Do TV Executives Think We’re Stupid?

Since I received such a great and varied response from my post, Do Publishers Think We’re Stupid?, I am continuing the series with Do TV Executives Think We’re Stupid?

Author, critic and food writer John Mariani, (Esquire magazine, Diversion magazine, Bloomberg News, Bloomberg Radio and The Italian-American Cookbook among other books) published an article in the August 2008 Esquire magazine, The Worst (and Best) Cooking Shows on Television.

Mr. Mariani writes,

As someone who writes about food and restaurants for a living, I have near-zero interest in watching most of the food shows on TV, where hijinks, hair, and cleavage have replaced the authoritative, careful instructiveness of Julia Child, David Rosengarten, and Sara Moulton — most of whom are either off the air, dead, toiling in obscurity, or relegated to reruns.

The Food Network, which once had all those people on, is now home to a bunch of screaming, loutish characters who read from cue cards with about as much as contrivance as Jerry Springer sympathizing with a 400-pound transsexual. Still, there are some good shows out there that teach you as much about how to cook something as about the culture or reasons behind it.

Here, here! Let me expound on his insight and give you my opinion of the Bad, the Ugly and the Good.

First for the Bad and the Ugly.

Paula’s Home Cooking
Next to Rachael Ray, Paula Deen is as irritating as they come. She comes off as the stereotypical caricature of your crazy aunt, “Ohhhh, I could just suck the skin right off of him, he’s so adorable.” Her excessive and unremorseful use of butter adds to the stereotype of the “dumb Southerner” who’s just too stupid to know using that much butter could kill you. Add that Paula Dean and her show ranked the lowest in Texas Tech’s research study of the food-safety practices used on the Food Networks’ shows – she just couldn’t resist putting her fingers into her mouth.

30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray
The queen of annoying herself. Mr. Mariani said it best,

Frenetic, slapdash, and just plain annoying, the newly minted trillionaire Rachael Ray has somehow wormed her way into the hearts of those who take solace in dishes with names like “Sloppy Veg Head Joe,” “Leeky Linguine with Shrimp,” and “Banana Sushi.” And now (not surprisingly) she’s marketing a line of dog food. Yum-O!

Guy’s Big Bite & Diners, Drive ins, and Dives
Who couldn’t love a big lug like Guy Fieri? Just ask any “Dude”. An irritating Emeril want-to-be without the actual talent in a now too long a line of fake TV chefs that will endorse anything under the sun for a quick buck. I know the FN is trying to appeal to a younger generation but can’t they do it with more integrity.

Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee
The Stepford Wife of cooking shows. I am not the first or the only person to say that this is worst food show ever created and produced. Again, can’t put it better than Mr. Mariani,

Sandra Lee… is like the high school nutrition teacher who couldn’t care less about good taste as long as you get the damn dish cooked and cleaned up before the end of class, using ingredients out of a box — all prominently displayed for max product placement.

Hell’s Kitchen & Kitchen Nightmares
Just so you think Mr. Mariani and I are not just anti-Food Network, you must include Chef Ramsay’s shows. As he, himself said, “I do the TV shows as a whore so I can support my fine dining restaurants.” I’ve been a chef in fine dining restaurants – several I actually owned. So I have some credibility when I say that my biggest complaint is why must he perpetuate the stereotype of the egotistical, sadistical foul mouthed chef. Young cooks need to aspire to the professionalism of Thomas Keller not the vulgarity of a gifted baby.

Now for the Good.

The Best Recipes in the World
This is the name of the second season of Public Television series Bittman Takes on America’s Chefs, the James Beard Award winner for the best cooking series of 2005. The show is hosted by Mark Bittman, an award winning food writer, is best know for best-selling How to Cook Everything, (which won the IACP/Julia Child award, the James Beard award, and three international cookbook awards) and his weekly column for the New York Times. The Chicago Tribune said,

He’s funny, irreverent and deeply knowledgeable about food, yet he never lets any of that get in the way of his gustatory delight. This is a man who loves food in the most unstuffy way possible, and his enthusiasm… is infectious.

