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Could Food Network have done it differently?


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#1 MarketStEl

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Posted 22 January 2006 - 09:58 PM

Hello, Sara:

I'll confess up front to not having followed your shows closely, though I have watched Cooking Live on occasion. I found that show informative and to the point.

But I hope that doesn't prevent you from elaborating a little more on the decision you made to move to PBS, which has been discussed here on eG.

I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that the total audience for PBS cooking shows is greater than the Food Network's, given that not all U.S. households have cable and PBS has affiliates in even the smallest markets (often through repeaters of larger stations in a state).

But I still wonder how much this decision was influenced by the Food Network's decision to emphasize entertainment and travel over food itself, as symbolized to a large extent by the transformation of what was in the beginning an infomercial for Emeril Lagasse's seasoning blends into a sort of culinary Ellen DeGeneres Show (no slight meant to Ellen).

Had the network stuck to its original purpose, would it have been more difficult for you to leave it? And is the shift in the network's emphasis proof positive that a commercial network devoted to food and cooking can't make it in the United States, or rather just an example of failure of the imagination?
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#2 Sara Moulton

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 06:08 AM

Sandy,
The choice was theirs not mine. The new president came in with her agenda which included getting rid of some of the old guard. Their new demagraphic is something like 15 to 35 year old males and their goal now is to appeal to that segment of the population. They want talent that is for the most part young, telegenic and very entertaining. I have a producer friend that tried to pitch some shows and was told,
"No chefs please, and nobody with training."

I don't understand it but I am not a 15 year old male.

I will say I was on there for quite a while, almost 10 years if they keep airing my shows until April 2, and every show has a life. Maybe my time was up.

I am a teacher, not an entertainer and so I couldn't have changed my style anyway. I really do belong on PBS and all of my favorite teachers are there - Jacques, Lydia, Martin, Mary Anne.

What so you look for in a tv food show?
Sara Moulton

#3 MarketStEl

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 07:34 AM

Sandy,
The choice was theirs not mine. The new president came in with her agenda which included getting rid of some of the old guard. Their new demagraphic is something like 15 to 35 year old males and their goal now is to appeal to that segment of the population.


Boy, this opens up a whole new can of worms.

But it does explain the redirection, sort of--and it explains Alton Brown, sort of (more on him below).

I'm thinking back to my post-college years, and while I enjoyed cooking even then, my concerns weren't really with technique, or ingredients, or the history behind a dish. Most of the cookbooks I used growing up (predominantly the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book) didn't really concern themselves with these matters either, though the Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery--a supermarket series that my Dad purchased and gave to me as a gift, which I still have--does make a nod in this direction.

My suspicion is that the 15- to 35-year-old males who are interested in these things either already have both old and new editions of Joy of Cooking and/or have already enrolled in a good culinary school. For the rest of them, food is another form of entertainment.

I am a teacher, not an entertainer and so I couldn't have changed my style anyway. I really do belong on PBS and all of my favorite teachers are there - Jacques, Lydia, Martin, Mary Anne.
What so you look for in a tv food show?

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I'd like three things: a good history lesson, a good explanation of how things work and why, and some personality. Julia Child routinely offered all three on her program. By contrast, Graham Kerr had personality in spades (or should I say fifths?), but wasn't that great in the other two departments.

This brings me to Mr. Brown. His show also does a very good job combining the three elements in a highly entertaining fashion--and I suspect the reason he survives on today's Food Network is that he does so in a cooking-for-geeks style that I think would appeal to the target demographic.
Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia
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#4 debbiemoose

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 09:44 AM

I can tell that demographic shift just in watching the shows. Commercial TV is first and foremost entertainment. Not being a 15-35 YO male, little on the channel appeals to me now. I guess my hope is that watching it may light some spark for cooking in young people, who will then go to people like Sara for real information.

Thanks for being here, Sara. BTW, I know and have done some work for your friend Jean Anderson here in North Carolina.

Debbie

#5 moosnsqrl

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 09:58 AM

I am a teacher, not an entertainer and so I couldn't have changed my style anyway.


