The TV Food Network was launched on November 23, 1993 at a splashy press party at The Rainbow Room in Manhattan. When Reese Schonfield, then the TVFN president, called for HUSH, the gathering of food media hushed as he rolled out his vision for a bold new concept: a 24/7 food channel! What a fabulous idea.
Reese Schonfeld was a very big shot back then. He was managing editor of United Press Movietone News, Vice President of United Press International Television News. He founded the Independent Television News Association, the first satellite-delivered television news service. With his pal Ted Turner, he created CNN and served as its first President. Today more people watch the TVFN than CNN!
Today close to 100 million households can tune in to the Food Network. There are stations in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit and Knoxville. There are viewers in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Monaco, Polynesia and Great Britain.
What is turning this huge audience on to all these American Culinary Idols? It’s Big Boy Mario Batali, the Nasty Bits of Anthony Bourdain and Paula Deen, the Southern Belle who could dare serve grits with grape jelly and red-eye gravy. And Sandra Dee as she concocts a store-bought package of lady fingers, a plastic container of vanilla pudding, a whisper of artificial rum flavoring, a jar of jam and a squirt of whipped topping and declares it “mostly homemade.”
And the Barefoot Contessa who cooks for her well-heeled pals. And the perpetually smiling Giada (with her revealing cleavage alluring generations of boy culinary students). And the lovely Lydia and La Bella Nigella and sweet Sara M. and perkily determined EVOO’d Rachael — American Eye Dolls almost all.
The food network is shamelessly derivative. Science channels are morphing into the food channel. So are the travel programs and adventures in survival. Competition is hot. Quick. Who can make the best ice cream while marooned on a blazing tropical island where there are no utensils and ingredients, (don’t even think of using the palm oil). You have just 30 minutes before the scheduled arrival of 2,602 Carnival Cruise line passengers. The winner is…pause…pause…wild applause for the Instantly Iced Sandy Snapping Turtle Smoothie.
Who’ll take the cake for transporting turrets of spun-sugar from here to there without dropping it? Who will be the judge of the judged? Who will deliver forth the next incandescent banality?
Paddy Chayevsky, who wrote about the television as mass madness wouldn’t have believed just how completely mad the medium has become. We have traveled light miles from the simplicity of the Pillsbury bake-off. We remember our beloved Julia who inspired three generations to just go into the kitchen and cook. How we yearn for Jacques and the Galloping Gourmet, (but not the frugal one.)
The genie is out of tube and we are spending way too much time searching for the next Aladdin with a new lamp to rub.We don’t want to watch anything remotely serious or educational. Just bring on the new game, the new competition. The new STAR.
If the job of celebrity TV chef appeals to you, first take media training, then try to get a start at a small television station, then study giraffes so you will be able to stand head and shoulders above all others. Bam!