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Jun. 22 2009 - 12:15 am | 936 views | 2 recommendations | 24 comments

Memo to Food Network: Your programming is going rancid

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 02: Guy Fieri arrives at ...

Guy Fieri, the last Food Network star? (Image by Getty Images via Daylife)

Worst Episode Ever
World Headquarters
June 21, 2009

Bob Tuschman
Senior Vice President, Programming and Production
The Food Network

Dear Mr. Tuschman:

May I call you “Bob?” I’m assuming I can because your network’s Web site hosts a blog for you called “Bob’s Blog,” so I’m going to take that as an invitation to speak with you on a first-name basis.

Dear Bob:

Because I know you’re more than just a judge on your network’s “The Next Food Network Star” show — you’re also presumably the top programming executive behind the creation of the show and the man responsible for most of what airs on the Food Network — I believe you are the right person to which an important and, sadly, unpalatable message must be delivered:

“The Next Food Network Star” sucks. It’s not entertaining. It has nothing to do with actual culinary skill. And it’s another troubling step in the ultimate devaluation of your network’s brand.

All of which is unfortunate enough, but it is made doubly so by the fact that I can simply change channels and watch Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” a cooking competition-reality show that also premiered this month and which, while it may have its faults, actually appeals to the foodie in me. Maybe because it’s actually about cooking food, not hissy fits and cascades of jittery, bitter tears.

I’m sorry to be so blunt, Bob, because I think you’ve done some great work in the past. Your official bio on The Food Network Web site notes that you “developed and executive-produced the top performing series 30 Minute MealsBarefoot Contessa and Everyday Italian among others.”

Those are good shows, Bob — they’re the shows that first drew me to The Food Network at the start of this decade. It was your stars — Ina and Giada and Mario (man, I love Mario Batali — I used to go to the gym during the day and time my treadmill workouts to his show; one episode of “Molto Mario” plus the first five minutes of “Sara’s Secrets” was equal to three miles on the rubber belt) who showed me that real cooking with real ingredients wasn’t out of my bachelor reach; that it wasn’t a skill set open only to a select cadre of secret society denizens. Throw in Dave Lieberman (finally! a TV chef with a kitchen as small as mine), Jamie Oliver — and even some Rachael Ray, who I watched with the sound turned down — and you had me hooked on amping up my knife skills.

But the Food Network has lost its way, Bob. You let Anthony Bourdain go. You cancelled Mario’s show, and Sara’s, too. Yes, you’ve brought in new chefs, but you’ve relegated all the actual cooking shows to weekends and daytime, including the best ones with your most appealing personalities — celebrity chefs who started out as chefs and only later became celebrities.

Nowadays, prime time on the Food Network is all about competition shows and reality non-fiction programming — and it’s all about folks looking to make a name and buck. The food is just an afterthought for you, Bob, and it’s really starting to grate on me.

How many “Food Network Challenge” shows are you airing these days, Bob? Every time I turn on your channel, I see another group of dull-as-dishwater chefs laboring under a contrived set of circumstances to create the best eight-foot cake that looks like one of Roy Disney’s children or most resembles a Hasbro toy. I suppose, at some level, it’s impressive what these folks can do with yellow layer cake, fondant, food coloring and lack of shame, but for crying out loud, you’re the freakin’ Food Network, not the Shitty-Sheet-Cake-Promotional-Happy-Meal-Tie-In Network.

And now you’ve made “The Next Food Network Star” your big summertime push. It hurts me to watch it, Bob, because it looks like my beloved Food Network has succumbed to the reality-show dreck that pollutes other once-innovative TV networks, like MTV and VH1. “The Next Food Network Star” has little to do with cooking. It’s not as skanky and poorly behaved as “Daisy of Love” or “The Bachelorette,” but it’s still an excuse to ask a group of Americans to behave like children and let the rest of us stare at them, watching and waiting with bated breath to see which one will cry/scream/curse next, all dressed up as an exercise in finding smooth TV presenters. Not chefs; presenters. Let’s look at the promo for this season’s installment:

In all of those messages the contestants flash to host Bobby Flay, not one of them mentions culinary skill, the ability to create fantastic food, to desire to inspire viewers to take their dinners and their nutrition and their health into their own hands and play a role in making real food prepared by real people the central point of our lives again. (By the way, nice cameo at the end of the clip!)

I get it, Bob. You’re looking for an entertainer, a potential host for a Food Network show who can chit-chat for 22 minutes without making viewers start wondering if the dog needs a walk. But the problem is that that’s all your looking for on “The Next Food Network Star.” I’ve watched, and you and your fellow judges spend a lot of time critiquing the contestants for how they handle being in front of the camera, whether the stories they tell about their childhood seem authentic. You test them on how well they can describe a recipe during a live broadcast while their earpiece is on the fritz. Do you really expect that I’m going to tune into the Food Network because your chefs are deft with an IFB?

