Thursday, February 24, 2011

Food Network: Is It Us or Them?

My wife watches The Food Network fairly often, but has since switched more to The Cooking Channel, the VH1 to Food Network's MTV, if you will. The Cooking Channel is very much what Food Network started as, cooking shows that are clones of pre-Food Network cooking shows like Julia Child and The Frugal Gourmet. Why the change of heart? I am theorizing, but am willing to say that it is due to all the reality show and general douchebaggery of the modern Food Network. It is part of my "Lagasse Hypothesis."

Remember when Food Network was this little, weird basic cable network? A large part of its appeal was that it was food porn; people were interested in watching things that they would likely never try themselves. "Hey, honey, can we try that lemon curry chipotle ranch chicken tonight? Huh?" Then came Emeril Lagasse; to further the porn analogy, Emeril was the John Holmes of Food Network. He was the big name and helped make food porn mainstream. I remember Lagasse coming to Cary, NC for a book signing. By the time we got there the Barnes & Noble had a line around the store and Emeril had been there about ten hours. We did not get a book signed, but saw him from a distance. He was red faced and tired, but still smiling and talking to the punters. That made me a fan. His chocolate bread pudding recipe certainly didn't hurt things either. So what happened to Emeril? The only time you see him on Food Network these days is for holiday specials. To switch gears, like St. Peter, Emeril is the rock upon which Food Network built their church. I'll tell you where he went; to the Cooking Channel.

All this leads to my belief that Food Network wants their stars to at least appear to be tools. The initial commercials for Ace of Cakes really made Duff Goldman look like a huge jerk. In commercials he always had a chainsaw or some such, and "he doesn't play by the rules!" When you watch Ace of Cakes, you kind of realize he's just a kind of a sweet, dorky guy with his band of nerds and hipsters. Bobby Flay is presented in a similar fashion. I hated him for years, until Throwdown came on and I got to see that he was not so bad after all. This leads me to what prompted this post. Last night on Twitter, I mentioned that Michael Symon and Guy Fieri are tools.

Yeah, I know. That is me being a bit of a troll, but I tend to call 'em like I see 'em. I think Food Network sells them that way. Food Network is not alone, most of your DIY channels have similar faults. In fact, most all reality television is this way. It all started with Puck from season one of MTV's The Real World. Puck was a huge asshole, but he is the only one who I remember. Well, that guy with AIDS too, but I don't remember his name. Not only did The Real World launch reality television, it began the douche-ifying of television. Think of all the reality shows you have ever watched. Who do you remember? The asshole. As Food Network MTVs their persona, they must follow suit. Everything is a contest, everything has a time limit, and every show has the shame round. Were we getting bored with the instructional shows, or was Food Network simply trying trying to keep up with our lust for assholes? Is it the chicken or the egg? You'll notice that the few instructional shows on Food Network are almost exclusively presented by women; Paula Deen, Giada De Laurentiis, Aarti Sequeira. Of course, on reality television, women are not allowed to be douche bags...

So is it us or them? Do we tolerate douchebaggery on television so much because we want it, or because it is what we get? Also, if it is all an act, then why do the stars let it continue? I think that might be why Emeril is not on Food Network any more; either he refused to play along or got tired of fighting it.

I close in admitting my own douchebaggery in this instance. I don't know the first thing about Michael Symon or Guy Fieri. Symon (or a Twitter imposter) did remind me that I was being exactly what I was complaining about. So, Chef Symon, I apologize, and will attempt to give you the chance I gave Duff and Flay. If it was you on Twitter, you should really look into getting your account certified, by the way ;-)

9 comments:

Ghoul Friday said...

I totally agree with you. I used to have the Food Network on all the time to watch and learn about actual cooking.

I remember being in the States a few years ago and thinking how different the programming was (Canada gets some of the same shows, but then we have our own Canadian celebrity chefs as well). At the time, we had very few of the "reality" type programming, and I was shocked by how little cooking was happening on the American channel. It was more like travel shows and competitions.

Inevitably, our Food Network station followed suit, and now have shows like "Cupcake Wars". Cupcake wars? WTF?

It went from teaching to simply (and I use the term loosely) entertaining.

I rarely watch it anymore, and I used to have it on in the background throughout the day.

Sadly, we don't have an alternative cooking channel here.

And yes, Guy Fieri might be a great guy, but he does come across as the biggest tool on the planet (take off your 5 rings and dangly bracelets before putting your hands in ground beef!).

Tommy Salami said...

I stopped watching when Guy Fieri took over. It's a loudmouth network now. The Travel Channel has Bourdain and Man vs. Food, which I enjoy more.

I actually did a phone audition for FoodTV once. They want you to be an obnoxious asshole.

Bobby Rivers said...

"Emeril was the John Holmes of Food Network." Brilliant! Too damn funny -- and too damn true.

Jillian Thiele said...

Agreed. Guy Fieri was the last straw. Now I only tune in for Ina Garten, who films from her home, not the studio. Even Giada has gotten away from her original format.
Of course, there is a wonderful chapter in Bourdain's book Medium Raw about all of this. You will never want to watch the Food Network again-it's delightfully destructive. Bourdain tells all and I love him for it.

Darius Whiteplume said...

@GF - I remember very little of Canadian tv, save what we get in the States. I did like Jacob Two Two :-)

@TS - See, that's what I'm thinking, and they are not alone. I have seen Buddy Valastro of "Cake Boss" on other things and he is a completely different person. TLC just might be the one network worse in that regard.

@BR - I appreciate it. Hey, anyone who can get a live band on their cooking show is definitely a rock star.

Darius Whiteplume said...

@Jillian - I have never watched Bourdain, and frankly when I saw Ted Nugent on his holiday special I got a bit worried. Maybe that's just the extreme liberal in me? I may have to check out his book and show.

OCKerouac said...

Bourdain has a great section about what happened to FN in his new book Medium Raw. Unfortunately, for those of us who prefered the old format, their ratings keep going up. Next, I'd like to know why Travel Channel has become the Ghost Adventures network... Actually, Tony explains that one too. Travel Channel was bought by the same group that changed FN.

OCKerouac said...

Hah! Should have read Jillian's comment first. :)

Darius Whiteplume said...

@OCK - It is confusing. Hell, the Sci-Fi channel has professional wrestling. I don't get the Ghost Hunters thing at all. Sure, they travel to places to pretend they are looking for ghosts, but really?

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