Sara,

I'm sorry but when I read this, part of me really wanted to see you go out in style...put on a really perky persona, make some really pedestrian, dumbed-down food, pronounce a lot of things wrong and giggle when you burn the food. But don't feel you must ruin your reputation to entertain me! :wink:

Kidding aside, I think the move to PBS is a good one and more in keeping with your style, the direction of FTV and the natural order of things. And I think Sandy nailed-it: history/anthropology of whatever foods/ingredients you're focusing on, some technique and a pithy anecdote or two and I'm happy with a show.

Thanks for "listening."

Judy Jones
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#6 jsolomon

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 10:56 AM

Not being a 15-35 YO male, little on the channel appeals to me now.

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I am a 15-35 year-old male, and little on the channel appeals to me.

Who can I complain to at Foodnetwork to tell them that they are dunderheads?
I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

#7 fifi

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 12:27 PM

. . . . .
I am a teacher, not an entertainer and so I couldn't have changed my style anyway. I really do belong on PBS and all of my favorite teachers are there - Jacques, Lydia, Martin, Mary Anne.
. . . . .

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That is precisely why I like PBS. I do have to wonder about the emphasis on the young male demographics. After all, don't us aging boomers have all the money? :laugh:

PBS is appealing to me. Those are the only cooking shows I watch anymore, just because of the learning experience with great teachers. You will fit right in. But, I am wondering what demographic PBS aims for?
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

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#8 Katie Nell

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 03:08 PM

I guess I'm in the minority here. I am 25 and I still watch Food Network. (Why do I feel like I should stand up and say "Hi, my name is Katie and I watch Food Network"?!?) I guess I just feel like, at this stage of my life, I still have something to learn from almost everyone.... whether it be a new ingredient, a new technique, an old forgotten favorite, or just inspiration. There are still people I like to watch on FN... Ina Garten, Michael Chiarello, and of course, Sara. I also feel like I have to take what I can get. We don't get near the amount of cooking shows on PBS that everyone else seems to, and I've tried writing PBS, but alas, I'm only one little person!

I am really looking forward to your new show Sara. What I look for in a tv food show from that other demographic... I want to learn techniques... I love in "Fine Cooking" magazine, for instance, how they take one thing and really break it down step by step, and show you what something is supposed to look like, i.e. their article on caramels.
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#9 Behemoth

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 03:39 PM

Sarah I think you are quite telegenic! I am glad you are moving to PBS as I recently stopped getting cable. Is it just me or is there something a little creepy about the idea that there is such a large segment of the 15-35 year old male population that apparently wants to spend time on a couch watching "younger" women cook? :unsure:

#10 Bill Miller

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 04:00 PM

Sandy,
The choice was theirs not mine. The new president came in with her agenda which included getting rid of some of the old guard. Their new demagraphic is something like 15 to 35 year old males and their goal now is to appeal to that segment of the population. They want talent that is for the most part young, telegenic and very entertaining. I have a producer friend that tried to pitch some shows and was told,
"No chefs please, and nobody with training."

I don't understand it but I am not a 15 year old male.

I will say I was on there for quite a while, almost 10 years if they keep airing my shows until April 2,  and every show has a life. Maybe my time was up.

I am a teacher, not an entertainer and so I couldn't have changed my style anyway. I really do belong on PBS and all of my favorite teachers are there - Jacques, Lydia, Martin, Mary Anne.

What so you look for in a tv food show?

View Post

My remaining favorites--Ina, Mario, and Michael must be 35 or close--they don't have long to go. I think Disc. Home is giving Food Network a run too--I'm a little uncomfortable politically with PBS so I think their cooking shows are their strength--good luck--you have always been one of our favorites. (Julia was really just beginning at 35, or did I miss something)
Cooking is chemistry, baking is alchemy.

#11 scubadoo97

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 06:52 PM

What so you look for in a tv food show?

