Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cooking Up Something New with The Cooking Channel

I used to love The Food Network, way back when in the old days. Great hosts -- the smart and personable David Rosengarten with his Taste series, for instance -- and a sense of fun, particularly when they started running the original Iron Chef programs. Now, not so much. If you don't like Rachael Ray -- and I don't -- the whole network seems maybe a little too polished now. Meh. Plus I'm never actually sure anymore if I'm watching a food show on The Food Network, or Travel Channel, or somewhere else these days. Lots of mixed schedules these days, not that there's anything wrong with that...

Maybe even the TFN suits know it, because they're launching the new Cooking Channel at the end of May. Fashioned to be more low-key, more hip (god save us from hip, please!), Cooking Channel at least is doing something right -- bringing old episodes of Julia Child's The French Chef and the hilarious Graham "The Galloping Gourmet" Kerr onboard also. I realize us old geezer don't buy nearly enough of whatever their advertisers are trying to sell (or so they think), but so many of us got our first love of cooking from the previous generation of cooking shows and personalities. PBS was of course a great source of these, with Julia Child and so many others, and Graham Kerr was a wonder because he was on network daytime TV, five days a week. That's where I got hooked on him, and boy, cooking hasn't been the same since. I've always loved it, and I'm sure some of his antics showed the inherent fun of it to my young self.

Now, how about bringing back the delightful Justin Wilson (left) and his so-delicious-you-could-taste-them-through-your-TV Cajun recipes. (I can't remember the reason but I once spoke to him on the phone back when I worked at KTLA, and it was a thrill. He was wonderful! Go to the link to hear his welcome greeting and buy some products from his daughter's company). Or another favorite of mine, the crazy little show called Frying Pans West with historical chef Sam Arnold, then-proprietor of The Fort restaurant in Denver, Colorado, where he prepared pioneer and Native American-influenced dishes, along with dispensing lots of wonderful western lore. (The Fort is now run by Sam's daughter Holly -- Sam passed away in 2006 -- and you should go there to eat!).

I'm all for embracing the rich pageant of cooking show history on the new Cooking Channel. Why not even do what Game Show Network did, with their running of ancient What's My Line? shows in the wee hours of the morning. Having actual content on in the middle of the night is much better than defaulting to direct response infomercials which turn off potential audience members and deprive you of excellent promo opportunities. More real programming, less of the dreaded "Paid Programming" which turns up everywhere in our program guides these days. It's a disgrace, really.

Anyway, if you're into the whole notion of TV chefs, I recommend you pick up a copy of author Kathleen Collins' 2009 book Watching What We Eat: The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows. I just read an online excerpt from her Graham Kerr section, and she gets him completely, linking his appeal and success to his "goofy and handsome" Dick Van Dyke/Gary Cooper quality. Spot on analysis, that! Kathleen has a fascinating book blog here and if you are into television and cooking, she should be your new BFF!

For further information, you might also like to read the NY Times article from earlier this week by Allen Salkin on the Cooking Channel announcement, and also this piece from Salon by Thomas Rogers, also about the new channel and what might be in store. Everybody is making much of the appearance of Canadian content on the new network, and that's nice. Some Canadian TV still retains a bit of unique Canuck charm, but the borderlines are fading fast, I think, though it's always a good thing to see something that at least sounds a bit different. What isn't different is the news that Mo Rocca will be hosting a series -- he's one of those professional funny hosts who turn up everywhere -- and that sounds like more of the same old. We'll see, right?

Ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens! The Cooking Channel is coming!

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