Last week, I watched contestant Melissa d’Arabian choke back tears as two other chefs intimated that she didn’t actually cook her meal herself. In your blog about “The Next Food Network Star,” you write about how contestant Debbie Lee, in a recent episode, “endangered her teammates by not buying every item they requested” and how “her actions may have been self-serving and had negative repercussions” in the challenge. You discuss with commenters whether contestant Brett August is a condescending cad or just a lovable rogue. You mention that the judges are “a panel of experts who [sic] understands the demands of food celebrity.” It all perpetuates the sad, basic tenet of the show: that being a host on The Food Network is a game, filled with intrigue and backstabbing and likability and politicking, a contest to see which dancing sideshow performer can distract us the most under jerry-rigged and unrealistic conditions. Oh, and if they can actually cook, too… well, that’s a nice bonus.

And what’s “The Next Food Network Star” gotten you, anyway, Bob? It’s certainly not stars. Season 3 winner Amy Finley filmed one season of shows for you and then walked away. Season 1 winners Dan Smith and Steve McDonough and Season 4 winner Aaron McCargo, Jr. are barely blips on your TV schedule. The only “star” to come out of this series is season 2 winner Guy Fieri, and that’s only because he’s now the spokesman for TGI Friday’s restaurants — which is just this shy of your star chef Sandra Lee shilling for Kentucky Fried Chicken in the embarrassing department. Is that the kind of Food Network star you were looking for? Because I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in your immense and famous Food Network kitchens who thinks TGI Friday’s is the pinnacle toward which your network should be climbing.

(By the way, I didn’t remember Smith, McDonough and McCargo’s names off the top of my head; I found them by looking in the “Where Are They Now?” section of your Web site. The fact that that exists kind of proves my point.)

As a long-time Food Network viewer, Bob, my patience is wearing thin. Put the “Rock of Love” playbook down and please get back to the kitchen.

Sincerely,
matthew


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  1. collapse expand

    An excellent assessment of an increasingly unwatchable Network. Less “Challenge” more Chiarello!

  2. collapse expand

    Matthew you have read my mind for the past year or so and have cleverly and rightly written my sentiments exactly….now can u write NBC about i am a celebrity?

  3. collapse expand

    Thank you x 1000. Though yours are certainly not new sentiments, they are succinct and hopefully emphatic enough to turn the tide of instacrap TV being shoveled by TVFN. I was one of those people in the early 90’s calling my cable company on a weekly basis to carry TVFN. Now, I barely watch it. TVFN had a very hard time deciding what it wanted to be when it grew up. After enjoying the early years of David Rosengarten, Two Hot Tamales and Two Fat Ladies; then watching the network lapse into visual vomit like Sandra Lee and Guy Fieri, TVFN picked the wrong horse on which to hitch its wagon. I hope it’s not too late. <3

  4. collapse expand

    Matthew — Good post. I think Fieri’s a perfect emblem of where the network has gone wrong, only I’d argue that the signs of that were well in place before he started shilling for Friday’s. A quick look at his website reveals a guy who’s all branding and no cooking. And as a host, man, he’s tough to bear, and that “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” show is right in my wheelhouse.

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    Yikes! Well said. (fingers firmly crossed and hoping fervently) that Bob hears the cries of the masses and buries the dead.

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    Mr.Greenberg………THANK YOU! If you read the following snail mail I was waiting to send, you will see why!
    Now you’ve given me the inspiration to follow through.
    Friday, March 07, 2008

    Dear Mr. Tuschman,
    I am an avid Food Network viewer………having watched since your inception. I have your station on whether I am actively watching & even as background when not. My husband will frequently view with me as well if I am actively watching. My favorite person is Ina Garten, & I have every one of her books, even though I can get her recipes free @ your site. In fact, I liked her show so much that we used to program it so we can view it @ dinner every night. I also like Alton, Giada, Tyler, Tyler, & used to watch “How to Boil Water” when the French chef cook assisted by Jack. I watched Martha Stewart when she used to be on, as well. I used to watch Paula @ times for her “down home” type recipes. I no longer watch her since she got married – she seems to have gone off the deep end.
    I guess you can see I do have some complaints about your content.
    • Please……..no more boobs!!!!! I’m talking Giada & Sandra Lee. I know Giada was pregnant; however I’m sure that for both of these “chefs”, it has little to do with pregnancy [although in itself, that would be a pretty skanky reason to be flaunting cleavage anyway]! Every time I tune into Giada, I am forced to look @ cleavage! Come on, this is a cooking show, not “Girls Gone Wild”. It really detracts from the program, & makes me wonder if it’s just a ploy to attract more male viewers perhaps? Sandra Lee in particular has an episode where she is in the park I believe, sporting this goofy little Bo Peep get up complete with pigtails, & I’m waiting for her “store boughts” to fall out like…….. muffins in a well greased tin. Doesn’t anybody critique the shows before they go on? No one chose to comment on her going on air with that Halloween get up? Totally tasteless. Now today I tune in & there’s Rachel with her little boobs half out [competition maybe]………..what gives?

