Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Story That Won't Die, and the Network That Might

Now that The Next Food Network Star Finale is almost two weeks old, you'd think that people have, largely speaking, forgotten about the network's ridiculous decision to bounce the top two candidates in favor of the "winner," Aaron McCargo Jr.

If that's what you'd think, then you'd be wrong.

People are still tweaked over this fiasco, and the shit keeps hitting the fan. The noise has been brung in the comments of a variety of blogs, including SideDish and several others. The problem, as per usual, is that race is, apparently, a factor. For me, I think Aaron was the least qualified of the three finalists, but there are plenty of people -- on both sides of the fence -- who claim race either is directly responsible for the network's choice or that it has nothing to do with it, which means it has everything to do with it. Put another way, people who claim that race is a major factor why Aaron won are being taken to task for being racist by people who think that race has nothing whatsoever to do with Aaron having been chosen.

Me -- I think it's partially responsible. Despite "racial profiling" being a no-no on clipboards belonging to state troopers, marketing departments regularly go after ethnic markets, whether they are latino, african-american or even eastern european. Judging by the direction the Food Network has been going, it wouldn't shock me if Aaron was chosen in part to cull African-American viewers. And frankly, anyone who doesn't admit to seeing this trend in part is either blind or willfully ignoring the obvious.

But I digress.

The newest news -- at least newest to me, anyway -- is that after the furious uproar over Aaron's "victory," it was leaked that Adam apparently will be getting his own show on the network after all. Apparently his show will be called "Will Work for Food" and he'll be put in all sorts of food industry-related positions, in theory playing off his quasi-pathetic admission during The Next Food Network Star competition that since he and his brother lost their restaurant, the shot at Food Network stardom was basically it for him.

Of course, while this upcoming show -- about which I was advised by my other half, Kaia -- is a step in the right direction (ie righting the monumental screw-up perpetrated by NFNS two Sundays ago) -- what bothers me is this show looks, sounds and smells a lot like another Food Network show called Glutton for Punishment with Bob Blumer. What really is interesting, of course, is that link brings you to a page showing Bobby B. prepping an Adam Gertler specialty: beer can chicken.


While we're on the topic of the Food Network cannibalizing itself, I've concurred with a number of observations suggesting their new show "Ask Aida" seems very similar to the concept Adam offered up in his NFNS demo. The former is a show asking people to send mail, e-mail, text messages or faxes to "Aida" asking for help cooking a recipe or perfecting a technique, whereas Adam's concept was to have a viewer connected via webcam to Adam in his kitchen during his broadcasts. To me, the concepts are pretty much mirror images of one another. The chicken, the egg...doesn't really matter which came first, it just seems like Adam authored the idea and the Food Network -- clearly coming up short in the creativity department -- jumped on it.

Speaking of Food Network cannibalism, I've heard from a number of people both herein and elsewhere that Ted Allen (formerly of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and current Iron Chef America Judge Emeritus) starring in a new show called Food Detectives on, you guessed it, the Food Network, is a thorough rip-off of Alton Brown's Good Eats.

Let me just put this out there: whether or not you like cooking and care about what you're putting in your body, if you don't enjoy watching Good Eats then there's something wrong with you. Mr. Brown combines funny, facts and cooking -- in an unabashed, self-deprecating, geek hipster dufus style -- in a tight, always-entertaining 30-minute package. Not only is his show one of the best on the Food Network, it's by far one of the best shows on TV.

So why would the Food Network tamper with it by copying it with "Food Detectives" or anything else?

Well, the concept is that if something works, you go with it; therefore, rather than try and come up with something new -- clearly something which the Food Network has consistently failed in their attempts thereat -- but they figure that Ted Allen, who is very knowledgeable about food and also very personable, might be a good second to Alton Brown, who has been stretched thin with his appearances on other shows and Food Network-related appearances on and off TV.

The problem is, by doing this -- basically ripping off shows (whether said shows being ripped off are successful or not) is a shitty way to run a network. Granted, it's worked for Law and Order and CSI -- those franchises are running so frequently on so many different networks it's hard to keep track of which ones are current and which ones are repeats. However, I'm not alone in believing the rip-offs are a sign that the creative minds at the Food Network are in decline -- if they are still employed at the Network at all -- and by copying their own shows with different names and sets, it's a bit insulting to the viewer. No offense to Ted Allen -- but Alton Brown is one of the greatest people on television these days. Why would anyone want to watch a show that seemingly rips off his show?

The answer is: no one wants to watch that show.

It amazes me that the powers that be at the Food Network seem to be the only ones who simply and absolutely fail to get it.

They fucked up The Next Food Network Star -- on several levels (not just in choosing the least-qualified candidate but by -- oopsy -- announcing the winner online three DAYS before the finale aired);

They are copying their own shows with little or no creative tweaking, resulting in carbon-copies which split, confuse and/or irritate viewers rather than bringing in more;

And finally, they are dismissing and/or losing quality people: Mario Batali is following Emeril out the door (and of course, their ability to alienate a food-related superstar in Anthony Bourdain is amazing in its stupidity). I have nothing against Bobby Flay; he seems like a decent guy. It's just that of the 12 or so people on the network, Bobby Flay is one of the few people who is actually cooking -- and teaching viewers how to do so -- on his shows.

