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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!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What's Behind the Food Network Ratings Decline? (Hint: It's NOT Paula Deen)


Taking the “Food” Out of “Food Network”

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek headline screamed “Since Dumping Paula Deen, Food Network Ratings Have Continued To Slump.” The story went on to note that the network's overall prime time ratings have dropped as much as 6 percent with a whopping 13 percent drop in the target 18 to 49 demographic. But does Paula really deserve the blame/credit?

Paula Deen's supporters like to think it's karma or divine retribution or something. Not so much. The Queen of the South's numbers were headed south long before the network gave her the heave ho. She was a classic case of overexposure. “Hey, y'all!” was getting on the nerves of all but her most ardent fans, and, ratings-wise, her slip was staring to show. Her diabetes debacle and her “n-word” meltdown just gave Food Network the excuse for which it was already looking.

No, if you want to know the real reason Food Network's ratings are slumping, look no further than the guide feature on your TV screen. In spite of what the network suits are trying to tell themselves, when people turn on the Food Network, they want to see programming about food. They don't want game shows, they don't want competition shows, they don't want “reality” shows that focus on struggles and problems in the lives of other people. Most folks have enough struggles and problems of their own. And they certainly don't want “hidden camera” shows that purport to depict what “really” happens behind the scenes at America's eating establishments.

Food Network has gone the way of MTV, A&E, Biography, History, TLC, and any number of other cable nets that have turned their backs on the viewers that built them. Does anybody remember that “MTV” stands for “Music Television” and that they used to actually play music videos as their main programming staple? I don't recall when I've seen anything remotely artistic or entertaining on A&E, the network dedicated to “Arts & Entertainment.” Oh, yeah. “Duck Dynasty.” That's art. Could someone please explain to me how “Ghost Bait,” “Flip This House,” and “America's Supernanny” have anything at all to do with biography? Same for the relationship between “Pawn Stars,” “Swamp People” and history. And of course I learn so much from Honey Boo Boo and the other toddlers with their tiaras over on TLC, aka “The Learning Channel.”

Now, to be fair, Food Network does accidentally have a few programs left that have something to do with the preparation of food. On “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America” you can watch people cook. They're not necessarily there to teach you how to cook, but you can still pick up a few tips and tricks by watching them, so that's something. I used to like to watch Robert Irvine cook his way out of “impossible” situations on “Dinner: Impossible.” All Robert does now by revealing the filth and family drama on “Restaurant: Impossible” is make me want to avoid eating in restaurants.

Maybe the Scripps Network execs should consider another “spinoff” network. They can call it “Guido TV” and they can regale viewers with 24/7 programming featuring Guy Fieri. Of course, that's pretty much what they do on Food Network now.

And lest you think I'm just a lone curmudgeon complaining in the wilderness, here are a few of the reader comments that followed the Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

“Food Network's problem is that it has veered away from the basic concept: teaching people how to cook. The majority of shows now are reality shows. Boring.”

“I've been a huge fan of Food Network from the beginning and I get tired of these new "reality" shows after a few episodes.”

“I want to see shows about cooking or how about an independent review show of kitchen appliances and new gadgets. I'm so sick of everything having to be a damned competition! Who cares if some chef can make something edible out of two cans, a boot and a licorice whip in 20 minutes. Maybe he could instead tell me what to do with all the chicken in the freezer. Get back to basics!”

“Any slump in the Food Network is not due to 'no Deen' -- it is due to the poor selection of programming. At any given time, I can tune in and get multiple showing of Diners & Dives; or Top Chef variations with 'Top Cupcake or Top Cake or Top Something with a 'twist'... most of which tell me nothing about the food or cooking but are showcases for 30 minutes sprints to make a 'nice looking plate' of something. I'd rather have someone show me how to prepare a buttersquash or why thyme works on one thing and not another rather than the 'all flash and no useful information' shows.”

“No more cooking on the Food Network it seems. America's Test Kitchen and Cook's County on PBS have FN shows beat by a mile on that score.”

“I miss the days when you tuned into Food Network to watch a cooking show.”

