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The new Cooking Channel is Half-Baked
August 3, 2010  | By Tom Brinkmoeller
 
[Bianculli here: The former Fine Living Network has downsized with the times, and now presents itself as The Cooking Channel. Contributing writer Tom Brinkmoeller has seen the new incarnation, and posed questions to network representatives, and still finds both the channel's programming, and the slogan, somewhat lacking...]

'Staying Hungry' Isn't Difficult When There's Not Much Substance on the Menu

julia-childz.jpgIf someone regularly told you to "Stay Hungry!," would you wonder about the sentiment's meaning? Would you doubt the meaning if the wish were to "Stay Unemployed!" or "Stay Destitute!"?

Nonetheless, "Stay Hungry" is the signature line of a new cable network called Cooking Channel. The context of the "hungry," it's safe to guess, is meant to encourage continued curiosity about cooking.

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Like the legendary Chevy Nova Latin America ads that lured hardly any Spanish-speaking buyers because "nova" translated as "it doesn't go" and the KFC "finger-lickin' good" ads that translated in Chinese to "eat your fingers off," "stay hungry" appears to have been given little forethought.

(Just to keep you globally positioned, this little-known new entry recently replaced the equally obscure Fine Living Network. Both are Scripps Networks creations, the latter given life during the once-booming economy. Fine Living's motto, during the boom days, could have been "Keep Spending," and it's appropriate that a network that celebrated dot-com wealth has been replaced by one that seems to be saying "Buy groceries or pay the mortgage: Stay Hungry or Stay Homeless. Take your pick.")

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Cooking Channel is worth watching -- at times. Its standout programs also happen to be graying with age, having premiered many years ago. A Julia Child public-TV series from the 1960s and early '70s, The French Chef, is the oldest, and could have been the best thing on the network. It's classic Child live-to-tape cooking, mistakes and all. It's also cooking techniques and preparations that still are being passed off as new and groundbreaking by some TV chefs. And it's lovingly unpretentious.

Many of the episodes presented so far, unfortunately, have been edited with the finesse of a sloppy butcher. Chunks of programs have been sacrificed for added commercial time, and the breaks for those commercials often show up at totally inappropriate times.

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Graham Kerr's 1969-71 Galloping Gourmet series, a very popular show at the time, also can be seen each weekday afternoon. It's just as much fun to watch as it was when it was first-run. Kerr works in front of and to an audience (think Emeril Live), is a talented chef, and is just as talented as a clever entertainer. He worked without a script, often misplaced his notes, and keeps audiences laughing with inventive ad-lib humor. Because this series was produced for use on commercial stations, the edits aren't as deep or misplaced.

Other Cooking Channel gems are reappearances of series that ran years ago on the Scripps Networks' Food Network, such as Molto Mario, Melting Pot, Food 911 and Tyler's Ultimate. These series featured established and credentialed chefs, and the last two were examples of when Food Network once put its hosts on the road to bring viewers closer to food stories.

Food Network's early days were marked by marquee-level chef-hosts, and programs that had very visible travel budgets (Ming Tsai, Mario Batali, Tyler Florence, Gordon Elliott and others traveled to spots all over the globe). A request to find out how many former Food Network series may show up in the future on Cooking Channel went unanswered. Like waiting for a bus in a blizzard, a fan of these old shows just has to stand in the cold and see if anything ever shows up, it seems. Or give up and go someplace better.

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Other programs aren't new -- just new to the U.S. Nothing to date stands out as inventive. Promos for several of these shows share a common trait: hosts who juggle, and one juggler who is touted as having many tattoos. Perhaps tattoos are the cosmetic equivalent of grill marks: brandings that don't add to or take away from a food's quality level. What juggling translates to in culinary skills is an equally vague concept.

A question about how much of the current schedule is original also went unanswered. As for the new network's "Stay Hungry" slogan, and its possible misinterpretation, that question was sidestepped: " 'Stay Hungry' is the rallying cry for the passionate food lovers that seek more instruction, the exploration into topics not yet explored at this level and more culinary talent."

