It’s 1998 and I am awake way past my bedtime. I flip through the basic cable channels, passing over all of the infomercials as I stumble upon a Japanese cooking show dubbed over in English. The show caught my eye because it was different. It’s a cooking competition, and something out of the ordinary from my usual cartoons and Disney shows. I was hooked. From then on I can say I was addicted to the Food Network, and which I later found out was a show called Iron Chef.
At that time it was a little strange for a seven year old to watch late night Food Network, today it would be completely normal. Then the show was one of a kind. There were not many reality styled shows in the 90s (if at all), and definitely none based off of a food competition. Fast forward to the present and Food Network has become the next cool kid on the block. Their shows are becoming more and more popular and the station has become a recent favorite for many Americans.
According to a Bloomberg.com article titled “Food is New Real Estate as Cooking Show Ratings Jump” author Andy Fixmer states, “The channel’s ratings rose 20 percent in July from a year ago on the strength of “The Next Food Network Star,” Since 2004, the prime-time audience for the Food Network has increased 55 percent to 1.06 million viewers nightly from 683,000, according to Nielsen Co. data. In the 18-49 age group advertisers target, Food Network is up 79 percent in five years.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=agY50CybFhzo)
The network spawned nation wide celebrities such as Paula Deen and Rachel Ray which have moved to host their own shows on even bigger networks. These celebrity chefs had made a name for themselves based solely on their “how-to” styled cooking shows. But, the bulk of what is making Food Network the star it has risen to be today is their late night reality styled shows. Shows such as “24 Hour Restaurant Battle”, “Chefs vs. City”, “Chopped”, “Cupcake Wars”, and of course giving way to nostalgia, “Iron Chef America” highlight the competitive food battles that have taken up residency on the network.
Although food network might be leading the way for this style of show, other channels are trying to get a piece of the glory as well. Travel channel has “Man vs. Food”, Bravo owns Emmy award winning cooking series “Top Chef”, and Fox has “Hell’s Kitchen”. All of these shows have seen great success on their respective channels.
So what is leading to the success of these Networks? Is the larger than life competition and big cash prizes attracting a younger audience? Has the modern family taken up a new passion for food? Is it because we’re an obese yet sedentary generation that rather watch people cook on television then do it ourselves? I’d say yes to all. I believe there are many factors resulting in the population’s new obsession with food programming. I, being the ‘foodie’ that I am, cannot complain. I love the diverse food programming. “Viva La Food Network!”…or at least live long enough to offer me a job!