Food Network's kid brother, the Cooking Channel, will go live on May 31. Hipper and funkier yet a tad more servicey than its parent, the all-cooking, all the time network will feature Food Network stalwarts including Emeril and Paula Deen, plus a new crop of celebrity chef wannabes.
Scripps' latest channel, which will replace the pre-recession-launched Fine Living Network, might be seen as an admission that Food Network has strayed from its initial mission, with cooking how-to shows replaced by lifestyle series and competitions.
But Scripps's "Chef" Executive Officer begs to differ.
“The idea is to raise your food IQ, making our viewers better cooks and a little smarter about food,” said John Lansing, Scripps Networks president, in the announcement last fall that Fine Living would be rebranding to Cooking.
“We believe the Cooking Channel will serve some very unique interests and needs of a highly engaged audience.”
The spin-off network's goal isn't to mimic traditional instructional cooking shows, which are a mainstay on PBS, if not Food Network, these days.
“The feel and style we’re going for is a little grittier, a little edgier, a little hipper,” Cooking Channel head Bruce Seidel told the New York Times. “We are in the experimental phase. What do people want? What do they crave?”
The Cooking Channel's programming lineup was unveiled at Scripps Networks' annual upfront event for advertisers this week in New York, where the Knoxville, Tenn.-based media company also highlighted HGTV, DIY, GAC and its most recent acquisition, the former Discovery-owned Travel Channel.
While instructional cooking will be one of the main ingredients of the Cooking Channel, it also will explore food origins, culture and history and may embrace grittier topics such as obesity and bulimia.
Launch series will include Food Jammers, featuring three Canadians who build food contraptions such as a taco-vending machine; Unique Eats, which will feature unusual eateries such as Brooklyn's gourmet hotdog purveyor, Bark; and a spinoff series, Cook Like an Iron Chef, starring a young chef from Cleveland.
The competition in the U.S. food programming category is heating up, with culinary shows on TLC, Bravo (home to Top Chef and spin-off Master Chef), and even network TV with ABC’s recent hit featuring Britain's "Naked Chef," the nutrition-touting Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, snaring top ratings in the 18-34 slot.
For the moment, Scripps isn't investing a lot of money in original programming in the startup but acquiring a lot of series from outside the series, primarily Canada.
Will American audiences acquire a taste for cooking with their neighbors to north? In addition to Food Jammers, other Canadian fare includes French Food at Home, Indian Food Made Easy, David Rocco’s Dolce Vita, Everyday Exotic, and Chuck’s Day Off, all featuring new-to-America faces.
“The question is whether a show about three guys who are happy to be hosers in a very Canadian way will work in America," commented Food Jammers host Nobu Adilman. "We feel there are a lot of hosers in the U.S. waiting to find themselves on television.” (Hoser, by the way, is a Canadianism for “plaid-jacket-wearing dude, eh.”)
American viewers will find plenty to nosh on: Ethnic fusion cuisine is in, as is cocktail culture and authentic, gritty local dining (such as breaking chickens’ necks in a restaurant).
Cooking Channel research revealed their target audience’s desire to “Put real people on the air that people can relate to,” “Bring more diversity in both personalities and menus,” and “Always try and be on the cutting edge of what’s going on in the food world.”
Fans of classic cooking shows will be cheered to see vintage series, including generous servings of the Australian-accented Galloping Gourmet and vintage Julia Child.
That's all well and good. But if Cooking Channel wants a real hit on its hands, it may want to pick up The Delicious Miss Dahl (watch a clip above), a new hit series on the BBC that features comely fashion model Sophie Dahl taking a page from Nigella Lawson.