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Competition has gone beyond the Food Channel

12 August 2009 1,705 views No Comment

Now and then I take a look at the Food Channel. The Food Channel, in case you haven’t looked lately, has changed. Once upon a time when it was younger, the Food Channel was host to a variety of cooking folks. They ranged from Paula Deen, the Southern master of butter and sweet Southern stuff, to Rachael Ray, whose hoarse voice never stops and who always seems to know where everything is in her kitchen. (She sure hasn’t been in mine lately. I can’t find anything most of the time.)

These ladies, a couple of men like Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay, poured out all kinds of dishes. They gave the ingredients as they worked, and you could even get their recipes if you wanted.

But food, like a lot of other things on television these days, has run up against the eternal problem of TV: After a while it gets boring to see the same old chef doing the same old dish, or at least one quite similar.

So, as with other parts of the entertainment business, the Food Network has resorted to competition to keep the viewer interested.

The same thing has happened to TV generally. Dancing With the Stars and American Idol don’t depend so much on what is presented. Rather, it is how it is presented. Acts, just as once happened in vaudeville, sometimes get the hook. In the old days on radio with Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour it was a gong.

But they also get “judged” by a panel of folks, usually insulting or with wild praise (but never dull) and by the audience,

too. It’s a popularity contest.

Audiences get to help pick a favorite. They identify with the one they think is a winner, even though, ultimately, they may not be.

Steve Wozniak, for instance, our very own Woz, managed to last several weeks longer than he might otherwise have because people liked him, even if he wasn’t much of a dancer.

The important thing is that audiences feel they are participating. They are part of the picture. There is a connection.

The same is true of the hokey shows that purport to offer genuine romance: The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, for instance. With the camera always in close attendance various purported romancers compete to win the hand of an attractive man or woman.

Intimate moments are not really intimate, though they may seem so. The camera operator is always at hand, no matter whether it is the bedroom or the beach. Everyone eventually picks a favorite.

It was something of a national disaster last season when the reigning bachelor and his favorite, the result of a whole season of competitive romance, decided they didn’t after all love one another.

The runner-up had a much better fate. She switched over to Dancing with the Stars and came in third.

The whole thing is about as genuine as “The Wizard of Oz.” But no matter. All these shows draw viewers, sell ads and make money.

Now the Food Channel has adopted the same tactics. Cooks now compete for prizes. The best hamburger, for example, in a cookoff between (pick your favorite) competing barbecuers. Or the best caterer. Caterers are given a time limit and a limited larder to build a new set of delectables.

Or the best “Iron Chef.” The Iron Chefs are supposed to use iron cooking utensils, but they seem to use most everything.

Whatever they use, it’s a fight to the finish, believe me, with lots of tension when things don’t work out as they should. (Oddly enough, the camera is always present for the odd mishap, too, but that’s probably just a coincidence, right? The same thing always seems to happen on the dance and romance shows, too.) Ah, for a return to the days of “The French Chef” when it was necessary to run a video camera without stopping, when one got the recipe and its ingredients and when sometimes things didn’t go quite as they were supposed.

Who can ever forget the time Julia Child dropped the chicken on the floor and because she had to keep going (the camera and also a tight budget, after all) simply picked up the chicken and kept on cooking.

Julia is, alas, gone to her reward, the kitchen in the sky, but her ghost lingers on in the new movie Julie and Julia, but even here the producers couldn’t leave well enough alone. They could very well have used the incomparable Meryl Streep alone to portray Julia, her crackily voice and all, but they had to throw in some competition, Julie, who set out to make all the recipes in the Bible of cookbooks, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Who needs her?

Better they should simply have let Julia pick the chicken up off the floor and keep going.

Now that was a real winner.

                                                                                                                       By Carl Heintze

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