If you think that food-oriented television couldn't get any worse or lowbrow than Sandra Lee's infamous Kwanzaa cake or the frosted tips of Guy Fieri traveling the nation in search of burgers, burgers and more mediocre burgers, you're in for a shock: There is much worse programming on the menu.
Replacing the Fine Living network on May 31 will be The Cooking Channel, a spinoff from the Food Network, which is almost singlehandedly responsible for the dumbing down of cooking shows and the introduction of the abhorrent concept of "celebrity chefs."
The network executives promise that The Cooking Channel will be both "low-key" and "hipper," but in the same breath touts shows that feature the likes of Mo Rocca and food blogger Lisa Lillien, whose philosophy towards food is so staggeringly unhealthy it makes Paula Deen look like Alice Waters. The New York Times described it best in its article today on the new network: "Ms. Lillien has criticized as unrealistic those who suggest dieters stick to fresh foods sold in the perimeter aisles of the supermarket. Her recipes unapologetically suggest ingredients like no-fat Pringles and Cool Whip."
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A glimmer of hope comes from news that The Cooking Channel will not only be featuring programs that show actual people, not "personalities," cooking and -- gasp! -- breaking chickens' necks (how do you think the chickens get onto our plates, people?) but reruns of time-honored shows from Graham Kerr (remember The Galloping Gourmet?) and Julia Child.
As for the decision to plunge yet another food-oriented channel into an already saturated market, it seems to have been an easy one to make. Although it didn't make sense for the network executives at Scripps (The Food Network's parent company, which also owns HGTV and the DIY Network) to continue running a channel like Fine Living during a recession -- "No, we can't afford that yacht either; why are we watching this again?" -- they also realized that they were routinely being beaten in both ratings and critical appeal by networks like Bravo and The Travel Channel, neither of which previously had any claim to food programming before shows like Top Chef and No Reservations.
The Cooking Channel hopes to recapture the audience that fled The Food Network in the face of Rachael Ray's saccharine sweet, OTT (that's what we imagine she'd call over the top) personality and Paula Deen's gaping maw and recipes for fudge with Velveeta in them, in search of more authentic shows about food, not about the people making it.
Call us traditionalists, but you can still find those shows on television and you don't even have to purchase a cable package. PBS still runs the finest cooking shows on TV every Saturday morning, from the reliable Yan Can Cook to the highly instructional America's Test Kitchen. And if you still want "personalities" in your food shows, Jose Andres and Lidia Bastianich will serve that up along with a heaping portion of real cooking knowledge, with a dash of sociological and historical seasoning mixed in, not a how-to on sticking taper candles into a storebought angel food cake, then pouring Corn Nuts on top.