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Tuesday, December 18

A Batali/Tuschman Blowup?

I've been getting a lot of emails about the recent New York Times article about the Food Network--namely, the he said/he said statements of Mario and Bob Tuschman about whether or not Mario's new show was turned down by FN, or never offered to it in the first place!



The Times claims that Food Network passed on Mario's new public television show, which is a food tour of Spain with Gwenyth Paltrow and other guests. (And sounds delicious, btw. I'm not a major public television watcher, but I love food from the different regions of Spain.)

The exact quote is: "Mr. Tuschman of the Food Network said it had passed on that series. 'It was not the right fit for us.'”

Now, saying something was not the right fit doesn't necessarily equate "we were offered the show and didn't choose to buy and run it"-- it could simply mean the concept in general was something that he and other FN execs felt would not be a good fit.

It's just weird that the Times throws that random quote in, follwed by: "Mr. Batali, who still participates in the Food Network’s Iron Chef America competition, said the show had not been offered to the Food Network."

And then NO explanation for the seemingly incongruent statements. Was this a passive aggressive response by Mario--who perhaps feels betrayed by the network he helped found--or simply an honest answer to a question? He may or may not have even known that Tuschman said FN had passed on the show. The way the statements are presented, that isn't clear.


But I do get the feeling that Mario feels a little betrayed...


In regards to his on-again, off-again relationship with the network, Mario attempted to set the record straight by pointing out why he thought his presence was dwindling:
“They don’t need me. They have decided they are mass market and they are going after the Wal-Mart crowd,” which he said was “a smart business decision. So they don’t need someone who uses polysyllabic words from other languages.”
Wow. Wal-Mart, Mario? They sell their wares at Kohl's. Give them some credit!

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13 Comments:

At 12/19/2007 12:02 AM , Anonymous /b said...

I would like to hear your thoughts about how this article reflects on your previous post shut up, anthony bourdain. To me, it validated much of the complaints you derided. you wrote:

“…nowhere in “Food Network” does it imply “instruction-based cooking shows.” That’s not the name of the network. Simply assuming that because the network was founded around that simple concept it must continue down that path and never stray is foolish. That’s not how television networks work.”

Indeed. Television networks work by selling ads during their programming, and The Times reveals that the poor quality of the "In The Kitchen" shows has led to such declining ratings that Food Network has actually had to refund ad money.

Yes, I realize that I am inserting my own bias by saying that it is the poor quality of the cooking shows that is leading to a decline in ratings. No doubt Tischman will claim that the real reason is that people don't want to watch that type of show, thus he needs to gut them all and replace them with a show where Rachael Ray eats a different flavor of ice cream every week and invariably declares it to be "yummo."

Also, though I myself am a fan of neither show, Brooke Johnson's comparison of Next Food Network Star to Top Chef was ridiculous to the point of amazement: "Ms. Johnson called “Top Chef” a copy of “The Next Food Network Star,” but “without the care about the food content, which we bring to everything we do.”" Wow. I mean seriously? Next Food Network Star is at face value a show about television talent, while Top Chef is about cooking talent. The first is judged by television executives and a rotating group of tv cooks, the second by a tv cook, an acclaimed chef, a professional food critic and a rotating group consisting of mostly acclaimed chefs. There is nothing inherently wrong in that distinction other than Ms. Johnson being blatantly dishonest about it.

I'd also like to point out that many of us (including, I believe, Bourdain) are complaining not about the refocusing of the network away from cooking instruction shows but on a perceived lack of quality and "care about food content." For example, no one that I am aware of complained about Feasting on Asphalt, a show which had little to do with teaching cooking technique but nonetheless had the aforementioned qualities in spades.

Finally, if you don't watch PBS you are missing out on the absolute best cooking on tv: America's Test Kitchen. Mark Bittman, Lidia Bastianich and Jacques Pepin are no slouches either. Well, maybe Bittman, but it only makes the show better.

 
At 12/19/2007 12:57 AM , Blogger John said...

Forgive the tangent, but the mention of PBS jogged my memory: I read somewhere on some discussion board or another - Chowhound maybe, back when they were actually worth reading - that somebody suggested a Food Network Classic. Kind of like VH1 Classic, but playing those old PBS cooking shows. Julia. Frugal Gourmet (my first cooking show). Galloping Gourmet. Etc., etc. Jeez, i would love to see that.

 
At 12/19/2007 8:41 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will definitely watch this show no matter what network it is on.

I believe the "Walmart Crowd" was aimed at alot of "those Rachael Ray fans" and was just a figure of speech. I like RR but I'm not one of those "Worshippers" or "Defenders" (and I can spell too).

BTW I shop at Walmart. LOL.

 
At 12/19/2007 12:57 PM , Anonymous Harry Martin said...

Cue the "meow" with the Walmart comment. I bet Ina just ran screaming from the building

 
At 12/19/2007 4:38 PM , Blogger Marc said...