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Sara, let me first say I really enjoyed your shows on the Food Network. I look for someone who can teach me something which you were very good at. I want to not only see recipes but advanced technique and even learn more about kitchen essentials like pans, knifes, knife skills and how to do classic cooking techniques. One of my favorite cooking shows is Great Chefs because I get to see short clips of technique and plating. I look for interesting recipes that are easy, delicious and don't take all day to prepare. I look at recipes for ideas and not to follow to the letter unless it's baking. I cook for the family when I get home from work and it has to be good and interesting and done in a hour or less start to finish. I do get to spend more time in the kitchen when entertaining for friends and family on the weekends. I am not into the entertainment aspect of TFN. One of my favorite shows still on the FN is Good Eats. Alton's shtick is a bit much but I learn something about food science and what he feels is the best way to prepare a dish. One of my old favorites on TFN was David Rosengarden's show. He made you feel like there was only one way to do it right, his way. I even liked the Frugal Gourmet on PBS which was one of the first cooking shows I use to watch. More and more I find myself moving away from TFN to PBS or Discover for cooking shows that are not just entertainment although I still wonder how Martin Yan has all his fingers. I wish you great success on your new shows.

Alan

#12 PicnicChef

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Posted 23 January 2006 - 07:05 PM

Hiya Sarah!

As a fellow CIA-er and a woman chef, I applaud all you gave to Food TV; a channel I now rarely watch! However, I wish you the best of luck and success at PBS, a format much more suited to a "serious" chef! After watching hours of meaningless drivel on FTV, I've been watching WLIW and PBS with Lydia; Jacques and other chefs that to me, have clout, experience and education. You belong there now! But, thanks for all those Secrets!

All the Best!

#13 chiantiglace

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 12:05 AM

Hi Sarah

By the way I am a current CIA student.

I just wanted to pitch on the FoodTv fire. I never watch the channel unless somehow I get a report that a "real" competition is being place. Not an apple pie challenge. Sorry to sound synical, but everytime I turn it on I either see Emeril (something), Iron Chef or a goofy program. I guess the goofy programs are for the 15 - 35 year old males (which by the way I fall smack right in the middle). The reason I'm tell you this is I probably would have caught your show thus being other interesting programs on. I never payed attention, and for that I get a little frustrated for it being a channel devoted to my field it doesn't seem to provide the real culinarians with proper satisfaction.


P.S. Even though we watch foodtv all the time here, most of are jokes play off of it. Sad to say.

Also I love Gourmet Magazine, just to show I'm not neccessarily negative :biggrin:
Dean Anthony Anderson
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#14 MarketStEl

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 01:10 AM

As a little confession is good for the soul, here's mine:

I do enjoy watching Iron Chef, even though it's really self-parody.* (Anyone else out there enjoy listening to P.D.Q. Bach? Remember his famous "play-by-play commentary" on a performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony? Well, Iron Chef is the same shtick moved into the kitchen.)

As this conversation is going on, I just happened to return home from an errand at midday today to find my partner watching Sara's Secrets on the Food Network--the episode on grilled cheese sandwiches. Unfortunately, I caught it halfway through and had to go do other work, but I did stick around to catch the end of the Monte Cristo sandwich recipe. Great-looking sandwich and everything was easy to follow. You'll be right at home on PBS.

*Edited to add: Make that "because it's really self-parody." And the Food Network's American adaptation takes itself just seriously enough to raise the parody to the next level.

Edited by MarketStEl, 24 January 2006 - 01:12 AM.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia
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#15 coquus

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 07:34 AM

Sara, I think it was very wrong for TFN to have cancelled your show the way they did when it was Cooking LIVE which drew me there in the first place. There was so much good food on that show. I have rarely seen any cooking show which comes close to putting that much good into the world. The PBS crowd, of which I am one, will be very appreciative of your culinary wealth.

#16 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 07:52 AM

I'm completely delighted that your moving to PBS....thrilled in fact!

My perspective as a 44 year old professional pastry chef:

I'm very unhappy with the huge fees of cable tv. My bill (for nothing interesting to watch) is $80.00 per month, which has reached the point of being too expensive for what I get. I could buy a really good book and rent more movies then I want, per month for that amount of money. I'm definately thinking of canceling my cable. Foodtv had been the one channel that kept me buying cable. But as they change so does my taste for them.

I see your move to PBS as extremely wise! Your going where us serious foodies want you to be. Free and not dumbed down. Thank-you!

By the way, I just wanted you to know this.............my husband thinks your darn sexy/cute...far more then Rachel and G. It pleases me that a women with brains attracts the men too.