Um...speaking of which, Bobby Flay comprises more than half the network's broadcast (this past Saturday night, Bobby Flay shows were broadcast from 8PM to 4AM). WTF?

What really bothers me is that I'm not some sort of investigative genius, uncorking some conspiracy like Woodward and Bernstein. A huge number of people are seeing the same inconsistencies I'm seeing, and they're asking the same questions.

What's worse? Knowing that all these significant mistakes are pervasive and obvious, or knowing that as they build exponentially, the network could, in theory, disappear?

There's one question whose answer still evades me.


Patti's Parlor said...

I think the FN PTB wouldn't know a fresh idea if it smacked them in the face. They had a fresh idea (Beautiful Basics with Lisa Garza) but she was "too ridged and the fans wouldn't like her" Emmmm, did you ASK the fans?
I think someone said Bobby is part owner in FN. I wouldn't be surprised.

Boogie said...

Wellums, like a friend suggested the other day, it's very possible the extended Bobby Flay-fest (Saturday night) was a "special" type of circumstance. But either way, inasmuch as I don't really dislike his shows, it's clear there's a lot of change happening at the network.

I think Lisa's going to be doing a show for another network. At this point, I'd put more stock (no pun intended) in Tony Bourdain's assertion that The Food Network is striving for mediocrity than the standards they betrayed over the course of this NFNS competition.

O well. Nothing gold can stay...'specially if it's electroplated ;-)

hoosierstace said...

I agree with most of this... two things though. Adam didn't pitch the webcam idea, he actually just wanted people to send in their recipes by email and he'd then use his show to put his own take on it. It was the network that threw in the webcam twist and it seemed to really throw Adam off. while I generally agree that TNFNS sucked, FN should get some credit for that idea since they basically lobbed it at Adam when his own idea needed a little more flair.

As for Food Detectives, I've watched two episodes of it and I much prefer Alton, but these are two different shows. Ted's show is basically a "mythbusters" for food. I'd probably like it more if Alton hosted it, and if it wasn't so obviously scripted, but in general I like the idea for the show and don't think it was such a bad idea for FN.

I was so disappointed with the wrap-of of TNFNS. Colossal let-down.

Boogie said...

Actually, I don't remember if it was him who wanted people in the kitchen with him via webcam or if it was Gordon who suggested it, but either way, the way you described it mirrors the Aida show's concept even more. Her show mentions -- god knows why -- text messages too; I don't remember the last time I whipped out my Blackberry to request some emergency culinary assistance ("Help, I'm at my in-laws and need the recipe for Bananas Foster STAT!"). A little odd and a bit cannibalistic, but as they say in Chinatown, hoonose.

I think the webcam thing did throw him off because the woman on the other end kept interrupting him, although I think he acquitted himself really well both as a performer and as a cook. I'd prolly dump the whole webcam idea and just have him do a straight-up, virtual "Rescue Chef" thing, but alas, Danny "Lilliputian" Boome is already doing that. The solution, of course, is to mix and match.

Have Jon Doe or Jane Doe send in their requests for help, and then send John Cameraman to his/her place (or John/Jane do a webcam message to Adam); play it back at the top of the show. Then Adam makes his Chicken a la Prune or whatever; then at the end, hook up with the webcammer live for 20 seconds. It's sort of like Rescue Chef without interaction and interruption, which would make the show go a lot smoother and I think would accomplish the same goal of helping people, incorporating the Internet, and would show him hitting the kitchen, checking his e-mail, helping someone, doing his thing, and then leaving the kitchen (with dirty dishes in the sink, natch).

That's got to be better than another Gotta-Fail show like "Glutton for Punishment" 2.

As for the Food Detectives show, you wrote: "Ted's show is basically a 'mythbusters.'"

Exactly -- the problem, of course, is that Alton Brown/Good Eats have done two "Mythbusters" shows. Essentially, I think they took a page out of the Good Eats book and lifted it. The kick in the happies, of course, is that I like Ted Allen and I think he really does know his stuff, but I wish they didn't encroach on something as established -- and far from needing any help -- like Good Eats.

I agree with you about the NFNS being a colossal let-down; they really managed to screw up.

As it stands, this fiasco shows why Top Chef is such an excellent hour of TV. Even if you disagree with the Top Chef judges on occasion, you know that integrity, for the most part, dictates who wins. I wasn't a big fan of Hung's but I can't argue that he was probably the best of that year's bunch and performed the best. Similarly, this past year, Richard was the best of that bunch but he really blew it in the final and Stephanie deserved to win. It's all relative, and it's pretty simple: create a set of rules and stick with them.

The Food Network has lost Emeril, Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck and added Aaron, McCargo Jr., the Neelys and Sunny Anderson.

The faces of their network, clearly, are Bobby Flay and Rachel Ray.

If I worked for the Food Network I'd start searching for resume stationary.

Kaia said...

Alton Brown is perhaps the best thing on Food Network - I'm not a huge fan of Ted's show. I'll give it a try though. I'll watch Adam - I think he's likeable - but as I've said before - won't be turning in for Aaron's show.

So are you saying if FN was a bracelet - it would turn my wrist green? LOL! nice :)