Today, many cable networks seem to be chafing at their self-imposed genres and trying to “expand their programming” (read: “add a bunch of cheap reality shows”) beyond what would appear to be dictated by their very name. (Syfy, for example. Or the Game Show Network.) Remember when G4, the video game channel, actually had programming dedicated to video games? Good luck finding any of that these days.
Therefore, it was somewhat surprising to hear Food Network is aggressively expanding its new “sister” network, Cooking Channel. You’d think food is a limited enough topic that programming execs would be hard-pressed to fill up just one channel. But apparently America needs more cake-based reality shows on basic cable. (“Ace of Cakes,” “Fabulous Cakes,” “Amazing Wedding Cakes,” “Cake Boss,” “Cupcake Wars” and “DC Cupcakes” just aren’t enough.) Thankfully, we now have a second network dedicated entirely to food and the cooking thereof.
When you think about it, there are really only two things you can do with food: cook it and eat it. (Unless, of course, Food Network wants to go down the rabbit hole of “splosh” fetishism.) The good eating shows (“No Reservations,” “Man v. Food,” “Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern”) have already been claimed by Travel Channel. That leaves Food Network with all the cooking shows. Lately, the network has been moving away from the instructional edge and more toward the competitive edge with shows like “24 Hour Restaurant Battle,” “Chefs vs. City,” “Chopped,” “Dinner: Impossible,” “Food Network Challenge,” “Iron Chef America,” “The Great Food Truck Race,” “The Next Food Network Star,” “The Next Iron Chef,” “Throwdown With Bobby Flay” and “Ultimate Recipe Showdown.” These shows are all geared toward finding and grooming the next Food Network star—who will, in all likelihood, just get to host another reality/cooking competition looking for the next Food Network star ... and so on ... and so on. Cooking Channel at least offers another outlet for this parade of would-be celebrity chefs.
The network, which launched in May and went high-definition in June, is a replacement for Fine Living Network. FLN was a low-rent spin-off of such lifestyle channels as HGTV / DIY Network / Food Network. It offered decorating advice, various cooking shows and reruns of “Queer Eye.” Apparently, what was too redundant for HGTV is just redundant enough for Food Network.
Love “Iron Chef America” and “The Next Iron Chef”? Well, now you can thrill to “Cook Like an Iron Chef.” Can’t miss an episode of “The Next Food Network Star”? Then you can’t miss an episode of “Next Food Network Star After Party”! Big fan of “Nigella Express,” “Nigella Bites” and “Nigella Feasts”? Cooking Channel is rerunning them all, along with new stuff from Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, David Rocco, Rachael Ray and a few of the other usual suspects.
To sum up: If you’re a stereotypical 1950s housewife who sits at home every afternoon watching cooking shows, here’s a fine opportunity to see Bobby Flay grill up some barbecue on a daily basis. Personally, I’d just buy one of his cookbooks and watch Discovery Channel instead. But what do I know?