    • Speaking of Sandra, I have to admit the minute she comes on, I change the channel. I do like some of her ideas but cannot bear to lis-ten……… to……………. her……….hes-i-ta-tive………..way……….of……….speak-ing!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s obvious she cannot do two things [cooking & talking] at a time……….doesn’t anybody let her know how absolutely aggravating her diction is? Her show does go off when I hear that voice – it truly is aggravating.
    • Paula used to be worth watching, however, she has, like I said, gone off the deep end. Her recipes as well used to be down home basic with a nice Southern flair. She even allowed us to chuckle @ times. Now, it seems her old fashioned charm have been replaced by her obvious change to competition with the real chefs. Southern country made way for false eyelashes and excessive finger bling . I definitely can’t watch her “party” show………she’s licked one too many audience participants faces for me. What’s with these people………..they don’t make enough money……….they go to party shows, nepotism, books, magazines, cookware, packaged foods?
    • Now, alas, my favorite……….Ina. I love her home, the way she & Jeffrey seem like a couple of love struck teenagers. I have all of her six books. However, she is not without aggravations as well. It isn’t hard to see that she is an island unto herself——she has different rules from the rest of the FN stars, somewhat of a “Queen complex”. Her cookbooks are more expensive, & don’t seem to participate in the holiday shows [unless you edit her show into the group]. The new “Back to Basics” is nothing more than taking the same old recipes & changing lemon juice to orange juice, or “really good vanilla” to Frambois”……….definitely not rocket science! Somewhat of a rip off. Please, no more of the “really good vanillas”, “don’t have too much fun without me’s”, “how good is that’s”, the ok, ok, ok, ok’s, & the ha, ha, ha, ha, ha’s [we counted, & it’s always 5 ha ha’s]! We really don’t need the repetitious reminders of what she’s making, i.e. “and that’s the biscuits ready to go in the oven, to go with the berries, to go with the whipped cream, to go with the sauce, that goes with dessert, that will be so good”. The biscuits are going into the oven & that is all we really need to know.
    • One more thing about all these supposed college educated, “professionally trained” chefs…….please address the subject of correct pronunciation of two frequently used words: Mascarpone cheese is spelled, Mas-car-pone, not mar-sca-pone……..please, Michael Chiarello, you’re Italian & don’t know how to pronounce the word correctly???? I could understand Sandra Lee not being familiar with proper pronunciation, but Tyler, Paula, & Guy also say Marscapone????
    • To Guy & Paula: Paprika is 2 syllables, not 3 so therefore, it is pronounced Pap-ri-ka, not Pap-ar-ik-a! It has nothing to do with being Southern [Guy isn’t from the South] – rather, it’s about education. Also it’s Es-presso, not Ex-presso! Please have Alton or Giada do some pronunciation consultations with these five! Honestly, they have their own shows, but speak Ebonics……where can I sign up?
    • Speaking of Guy…….like him a lot, but why is it “Fieti” now instead of Fieri? I am Italian, & know that his name would be pronounced with a T rather than R in Italy. However, we are not in Italy, & to change his name @ this point seems a little pretentious. I’m assuming he was tired of being called a fairy?
    As far as the Food Network website:
    • While I like the new set up, Please, you went to all that trouble to introduce us to all the staff on the web site! Instead, you should spend a little more time having the recipe editors actually do some editing. How many times I have read/written reviews & found, along with others, that many recipes are inaccurate! If one is unable to actually watch the show when the recipe was used, they would be lost———the TV version is frequently very different from the FN site recipe. If you actually read the recipe reviews you would see that many people have expressed the same complaint as I am. Don’t your editors watch the programs they are editing or read the reviews?
    • In addition, you have censured a few of my recipe comments [ I never do negative or directing comments]……yet allow others [ usually “anonymous”] to write both negative, and personal remarks……I always wonder how these idiots get away with it. Sometimes they even cause the ratings to go lower on a recipe review as well. One of the best features of the recipes online is that most people accurately rate the recipes & it helps all of us get a better idea of how it will turn out. When you allow the idiots to make phony comments, they ruin it for all of us serious cooks.
    Finally Bob, I will let both you and Natalie know that I WAS a Food Network Panel member and felt pretty proud of that………..not anymore. You falsified the premise of that offshoot as well by allowing us to believe you actually listened or cared about our feedback. If you did, than we would see our old favorite show hosts with new material. We wouldn’t see this constant barrage of new people we could care less about watching as well as the show content you air. They never really have anything new to offer anyway.
    As the program director, in my opinion, your job should be to take something good & make it the best it can be instead of just adding more junk.
    These are my remarks. Do what you want with them.