Barbecue University & Primal Grill with Steven Raichlen
If you think you like Booby Flay, you ain’t seen the real thing until you check out Steven Raichlen. He IS the foremost authority on grilling having written dozens of award winning books on the subject. Also on PBS, Barbecue U came out of his best selling The Barbecue Bible, the tome that was Raichlen’s description of the fours years he spent on the road studying grilling around the world.

Good Eats with Alton Brown
If you crossed Harold McGee and Robin Williams and gave them a culinary a TV show, I suspect that it would look a lot like Good Eats. As Mr. Mariani said,

[Alton Brown’s] original and impeccably produced show Good Eats still manages to make the science of cooking both fascinating and workable in the kitchen. However goofball his appearance and demeanor, he’s the best educator on TV since Mr. Wizard, with a little Ernie Kovacs thrown in for good measure.

Everyday Italian with Giada DeLaurentiis
I love Mario Batali’s restaurants and his intelligent TV show, Molto Mario. That being said, I’d much rather watch Giada with her “bada-bing good looks and the personality of an Italian cheerleader.” Add her love and knowledge of Italian food and the way she exudes sheer pleasure in what she is doing and I dare you not to watch.

After Hours with Daniel
The best cooking show you’ve probably never seen. This show is on MojoHD and you can watch several episodes online. Just an entertaining show to watch. Daniel Boulud is one of the most talented and knowledgeable chefs working today. This show is excess in all its’ glory – world class chefs with top of the line food and wine in gorgeous settings and celebrities.

Is it a coincidence that PBS tends to showcase the best while the Food Network is mired with dreck? My advice is to forget about the whole Next Food Star crap and bring back all the episodes of the original French Chef or anything by Keith Floyd. Better yet, get yourself a whole chicken, break-out your DVDs of good ole Julia (available here) and pour yourself a big glass of wine and have “another slurp for the cook!”

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7 thoughts on “Do TV Executives Think We’re Stupid?”

  1. So happy to see Giada on the good side – I was a little worried when you mentioned the cleavage in the opening that she would have been panned! I’ve never made a recipe of hers that hasn’t turned out great

  2. Since I so love to cook, some of my friends wonder why I don’t watch the Food Network (even though I have cable). This post sums it up! I grew up watching Julia Child, Martin Yan, Jeff Smith, etc on PBS and they actually TAUGHT you how to cook, bake, chop, broil, etc.

    I was at a hotel gym back in the spring and Rachael Ray just happened to be on the television. I decided to see what the big deal with her was and watching her (even just listening) was so annoying, I had to turn it to Cspan. She is not teaching, just marketing.

    I will check out the “good” list whenever I have time. :)

  3. I agree with most (Though I for one am estatic that Sara Moulton has been gone from the air so long – I think she’s the only person more irritating than Rachael Ray…) though I’ve finally learned to deal with Paula (apparently my original adversion to her had to do with my adversion to a family member she reminded me of – once I figured that out I could handle her most of the time – but NOT on Paula’s Party – no way no how)

    And Alton Brown is the king of Food TV – that is all there is to it =)

    Though I did love Jamie Oliver’s “Oliver’s Twist” series – none of the rest of his series have quite done the same for me – though granted I could never remember to wake up and turn the tv on early enough on Saturday morning to catch Jamie at Home…

  4. I pretty much agree with you, although I still watch many of the trashy shows, particularly Kitchen Nightmares.

    However, as annoying as Rachael Ray is (and she drives me up a wall) I think that her goal (besides selling crap) of enabling people to make food out of real ingredients, quickly and affordably, is noble. I started watching her in college, and honestly, she made me feel like I could cook, which I can, now. Seriously, she looks like Julia compared to Sandra Lee, who is the devil in my mind. Not disagreeing that she is annoyingly ubiquitous and perky, but I think there’s some good in there. If you’re willing to watch much of her show on mute.

  5. I love Ace of Cakes on FoodTV :) Awesome show about artsy folks in Baltimore making really cool cakes of all styles. Can’t stand Paula Deen and Sandra Lee…isn’t the idea of cooking to make it more healthy than eating out of a box?

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