“Since the creation of their sister network The Cooking Channel, Food Network wanted to focus more on various levels of competition, and reality shows. Their bread & butter (no pun intended) was when the stars like Bobby Flay, Alton Brown, Emeril Lagasse, and others were doing cooking and teaching. Who didn't like Emeril Live, Good Eats or Boy Meets Grill? If you want to capture the 18-35 demographic, then go back to the basics and include young, enthusiastic individuals who love to share their knowledge about food and cooking. I for one would love to have a show teaching people how to make delicious meals from different areas of the world.”

“I used to love watching the food network when they had shows about cooking, they've gone away from Alton Brown (Good Eats, science of cooking was awesome!), Mario Batali (History of food was awesome!), Tyler Florence (History again), Emeril & Paula (Most food was really extreme, but good shows none the less). Now everything is a competition trying to do trivial challenges with a bunch of idiots to create drama. I end up watching Cooking channel much more and they're even turning away from cooking and going more toward an obnoxious host to go around and visit different places. I think they've overreached and tried to get into the reality craze and should go back to what brought the audience in in the first place.”

Hello? These are real people talking, not overpaid consultants and analysts. Did you catch the references to the food programming on PBS? America's Test Kitchen, Cook's Country, Lydia Bastianich, Mary Ann Esposito, John Besh, Ming Tsai – there's a lot more food and cooking going on there than there is on the network that's supposedly dedicated to food. And one commenter noted, even Scripps' knock off “Cooking Channel” has become a parody that has more in common with the Travel Channel than it does with cooking.

Are Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelson, Brooke Johnson and the other occupants of Scripps' executive offices deaf and blind? Or are they just dumb? You know the old axiom that for every person who complains, there are 10 people who don't speak up? Some make the ratio 1:25. Others go as high as 1:100. So, including my own, I've just registered somewhere between 90 and 900 complaints. And that's just the tip of the iceberg from feedback on one article. I've seen hundreds of similar thoughts expressed in dozens of other published sources, which, by rule, would add up to tens of thousands of people who don't like where Food Network is going. That would certainly account for the 6 percent overall drop in ratings. The Deen disaster probably didn't help, but the root of the real cause goes much deeper.

Here's my recipe for a Fallen Ratings Cake:

Ingredients:

1 Ivory Tower full of overpaid, under-qualified idiots
1 cadre of overpaid, under-qualified consultants and analysts
1 dozen meaningless “reality” shows
1 dozen pointless competition shows
1 dozen mindless “food story” shows
a handful of “hidden camera” shows
a generous helping of talentless “talent”

Method:

After straining out anything that resembles food or cooking information, mix all of the above ingredients into a schedule that repeats and repeats and repeats until the viewer's eyes bleed.

Yield: 1 failed network

One last commenter sums it all up: “Why did they fix something that wasn't broken? We liked these shows because they weren’t drama filled nonsense with no substance. We liked being taught how to cook. Period. Can we get back to that or is it a lost cause?”

Anybody at Food Network listening?

5 comments:

  1. Bravo! You spoke the absolute truth. The Food Network today is a shell of how great it once was. And it will continue to sink until they return to the nature of cooking shows.

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  2. So true! wondering if guy fieri has controling interest in network? i rarely watch and i miss their old format.

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  3. How this piece didn't get more comments is beyond me. Apathy -- ignorance -- passive acceptance?

    Whatever. You nailed it in a very stylish and well-written manner.

    Fuck the Food Network and their pals. They've consistently shown to be following the bottom line and the lowest common denominator. Par for the course in today's corporate America.

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  4. Great article and I agree with you. I feel I've lost an old friend. I still enjoy Bobby Flay and his excellence in food preparation, "The Pioneer Woman" for her realistic family meals and of course Ina, whose knowledge and expertise is always appreciated. As for the ratings- it is not surprising.

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  5. All the chefs that I couldn't wait to watch after a long day of work are gone. I still really enjoy Pioneer woman but rare that I can find it. No problem finding Guy, that's for sure. Ridiculous lineup, one after the other. You have taken away the whole poi.t of food network which should be learning to cook or recipes or just enjoyment of watching someone cook. Instead you have stupid game shows where chefs who forgot how they started out looking down their noses at contestants that are I am sure better chefs than they are. I can't believe you can see the attitude Giada portrays and tolerate that. I suggest you run her original shows and let her see herself when she started out. Maybe a little trip down memory lane would help thAt. And I assure you I am not alone in my opion. If you don't change the format you will lose food network. You clearly don't care about the loyal viewer. I am done watching after being a HUGE fan for years.

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