    Addendum: 5-30-09
    I totally agree with Matthew Greenberg’s recent comments @ True/Slant.com…………and I guess a lot of others do as well. Just check the link @ SeriousEats.com: Memo to Food Network: Your programming is going rancid

    Mrs. Jackie Clonan

  7. collapse expand

    Great piece Matt. Really funny and spot on. I’ve heard through the grapevine that food network is doing a reality show with a real chef. It’s not exactly what you want, but perhaps a step in a better direction. Do you know if this is just a rumor or actually true? Keep up the good work!

  8. collapse expand

    Did Bob Tuschman respond? My sister and I want to start a fan page for him on Facebook.

  9. collapse expand

    You’ve identified the core of the Food Network problem of late — extremely bad programming.

    This is especially visible in Food Network’s nightime/prime time line up.

    The Food Network Challenge is just terrible. Matthew’s comments about Disney cakes, sadly, while meant to folk fun, is actually not too far from the truth. The show’s host has the personally of a rock and he has zero stage presence. And how many damn 6 foot cartoon cake shows can viewers stomach? It seems Food Network has an endless supply of these shows. If they must be aired, place them on Saturday/Sunday afternoons and for God’s sake, don’t produce/purchase any more of them!

    Unwrapped is also a truly disgusting program — it’s Howdy Doody host and the show’s aim to appeal to middle America by explaining in anguishing detail how a pretzel is made or taking 10 minutes to show viewers what salt water taffy is just falls flat. Again, Food Network obviously has an endless supply of these 22 minute disasters. If they must be aired, put them in between the Food Network Challenge shows on weekend afternoons.

    It doesn’t take a genius in television programming to realize that Food Network’s all too common prime time line up of three or four Unwrapped programs on one night or a three Food Network Challenges featuring cartoon character on the same night — which happens on a regular basis now — is just sad and forces viewers away.

    Mr. Tuckman, why not give us more old shows instead? For example, you’ve pulled out a few old “Iron Chef America (ICA)” and “Boy Meets Grill” programs, but good Lord, Food Network has hundreds of “old” cooking shows, beloved by foodies, that would be much better and could actually garner the viewing audience. It’s not hard to understand that there are MANY foodies who never saw some of your older shows — it wasn’t that long ago the Food Network viewing markets were much smaller.

    One has to wonder why Bob Tuckman lets this happen. Better yet, I wonder why Bob Tuckman is still in charge of programming at Food Network?

  10. collapse expand

    “How to Boil Water” saved me from endless diners of ramen noodles or boxed mac & cheese as a grad student.
    How I wish they’d just go back to the basics- in these times, a whole generation needs to learn how to pack cost-effective, nutritious lunches. Food Network just feels like another aging Gen-Xer.

  11. collapse expand

    there were so many problems with this essay that it’s cramping my brain and i don’t want to go through all of them.

    i’ll just say that you’re as good as michael moore, trying more to SEEM big rather than be big, what with the bullshit about saying “Bob”

    why couldn’t you just title this “i hate the next foodnetwork star”? the show does suck. but there are a LOT of shows that suck. and the fact that you like rachel ray nearly makes your point invalid.

    you don’t like the next foodnetwork star. and they shouldn’t have cancelled the shows you liked. what a LOOOOOONG way to go for that.

  12. collapse expand

    That’s the nice thing about Tivo: it will pluck good stuff (like, say, _Good Eats_) from wherever these benighted executives seek to dump them.

    But yeah, half the fun of the original _Iron Chef_ was all the odd Japanese ingredients they’d use.. Squid ink sorbet? Jinkies!!

  13. collapse expand

    I agree with your thoughts, but feel you left out one BIG piece of what remains of Food Network’s appeal.

    Alton Brown. He not only teaches you how to roast a chicken, but WHY you’re roasting a chicken that way. Thus, instead of simply following a recipe, you are learning how meat reacts when cooked a certain way, and can apply some or all of that knowledge to roasting other things. While laughing at his corny puns all the way through.

    Now that Mario has moved on, Brown is the only reason to watch, and your only opportunity to LEARN something beyond how to follow a recipe….

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