October 18, 2013

Food Network celebrates 20 years of changing food culture

TV cooking channel has seen its mission evolve from friendly lessons to frenzied competition.

By J.m. Hirsch
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Ted Allen, left, and Guy Fieri attend the Food Network’s 20th birthday party on Thursday, Oct. 17, in New York City.

Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

To Irvine, it was a smart – and necessary – choice.

“We’ve all got choices now. And our choices are very, very different from what they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago,” he said. “The television world has become so cutthroat, they’ve got to continue coming up with better programing.”

So shows like Sara Moulton’s easy paced “Cooking Live” gave way to frenetic competitions like “Iron Chef,” “Chopped” and “Rachael vs. Guy.” The switch from chefs to personalities, from information to entertainment, got ratings and advertisers, but triggered an MTV-style backlash.

Just as the music network was ridiculed for letting videos die, Food Network was ribbed for favoring reality TV over real cooking. Bourdain practically launched his post-Food Network career by bashing it – as well as some of its less pedigreed stars.

In response, much as MTV launched sister networks to recover its lost ground, Food Network in 2010 created The Cooking Channel, a back-to-basics, edgier sibling.

What about the next 20 years? It’s hard to imagine Americans tuning out food-as-entertainment. But that doesn’t mean Food Network gets an easy ride. Some of their biggest properties are feeling stale, have been shown the door (Lagasse, for example), or in Deen’s case simply imploded on their own.

Meanwhile, Food Network hasn’t launched a major celebrity since Guy Fieri won “The Next Food Network Star” in 2006, a lifetime ago in TV years.

“I think that Food Network is trying desperately to evolve,” said De Laurentiis. “They cannot stay the same. There is so much competition that there wasn’t 20 years ago when they started.

“They’re trying to evolve into something. They just are not sure what the next step is yet. They’ll get there.”

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