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GUEST BLOG #68: Tom Brinkmoeller Samples Two Very Different TV Cooking Shows: Pot Roast vs. Truffles
December 19, 2009  | By Tom Brinkmoeller
 

[Bianculli here: Contributing writer Tom Brinkmoeller's specialty is finding, enjoying, and finding out more about shows on the fringes, especially on public television. In his latest column, he presents two more, both of which sound delicious...]


City- and Country-Mouse Food Shows Light Up Public-TV Schedules from Different Perspectives

They're extremely dissimilar, these two worth-watching public-television food programs: America's Test Kitchen, soon to begin its 10th season, rarely leaves the kitchen and its staff works long hours to discover the best recipes, ingredients and kitchen ware and share the findings. Meanwhile, the brand-new Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth takes viewers to cooking schools around the world and, like its sister series Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie, is as much about people and destinations as it is about the growing and preparation of food.

The first embodies the New England practicality of its founder and host, the always-bow-tied, Yankee-skeptical Christopher Kimball. The other is so New York, with its jet-to destinations and lineup of celebrities who happily accompanied host Ruth Reichl on these trips.

One show is pot roast and pie -- albeit the best; the other, truffles and Courvoisier.

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Program personalities aside, the two do share some interesting similarities. The largest may be that each sprang from the ashes of a dead magazine. Kimball started Cook's magazine in 1980 as an advertising-supported publication. In a very competitive niche market, it survived until 1989. Four years later, Kimball went rogue -- in the minds of those who think print exists for advertising's sake -- by starting Cook's Illustrated, an ad-less magazine that could put its readers first by reporting its research about products and wares without risking a revenue backlash. Six year's later, following the same public-first philosophy, America's Test Kitchen was begun.

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Gourmet magazine, after more than 50 years of publishing, recently was put to sleep by its owner, Conde Nast Publications (part of the Newhouse family of ink-and-paper businesses -- once an owner of Cook's magazine before it could no longer stand the heat and got out of that kitchen). Reichl was Gourmet's editor-in-chief until its disappearance, and the deal made for this new series stayed on track, even after the news that the magazine had been canned.

"It's a bigger brand than just a magazine," Executive Producer Laurie Donnelly said, explaining the Conde Nast people wanted the Gourmet name to remain on the series.

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The other big similarity is how each program makes food and cooking approachable. Though celebrities like Lorraine Bracco, Diane Weist and Tom Skerritt share the screen with Reichl over the initial season's 10 episodes, the attitude is down-to-earth and viewer-friendly. Each episode is as informative as it is fun and easy-to-watch. Reichl's food credentials are huge, and she wanted the series to reflect the same style and standards people loved in the magazine she led.

Perhaps no cooking show is better at explaining both the science and art of good food than America's Test Kitchen. Before a recipe gets on the air, many variations are tested repeatedly until the best one is found. That's more easily done than it would be for most cooking shows, because the impressive kitchens and full-time staff seen on television are the same ones that support the magazine year-round.

And the television show has the same editorial purity as its parent magazine. Like all public-television series, it accepts no advertising. But Kimball keeps the wall between content and marketing high by making sure the program's underwriters' products would never have an opportunity to show up on the air, says Jack Bishop, the magazine's editorial director and the man on the series who takes Kimball through the weekly blind product taste tests.

Cook's Illustrated showed editorial independence could pay off. Bishop said after only publishing two issues its subscriber list was larger than Cook's, its predecessor. America's Test Kitchen averaged a hefty 1.71 million viewers per show in 2009 -- up from 1.59 the year before, according to show publicity.

The Reichl series, though currently on the air in some cities, has yet to arrive in others. Look for it where you live. With the kind of viewer support it deserves, it also one day could celebrate 10 years on the air.

[For more information, visit the America's Test Kitchen website HERE, and the Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth website HERE.]

--

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Tom Brinkmoeller, who once wrote for one of the many branches of the Newhouse conglomerate, wonders if General Motors will follow the Conde Nast example and lend the names "Oldsmobile," "Pontiac," "Saturn," "Saab" and/or "Hummer" to a TV series.



2 Comments

 

JR said:

2009 - 1941 = 68

Yes, that's more than 50, but....

Comment posted on December 19, 2009 11:54 AM


Lee said:

America's Test Kitchen averaged a hefty 1.71 million viewers per show in 2009 -- up from 1.59 the year before, according to show publicity.

And yet my local PBS station seems to have dropped it. {sigh} I love this show.

Comment posted on December 21, 2009 11:32 AM
 
 
 
 
 
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