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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Revisting ABC's "The Chew"

The Network's Daytime Food Fest Is Losing Its Flavor

ABC's daytime foodie show is getting to be like a piece of gum; you chew it and chew it and then spit it out after the flavor's gone.

When I originally commented on The Chew a day or two after its inaugural episode, I was on the fence. The format was new, the cast needed time to gel, and I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. My patience was rewarded. Things seemed to come together very quickly after those first few halting baby steps and the program took off running. Everybody figured out their place and got comfortable with the format and the show got really good.

And I'm not the only one who thought so. According to a January 20 posting at Zap2It.com's TV by the Numbers, The Chew put up impressive ratings, boasting its best week ever among women 18 to 49 and its second best week in total viewers.

But, OMG!, have the wheels started coming off in the last few weeks!

You know, ABC is the network that originated the phrase “jumping the shark,” and I think The Chew has made the jump.

First of all, I still don't care for Clinton Kelly's hosting style. He frequently borders on smarmy and often projects an attitude that screams, “I'm in this for the paycheck.” And I still think Daphne Oz is a lightweight who was chosen for her telegenic looks and her bankable last name. Watch closely; nobody on the set takes her seriously, so how are we, the average viewers, supposed to do so? She's everybody's little sister and when she says something that's supposed to be authoritative, you just naturally want to go ask mom or dad if she's right.

As a chef, Carla Hall is okay, but with her constant jumpin' and jivin' all over the set, maybe ABC should tap her for the next season of Dancing With The Stars. C'mon, Carla. More food, less mugging and dance moves. Iron Chef Michael Symon – he of the increasingly annoying giggle – is rapidly devolving into an Aluminum Foil Chef because of all the ridiculous antics he's being subjected to. And Mario Batali, the guy for whom I really tuned in in the first place, must have a really sweet contract. He's gone more than he's there.

After the things the producers have foisted off on the cast and forced on the viewers of late, I can't say as I blame him. I'd disappear, too.

The train began to rock on the tracks with the recent “decades week.” Michael Symon in Mickey Mouse ears. Michael Symon in “Mr. Spock” ears and wig. Okay, cute setup. But why not let the poor guy change into something normal during the first break. It's hard to be credible when cooking in mouse ears or a Vulcan haircut. Not that Michael was alone in his humiliation. The producers stuck Mouseketeer outfits and Star Trek costumes on everybody. Everybody except Mario – he endured some accessories but apparently drew the line at being made to look completely silly. During the “'60s” gig, Clinton's bad Shatner and the whole crew being forced to jump around on the set while the camera tilted and jiggled in a hokey simulation of a Klingon attack caused me to hit the “off” button on the remote. It was obvious to me that there was nothing to see that day that remotely involved food.

And then came Presidents Day. Oh, please! The images of Clinton Kelly prancing around as George Washington while Michael Symon sported a godawful Harry Truman hairpiece and glasses were almost enough to make me nauseous. And what was with Carla Hall? Personally, I always think of Phyllis Wheatley on Presidents Day, and the producers apparently do, as well. Why else would they slap a mob cap on Carla for the day? Mario, in bifocals and stock, was supposed to be channeling Benjamin Franklin but, frankly, he appeared to be less than enthused by the whole thing when he made his entrance. And when they brought Daphne Oz out dressed as Abraham Lincoln! …...well........what else is there to say?

You know, Washington's home at Mt. Vernon opened a new exhibition called “Hoecakes and Hospitality” that very day. The exhibit focuses on the landmark's kitchen and features artifacts owned by the President and used in colonial times. You want to do something with George Washington? Rather than putting Kelly in a costume, that would have been a worthwhile tie-in. Okay, so they sent somebody to the White House for a kitchen tour and they gave us the lowdown on some presidential favorite foods, but the rest was just embarrassing to watch. So I didn't.

And that's a habit I may acquire permanently if The Chew doesn't resume cooking and stop schticking. The only thing ABC hasn't done yet is to have Michael Symon don a leather jacket and water skis and jump over a fake shark. Oh, wait – they did something like that once. Hey, maybe there's a guest-shot opportunity for Henry Winkler.

Keep ramping up the silliness and dumbing down the culinary content and the “Happy Days” will be over for The Chew, too.

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