watching The Chew the day Mario was fired. As I said, he was the main reason I watched anyway. And as I've written elsewhere, even though he was a rotten, deplorable role model whose superior intelligence was belied by the fact that he stupidly attached a cinnamon roll recipe to his official “apology,” he is still an incredibly talented, knowledgeable, innovative Italian chef who has an intrinsic knack for teaching as well as for cooking. I learned more from Molto Mario reruns than I did from almost any culinary class I ever took. Daphne Oz taking leave of the show last year barely caused a ripple: Mario's ousting was like a tidal wave. On the one hand, you had fans like me who lost interest without Mario's presence and influence, while on the other hand were the #MeToo crowd who abhorred and denounced the fact that he ever had a presence and influence to begin with. And smack in the middle was the network, valiantly trying to hold the pieces together when even the pieces were left in a weird, directionless limbo. Just a few days prior to the cancellation announcement, Carla Hall talked about the vacancy left by Batali. She said that The Chew had no plans to replace him, and that the remaining hosts had “become closer” since his bombshell banishment.
For its part, Disney/ABC, speaking in the voice of Disney/ABC Television president Ben Sherwood, made it all sound very matter-of-fact and gave it a nice Mickey Mouse spin: “Over the past six years Good Morning America has solidified its place as America’s No. 1 morning show. We believe there is great opportunity for viewers and advertisers in expanding to a third hour.” At least he was politic enough to put “viewers” before “advertisers” in the statement. But I think in reality the order was probably quite the reverse. I mean, there was obviously nothing left to do with The Chew. And what did it accomplish, after all? As a talk/food hybrid, it only broke new ground, running 1,454 episodes over seven seasons while garnering multiple Emmy noms and winning two of them. But once you hung a crude and socially unacceptable red-haired, fleece vest-wearing albatross around its neck, all past bets were off and the shiny new “great opportunity” was brought the fore. I can almost guarantee, however, that nobody at the House of Mouse had the first thought about a third hour for “ America’s No. 1 morning show” before a certain Italian chef fell off his high horse and got dragged through the Spotted Pig-shit.
Sources say it will all go down like this: Whereas GMA's principal competitor, NBC's Today, runs a consecutive four hours, the new GMA move will not impact the syndicated Live With Kelly & Ryan show, which follows the first two hours of GMA in most markets. The aforementioned talker, The View, will stay put following Live. Because of that scheduling and a noon local newscast in many markets, the third hour of the revamped GMA will air in The Chew's old 1 PM -2 PM time slot, some three hours after the morning show’s second hour. So you'll watch two hours of GMA in the morning, then watch Kelly Ripa and her co-host de jour and the ladies of The View for a couple of hours, then maybe sit through a noon newser, and then come back for another hour of Good Morning America, which will actually be airing in the afternoon. Makes sense to me. What are they going to call it, Good Afternoon America? The abbreviation would be GAA. I don't think that will sell. We'll just have to wait and see, I guess.
As The Chew masticates its last, I'm sure there will be “great opportunities” ahead for the remaining embattled co-hosts. Carla and Michael, who both reacted to the news with thanks to viewers for an “amazing ride” and an “amazing run,” respectively, might have to fall back on cooking for awhile until Food Network offers them a vacuous game show of some sort. Ever the philosopher, Clinton Kelly said, “Huge bummer, but that’s the TV biz.” Hey, he's still “fabulous,” after all, so I'm sure something appropriate will come his way. Daphne is off making Dr. Oz a granddaddy over and over again and Mario has switched his focus from diners with forks to activists with pitchforks, so he'll be quite busy for the foreseeable future.
Sherwood added this closing to his statement, “For seven years The Chew has delighted audiences by delivering innovative food segments in an entertaining atmosphere. We applaud and thank Gordon Elliott, Aimee Householder, Michael Symon, Carla Hall, Clinton Kelly and the entire cast and crew for their great work and amazing run. And we wish them the very best.”
“Ciao” to The Chew. It's been nice knowin' ya.