#17 Tweety69bird

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 10:08 AM

Sara,
I just wanted to take this chance to say that when I was able to catch the US version of TFN, it was always a pleasure to catch your "Cooking Live" show. Yours was one of the shows that I really did miss once we got the Canadian version of TFN, of which unfortunately, you aren't on. I am also very pleased that you will be making the move to PBS, as I'm sure all of your other Canadian fans are. We can get PBS up here, so I look very forward to seeing you again and I wish you the best of luck.
Karyn
Don't waste your time or time will waste you - Muse

#18 divalasvegas

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 02:53 PM

Hello Sara,

First off, congratulations on your new show on PBS, the station of my culinary heroes: Julia, Jacques, and Justin (Wilson), just to name a few.

I am female, over 35, and I was a total Cooking Live groupie. I was always amazed at your energy, especially the fact that you were cooking in real time with detailed explanations of what you were doing, often with guest cooks/chefs in the kitchen with you, and answering questions from viewers by phone and email! Again, amazing.

What I like today in a tv food show has not changed all that much from when I was a kid watching black and white reruns of The French Chef: learning about new foods and techniques, and the cultures from which they emanate; watching someone who can truly teach these things (in other words, a good and knowledgeable instructor); and being inspired to try something new. Personality is important too, but not at the expense of those other attributes. As a matter of fact, I'm just enough of a food geek to find learning entertaining. Go figure.

Your comments explain a lot about what I see and don't really care for about FTV today: the endless parade of wacky contests (including seeing people jam a sickening amount of food down their throats), food factory tours, the best of this, the top 5, 10, or 20 of that, and so on. There are still wonderful teaching shows on FoodTv--Alton Brown, Ina Garten, and of course "Sara's Secrets." Unfortunately, the instructional, substantive shows don't appear in prime time; the other stuff does to appeal to that demographic I guess.

I wish you all the best, but must admit to having one complaint: how do you manage to look younger every year? :rolleyes:

The interesting part about TVFN's target demographic of 15-35 year old males (not all, just the ones that have no interest in actually cooking anything and see food as solely entertainment or to be made for them by someone else) is that, IMHO, they are notoriously fickle and will drop the Food Network the nano-second something more interesting comes along. Hmmm, would serve them right after losing their most loyal fan base--us loveable foodies/food geeks.

Edited for additional comments.

Edited by divalasvegas, 24 January 2006 - 03:48 PM.

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#19 goldie

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 03:22 PM

I, too, have thoroughly enjoyed your shows. I haven't been able to see you in a while because I'm not able to watch during your time slot. I'm glad you are moving to PBS so you won't be interrupted by those pesky commercials!
When I watch a food show the main thing I am looking for is a different take on food. I want new ideas or techniques to make my food better. Challenge me to think about foods in different ways much as Gourmet does at its best. I also really like it when a chef gives a variation on a dish. I remember Julia Child as being good at this. I enjoy Lydia's Kitchen because after watching it I come out with a good sense of how a meal is put together. Also, sides are important even if they are simply done. I think many people fall into a rut of steamed whatever three times a week. I like the science component of Alton Brown and while his show is his, I think people benefit from short explainations of why something works or doesn't and how to fix it. I seem to remember you being pretty adept at this as well.
I wish you the best and look forward to watching.

#20 ray goud

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 05:25 PM

Sara, whatever happens at PBS, PLEASE do what you can to prevent the awful camera work which seems to be taking over at Food Network: super-close close-ups, herky-jerky handheld cinema, zooming in and out, two-second cuts of scenes, etc.
Thanks in advance,
Ray

#21 MarketStEl

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 09:26 PM

Sara, whatever happens at PBS, PLEASE do what you can to prevent the awful camera work which seems to be taking over at Food Network: super-close close-ups, herky-jerky handheld cinema, zooming in and out, two-second cuts of scenes, etc.
Thanks in advance,
Ray

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Oh, dear. Another viewer whose brain circuits have been fried by the video techniques of the short-attention-span generation.

I think the logic goes something like this: Those 18- to 35-year-olds have grown up in a hyperstimulated world, what with TV and video games and other really visually busy stuff. The fear is they will tune out of a program that has only a few camera angles or spends most of its time showing the host at work cooking.
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