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Sunday, 8 March 2015

By Diverting Their Attentions Away From Cooking, Reality TV Driven Food Network Is Scrapping The Barrel

Food Network is my get- go when it comes to my fix of culinary programmes, but during the past couple of years, the channel has seen a huge slump in programming standards as it caters towards the reality TV format. 

Yes, unfortunately, suffice to say, Food Network today has jumped the shark. 

Though I do enjoy the pleasures of cooking and therapeutic element it instills in me, I am not a really brilliant cook. I can make fried rice, noodles, stir fries, make spaghetti bolognese using pasta sauce in a jar. As well as roast a chicken in the oven, steam food & that's as far as it goes. 

But I still have an interest in food, as well as being curious about regional cuisine, and Food Network has been my staple for good, quality dishes that aren't full of calories, cholesterol & other crap.  

So what has changed since then, and why have these programming standards taken such a huge downturn during the last 3 or 4 years? 

Food Network's quality has diminished 

For the exception of Chinese Food Made Easy, Nigella Lawson & a few other cookery shows, there are far too many food contest and reality food programmes that rely on sensationalism, egos and personalities - TV chefs and food people have to have huge personalities to draw in audiences & to sell that image of food to us. But when this is at the expense of putting food aside, this is when it is no longer about food, or the quality of the food any more. It just renders it irrelevant. 

A show such as Grocery Wars would be better suited on a game show channel, rather than on Food Network. It is one of the numerous examples of shows Food Network has been bombarding viewers with, where the importance of cooking, as a staple of culinary learning, understanding and its relationship with food & culture, has completely gone out of the window. 

The reality TV food contests - Next Iron Chef, Chopped and that Rachel Ray & Guy Fieri Celebrity cooking competition, Rachel vs Guy Celebrity Cook-Off, as well as the 'save my failing restaurant/food business' shows, Man vs Food & Mystery Diners, & Kitchen Cousins - all of which have little to do with food -, take up way too much airtime. Ideally, these shouldn't be on Food Network. In contrast, The Cooking Channel and the UK Food channel on Sky television focus on cooking and the creation of recipes by chefs. At the end of the day, people tune into food channels to be inspired to cook and take an interest in food. 

These specialist lifestyle food channels are supposed to encourage people to fire up the stove, to take out their kitchen utensils and ingredients and create food from scratch. But instead, what we get is bickering, shows that are more about the personalities than the food and casual dining that is resorted to visiting fast food joints & eating increasing amounts of fries, burgers, steaks, fried chicken etc. 

Author of 'From Scratch: Inside The Food Network' Allen Salkin sees Food Network's focus on junk food cooking as a sign of decline in programming standards for a channel that previously championed the standards of American food culture & culinary skills & to help shed the 'fast food' stereotype image the country has been lauded with. He says the executives are just rehashing the same old stuff, over and over with little or no change in its shows, & present more ways to make ourselves fatter, sick.... and ill. 

Talk about scrapping the barrel. 

Whatever happened to having shows that talked about food, the creation of dishes and recipes and food culture? Shows that had chefs teaching you how to cook from scratch.

Food Network is trying to become trendy & more casual and attracting the younger generation, with little content and emphasis on cooking. Plus, the network executives have trouble finding good cooks with great personalities & of whom are passionate about cuisine to carry and host a show of their own, - & not prattling on like most of them do. 

The channel needs to evolve, as it still has a long way to go. The current schedule is too reliant on back to back repeats of Guy Fieri, shows on rescuing and revamping struggling restaurants and bakeries and these incessant cooking competition programmes. These types of shows are about the individuals, and less so on the craft and the understanding of what food & cooking really means to us. 

Food Network is treading a fine line between reality TV and dressing up cooking as this hip and fashionable thing. In most cases though, this idea isn't working. The Food Network U.S shows are guilty of doing this, whereas in stark contrast, Food Network UK's TV shows focus much more on the food. In spite of the channel being the poorer, second-rate cousin to UK Food. One of Food Network UK's better shows in its line-up is 'The Big Eat'. Celebrity chefs from a range of culinary fields create a menu that features a range of recipes that aren't full of preservatives, grease & fat. 

Just because it is a free-to-air channel doesn't (& shouldn't) mean programmes have to be reduced to reality show shenanigans & fast food fare. 

It is also worth noting that the American food shows specializing in regional American cuisine on Food Network UK and Food Network in America, have seen a worrying decline, in recent years. However, a few of the current shows that do manage to cover this particular area are Barefoot Contessa and Pioneer Woman. Which isn't all bad news. 

If it was up to me & I was in charge of Food Network for the British market, I would get rid of a lot of the current reality TV- based programming that airs today and replace them with programmes about food; whether that is preparing and cooking food, or exploring the history, origins and cultures of food around the world. My ideal food network channel listing would have less of the reality - show, type of food programmes and cooking contests, and more shows on cooking & documentary, informative shows on food. 

There will be less, or no shows such as Diners, Drive - Ins and Dives that showcase fast food establishments serving greasy, fat-dripping burgers, fried chicken, fries. 

It would include shows from UK Food and the Cooking Channel, as well as from other countries. For the British edition, many of the shows would be home- grown related. 

Food Network's standards doesn't have to gravitate to the lowest common denominator, - it shouldn't have to resort to shows that deviate from the channel's original premise since its inception, back in the late 1990s. Yet insofar as many Food Network viewers are concerned, this has been coming in recent years, & the channel executives have allowed its standards to slip. 

This needs to stop, it has to change; because otherwise, more and more people will switch off in their droves.

When that happens - should Food Network go off the air for good, the executives and producers of the shows on Food Network has no one to blame, but themselves. 

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