The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Food & Health

October 21, 2013

Food Network: 20 years of changing food culture

(Continued)

“I truly believe my success is because of 9/11. Had it not been for 9/11, I don’t know that I would be here,” she said. “It made them think twice about what was important in life.”

Today, of course, food television is a crowded field. Bravo helped redefine the reality segment with “Top Chef” and its various spinoffs. Gordon Ramsay spouts fire on Fox. ABC gave food a golden hour of daytime chat with “The Chew.” Even CNN and Travel Channel have pulled up a chair, snatching up Food Network alum Anthony Bourdain.

Still, Food Network — one of many lifestyle brands owned by Scripps Networks Interactive — touts enviable numbers, reaching some 100 million U.S. households, never mind programming in more than 150 countries around the world. It has its own magazine, its own lines of cookware and kitchen gear. Want Food Network wine or tablecloths? There’s a product for that.

Of course, that’s broad strokes history. There’s also plenty in those 20 years the network would rather forget. Paula Deen (conspicuously absent from the party) speaking her mind, anyone? Or not minding her diabetes. And there’s Robert Irvine’s little resume flub (the “Dinner: Impossible” star was fired for fabricating some of the more fantastic parts of his resume, but later returned with “Restaurant: Impossible”). Meanwhile, lower-tier talent love to grumble about stranglehold contracts that give the network near complete control over budding careers.

And then there’s the profitability algorithm, which goes something like: less cooking equals more viewers and sizzling ad dollars. It actually took years for the network to get profitable. And many say it did so by turning its back on some if its own fans and stars.

In those early red ink years, the network was known mostly for food television with a how-to attitude aimed at people who cook. But on television, personality trumps talent, entertainment trounces know-how. That spelled the demise of shows with chefs offering teachable moments at the stove.

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