Announced new series are: Emeril's Fresh Food Fast; Cook Like an Iron Chef with Michael Symon; Spice Goddess with Bal Arneson; Brunch @ Bobby's with Bobby Flay, and A Week in a Day with Rachael Ray.

Maybe this new programming eventually will help Cooking Channel develop a singular personality. But for now, it's a network made up of parts borrowed from all kinds of sources. Some are attractive, some are slightly worn pieces that didn't have much luster to begin with, and the rest just seem to be taking up space.

It's not much of a buffet. Hence, perhaps, the true origin of "stay hungry."

 

6 Comments

 

Chris Collins said:

My wife saw the French Chef on Cooking Channel and was so excited that she kept checking back and couldn't find any real rhyme or reason to the scheduling.

Ultimately, it's just a weird thing that the same people who run Food Network decided to introduce another food-themed network to compete with it?

Comment posted on August 3, 2010 1:19 PM


Lee said:

I'm very happy to see Julia Child in her French Chef and And Company incarnations. I'd not seen her shows before. I'm also happy to see Feasting on Asphalt again. I'll probably watch that one as long as they show it.

Otherwise...more Rachael Ray? Really? Blech.

Comment posted on August 3, 2010 3:38 PM


Jon88 said:

Granted, FoodCrafters and Unique Eats are direct descendants of Unwrapped and The Best Thing I Ever Ate, but they're still fun. And they get enormous good will from me for their airing of Feasting on Asphalt, a spectacular series that I managed to miss on Food Network and is beyond the reach of Netflix.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 11:28 AM


Tausif Khan said:

Mario Batali severed ties with the Food Network because the vision of the network was that food is the glue that holds the nation together. Batali believes that it is and can be art special because of the ideas of the person who makes it. This is why Batali looked for historical and artitic influences. Tom, Have you done a review of Spain...On the Road Again? A great show. I heard in an interview with Anthony Bourdain that Batali was going to get his own show on the travel channel where Batali would be "unleashed" because Batali would be able to take about mediteranean history art architecture in influencing food. What happened with the show?

I was wondering if the travel channel is also owned by the food network because the shows on the travel channel mirror the structure of that of the food network. I wishes to fetishize food. Its goal is to get people to consume the fatiest, artery clogging food because to them that is America. Case in Point: http://www.travelchannel.com/TV_Shows/Man_V_Food, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_v._Food.

As a person who is overweight I find this type of programing offensive.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 5:06 PM


Tom Brinkmoeller said:

Chris: The network's programmers are interchanging "The French Chef" and "Julia Child and Company" -- with no logical pattern (currently rerunning episodes shown weeks earlier). They air weekdays at 2 p.m. (Eastern).
Lee & Jon88: "Feasting on Asphalt" was a high-quality series, the kind of thing one associates with everything Alton Brown has done on Food Network. Since the programmers wouldn't answer my question about older series getting another run on Cooking Channel, we'll all have to just watch and wait. Or not.
Tausif: I am no fan of the Travel Channel's ugly-eating brand of food programming. I take a shot at it in my next TVWW piece, which may pop up when least expected. I did mention the Spain series in a story I did about Mark Bittman--where Bittman mentioned the executive producer of the series was hoping to do another. Here's the link
http://www.tvworthwatching.com/blog/2009/11/guest-blog-61-tom-brinkmoeller.shtml#comments
And, yes, Travel Channel -- to which Anthony Bourdain fled when he could no longer take Food Network (he's made no secret of his dislike) -- was part of a deal that recently put Travel Channel in Scripps' hands -- and Bourdain back in an unhappy frying pan/fire.

Comment posted on August 4, 2010 6:51 PM


Tausif Khan said:

Tom Thanks for the response I have read the Bittman piece I think. I am excited and can't wait for your next piece as well as the Spain Road Trip. I hope that Claudia Bassols will be along for the ride again. Maybe HBO is next for Bourdain?

Comment posted on August 6, 2010 1:47 AM
 
 
 
 
 
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