Has Reality Hit Reality Food TV?
If the universe has taught us anything it’s that life is cyclical. Greece becomes the world’s first global empire but in just a few hundred years it is replaced by Rome. Rome lasts a few hundred years giving way to the Ottomans who then yield to Great Britain. See what I mean?
The same is true with television programming. Remember when westerns ruled the tube? Of course not, if you are old enough to remember that chances are you don’t know what a blog is. You’ve heard the names though: The Rifleman, Big Valley, Rawhide, Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, et al. Every channel (all three) had several westerns. That was followed by family sit coms, cop-buddy shows and the night-time soap opera.
The same is true for food television. Remember when food shows featured talented chefs who taught you how to cook and actually made learning entertaining? Then came the food contests like the original Iron Chef which was followed by Iron Chef America, Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, etc.
When Ace of Cakes hit the air back in 2006 it was a revelation of food programming. Food Network had simply taken a camera crew to chronicle the everyday lives of the anything-but-everyday cake decorators at Baltimore’s Charm City Cakes. It was an instant hit. The Network tried to duplicate the magic a year later with Two Dudes Catering but the forced dialog and contrived tension between the owners did not resonate with viewers. Though that copycat failed dozens have flourished like TLC’s Cake Boss, Planet Green’s Future Food, Private Chefs of Beverly Hills and the feel good mini-series The Chef Jeff Project.
A scant five years later and it appears this trend is petering out. Just a few months ago Ace of Cakes wrapped it’s final show. On March 3rd Food Network attempted to regain the glory of Ace with a new series about ice sculpting called Ice Brigade which features the same eye-popping creativity and a gaggle of cool characters headed by Chef Randy Finch.
Just before the premiere I spoke with Finch and asked him if Ice Brigade can do for ice sculpting what Ace of Cakes did for cake decorating? He replied, “I tell you I really hope that it does.” The ratings thus far have been fine but Ice does not appear to be creating the same buzz that Duff and the gang at Charmed City Cakes did when they first hit the airwaves. This despite the fact that it is easily as entertaining in every way.
Also saying goodbye earlier this year was the Private Chefs of Beverly Hills, gone after just two seasons. PCOBH burst onto the scenes with a cast of chefs straight out of the pages of a fashion magazine (literally in the case of former model Manouschka Guerrier). The blogosphere exploded with debates over whether the uber-demanding clients were real (they were) and proclamations as to who was everyone’s favorite chef. They were the hottest caters in the nation by far. Now PCOBH has gone its way like roman candles fizzing out.
The latest sign that the reality food show is waning is the recent premiere of SyFy’s new show Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen starring Chef Marcel Vigneron. It would seem that a show about the hottest trend in food right now, molecular gastronomy, hosted by a Top Chef alum would be a cinch hit for a network that caters to the comic-con crowd. After a tremendous media blitz the first episode failed to draw even one million viewers. A paltry 600,000 according to TVbyTheNumbers.com.
I asked PCOBH alum Sasha Perl-Raver her thoughts on the matter and she opined, “I think, if anything, reality cooking shows will only grow. The market is just starting to boom and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Next Great Restaurant might not be a hit, but Top Chef has spawned three spin offs, Masters, All-Stars and Just Desserts, Food Network gave birth to Cooking Channel.”
Sasha should know. Not only did she star in a hit food reality show but she has also used her considerable connections in Hollywood to become a genuine TV trend spotter doing work as an entertainment reporter at NBC Universal and for SheKnows, LLC . Sasha also maintains the very popular blog, Hollywood Bites. So what’s her expert opinion? “If anything, I think this is just the beginning.”
Sasha certainly knows her stuff. While the numbers on behind-the-scenes reality food shows may be on the decline, reality food competitions are only becoming more popular. Next Food Network Star is currently putting together its seventh season while Iron Chef America and Top Chef continue to capture ratings and both have generated popular spin-offs. Chopped has gone from cult favorite to bona fide hit with this month’s special series, Chopped All-Stars which pits some of the network’s most popular chefs head-to-head for a $50,000 payday for the charity of their choice. The numbers from the first two weeks were staggering as host Ted Allen recently revealed on his Facebook page, “Chopped All-Stars was the number one show on cable last Sunday: 6.3 million viewers!”
For more on Chopped All-Stars click HERE.