Death to The Food Network

Yesterday’s post garnered a comment from a friend on IM that I neglected to mention how the Food Network has generally degraded into a steaming pile of excrement. I wasn’t sure that that needed to be brought up because it’s pretty self-evident. Then again, someone over there is making it that way, and doesn’t realize they’re doing it (or worse, thinks they’re doing something good). So let’s just get to the reason for this, and then pick through a few examples of general suckiness, and then wrap up with the inevitable suggestion to fire everybody who works there.

I have a sense of how the Food Network started because I saw a lecture given by the founder, someone over at the Providence Journal. This was many years ago, and I forget the guy’s name, but he was old and had a shaved head. He was in retirement or just about to be ten years ago, if that helps anybody find him.

In any event, the Providence Journal, yes, that’s the hometown newspaper of Providence, RI, was deeply involved in the cable TV industry. Mostly, they had started buying/launching local cable distributors in municipal markets under the Pioneer brand, or maybe it was Pilgrim. In any event, he discussed how the cable companies would trade these municipalities in order to get geographically contiguous areas, and how the Providence Journal had become one of the larger players in the industry. I seem to remember that they owned Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, for example.

At some point, they felt that they’d maxed out their opportunities owning cable companies, and they felt they should be able to leverage their distribution network to launch some channels of their own. I forget what else they launched at that time, but at the time they also launched the Food Network. The rationale for launching it was simple. Cable television provided an opportunity to create single subject networks where previously only shows existed on general purpose networks. And in analyzing the competitive landscape of cable networks that existed at the time, it was apparent to management that cooking shows had not yet been turned into a network of their own. So they took advantage of that opportunity and launched.

I should emphasize that this guy was NO FOODIE. He was an old school marketing guy (in the best sense of the word). He analyzed a market, saw an opportunity, and sought to fill it. He even said that his colleagues laughed at him for starting it, but he was armed with facts and figures, about how many people were out there that would want to watch such a network. And of course, he was vindicated. The network was a success, and eventually became included on every cable operator’s channel line up. Some years later, the Providence Journal decided to divest themselves from the cable business, and sold the Food Network. It is currently owned by Primedia.

In light of its humble origins, it’s easy to see why the Food Network was the way it was when it started out. Undoubtedly, Emeril wound up on it because of his connection to the Providence/Fall River area. Indeed, it seemed that if you were a decent chef who could make it to the Food Network studios, you could have a show. Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, both made it on that way. And of course, as a startup, everything had to be on a budget. So they didn’t do much other than cook on camera, explaining what they were doing.

Which is really all a true foodie could ever ask for in a cooking show.

So what happened to the Food Network is what happens to all such successful media properties: the food people got crowded out by the media people, and the network tanked because it’s being run by flashy fad chasers (witness MTV or any one of a number of cable networks). Shows about how to cook like a chef were replaced by shows by people who weren’t chefs at all, geared to people who don’t know how to do the most basic things. I have no issue with shows geared to newbies, but you really have to wonder whether such people are really going to be interested in watching the Food Network at all.

The answer, of course, is that they might be if they’re channel surfing. So what the tv people do is they turn the network on its head. The network that was founded to be a specialized vertical now tries to become a generalist in the hopes of attracting a larger audience. In the process, it becomes just another channel. The dream of replacing the big three networks with specialized vertical channels becomes replaced with mildly themed channels that are about as generalist as the big three networks always were.

The problem, of course, is that limited distribution available on cable by definition limits available competition to keep the Food Network in line. While I could open my own food website if I wanted to, I can never open my own competing network to show up the Food Network, because I’ll never get access to the distribution channel. So people continue to watch the Food Network because it’s what’s there, even though it sucks worse and worse as time goes by.

Of course, even that has its limits. The best commercially produced food show right now is Top Chef, and even it isn’t all THAT great. But at least other networks are trying to take Food’s lunch (No Reservations, Hell’s Kitchen, etc,). It may actually wind up happening altogether. In may ways, the distribution channel is the most valuable thing that the Food Network has, and if the Food Network loses all its fans, you can trust that the television types who currently run the place will never blame themselves. Rather than firing the management boobs running the place now (as they should), they’ll say, “Well, that fad ended, how about turning the channel into another reality network or something”. And that will be the end of that. Food Network becomes TNT, or Spike TV, or whatever the heck it is these days.

And so I’m happy to call for death to the Food Network. Let’s end the absurdity of fake “Food Network Star” shows, of Iron Chefs with no accomplishments to their name outside the Food Network, of busty bimbos making half-assed food from factory produced pseudo-ingredients, and over-gesticulating loudmouths who use absurd and annoying cutsie expressions instead of an actual culinary vocabulary. The real talent they once had has by and large left to do their own thing on the Internet anyway.

Long live the Internet. Death to the Food Network.


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