When Scripps Networks bails on Fine Living to create its all-cooking-all-the-time Cooking Channel a year from now, it will have a significant challenge on its hands. Food television, as it has evolved on PBS, the Food Network and elsewhere, with the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali riding shotgun, features as much travel as preparation and consumption.
Consider the next food show to debut: “Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth.” The half-hour show, produced by WGBH Boston, premieres this Saturday. Host Ruth Reichl (top editor of Gourmet until Conde Nast blew out the magazine’s pilot light a week ago) jet-sets to foodie hotbeds in the 10 episodes, an opportunity for American Airlines to tout its wares.
These days, if viewers see a kitchen studio on TV, odds are there’s a timer, racing chefs and a set of judges waiting to taste hastily assembled dishes. The Cooking Channel has a chance to change that.
Scripps, which already owns the Food Network, is probably fully aware that the show format the network was built on — guys cooking and making it entertaining — has disappeared from the platform. Here is another opportunity to create a new generation of Emerils and Marios, a feat the food shows have yet to accomplish. But beyond creating new stars, The Cooking Channel needs a distinct approach that separates it from the Food Network and gives it a level of exclusivity, a place to be entertained and educated.
Not that I’m jockeying for a job in programming, but here are a few unsolicited ideas.
Strike deals with PBS. “Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth” is just the latest cooking show to emerge from Public Broadcasting Service. PBS’ vaults include shows featuring the likes of Lidia Bastianich (excellent) and Charlie Trotter (it got better as it went along) that deserve a second life.
Everybody loves Julia. The Cooking Channel will launch nine or 10 months after the release of “Julie & Julia” on DVD, but if the film has a presence at the Oscars, interest in Julia Child should remain alive. “The French Chef” marathons! More than that, the subtitle of the “Jacques and Julia” show should be the channel’s motto — cooking at home.
Remember the home kitchen. Restaurant chefs lend star appeal, but it would be nice to see one person at work with just four burners and an oven that does not go above 500 F. Create shows by home cooks for home cooks.
Enroll us in Cooking U. We’re all at different points in our expertise/comfort levels in the kitchen. Some of us will gladly make three sauces at once but blanch at the mention of a rolling pin and dough. (That’s me.) Break down the programming for different levels to enhance its value across the board.
Dinner parties. It seems as if every list of tips I read on the Internet is full of the obvious. It’s the one activity every home chef wants to do either better or different every time out. Find a hip version of Martha Stewart and you’ll have your first star.
Add adventure. The Food Network built its base on three food groups: The cuisines of Louisiana and Italy and grilled chicken. We’re all ready to go other places. Asia. South America. Philadelphia. Find the chefs to bring those foods to us in an engaging manner.
Limit the competitions. Let the others do that. Add a couple of shows that open doors for non-professionals. An American version of the BBC’s “Last Restaurant Standing”? Sweet.
Keep Andrea Immer-Robinson. She had one of Fine Living’s finest shows, “Simply Wine.” There were times it looked too heavily subsidized by a featured winery, but Immer-Robinson consistently made wine approachable for novices and spoke about wine in its relationship to food. There is a short supply of beverage programming so …
Give Gary Vaynerchuk a show. The animated Gary V, director of operations at the Wine Library in New Jersey, has shot more than 700 web episodes bubbling with enthusiasm for wine and the New York Jets. He’s the anti-Robert Parker, devoid of attitude. He should be brought to the next level.