Ina: "Wal-Mart? I can have Miguel, Michael, and TR come over and jazz up the surface...lord knows they LOVE decorating!"

 
At 12/19/2007 4:59 PM , Anonymous brycer martini said...

The Wal-Mart crowd! There's nothing like devaluing that which rejects you, eh?

Look, the fact is, this is teee veee, and Mario is not TV material. He's red-faced, balding, fat, unkempt, and cooks food that many people find unattractive (the eel dishes, sadly, come to mind). There's a certain entertainment reality that even chefs have to face. Not everyone has to look like Tyler or (Jacob hearts) DAVE LIEBERMAN or Giada (Alton and Ina aren't exactly hot sexy babes), but Batali just kind of looks like a slob in funny wooden shoes. Yeah, yeah I know he runs a three star restaurant or whatever...but he's still hard to look at. Give him a radio show!
(A female chef could never get away with looking that slobby.)

 
At 12/19/2007 5:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alton's not a hot, sexy babe???? I guess it takes all kinds. My kind happens to be good looking, well-spoken, intelligent, talented, and possessing self-deprecating humor. But if you don't see all that in Alton, whatever...

 
At 12/19/2007 7:45 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no doubt in my mind that Mario Batali meant every pejorative nuance of his Wal-Mart comment. I saw him at one of his personal appearances and he acted like a complete brat. We walked out.

 
At 12/19/2007 9:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm still a huge Mario fan and would love him to show up on TV in anything but nekkid but with his consummate cooking skills - I too have switched to PBS for being able to learn more (in again, aforementioned cooking skills). I come from a large Hispanic family in the midwest whose integration has included the acceleration from shopping at K-Mart to Wallmart - and I can't fault those who do - but I would ask to have people dedicated to being "foodies" to be a "bit" more locavorish in their purchasing habits and consider the mom and pop stores too (OK, OK I know it DOES NOT include Williams Sonoma, sigh - and I am looking forward to see what goodies are next available in South Florida at Kohls. . .). Roberto desde Miami

 
At 12/19/2007 10:46 PM , Blogger jacob said...

/b: "Yes, I realize that I am inserting my own bias by saying that it is the poor quality of the cooking shows that is leading to a decline in ratings. No doubt Tischman will claim that the real reason is that people don't want to watch that type of show, thus he needs to gut them all and replace them with a show where Rachael Ray eats a different flavor of ice cream every week and invariably declares it to be "yummo.""

I don't think that Tuschman thinks people don't want to watch instructional cooking shows, nor do I think it's his goal to replace them all with travel shows hosted by Rachael.

I think the decline in the ratings, which you assume is because of shows' poor quality, is really due to two primary factors:

1) The growth in viewers couldn't be sustained (which Bob mentions in the article)-- people only recently became captivated by a lot of the FN celebricooks-- Rachael, Giada, Paula and Emeril, especially. There was a novelty factor to it that brought a lot of viewers in those early, exciting stages.

Now, everyone knows who Rachael is, they're no longer tuning in just to check out who that girl on the Triscuit box is. The ones who decided to keep watching are still watching, and the ones who just checked the shows out for their novelty factor have stopped watching. That's not all that unexpected (although it's odd that FN didn't plan a little better for this beforehand and possibly avoid those pesky "make goods."

2) Competition has increased greatly. Networks that haven't traditionally produced food-based programming are jumping into the mix. Then there's the Internet, which is exploding with food content.

"Brooke Johnson's comparison of Next Food Network Star to Top Chef was ridiculous to the point of amazement"

I agree with you on this point. To say that Top Chef doesn't "care about the food content" is simply not true. It would have been better to just say that Top Chef was a similar show and leave it at that.

"many of us (including, I believe, Bourdain) are complaining not about the refocusing of the network away from cooking instruction shows but on a perceived lack of quality and 'care about food content.'"

I agree that the quality and care about food varies with the new programming, but isn't that to be expected when trying something a little different? You bring up "Feasting" which, yes, was a great show that didn't have a thing to do with teaching cooking techniques. The fact that the network is at least trying to give these types of shows a chance deserves some credit, IMO. One of Bourdain's arguments for a long time was that FN was unwilling to try anything "new" that hadn't been tested. Well, here they are trying and they're still getting hell.

Your opinions have made me think more about the article and the network, though, /b. Thanks! And I'll try to catch more PBS.

john: i'd love a FN Classic. Just gotta get viewers for that station, too:-)

anon: i'm known to grab a few things at my neighborhood w-mart. not gonna lie;-)

hm: "What's a Wal-Mart?" - Ina

marc: hahaha

brycer: interesting point/double standard you bring up.

anon: Alton's definitely hot to a lot of folks, especially straight men.

anon: yikes! stand your ground, there. sorry he was bratty.

roberto: yes, you gotta balance the big box purchases with the mom & pop ones. good credo.

 
At 12/19/2007 10:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I generally like Mario and I agree somewhat that the Food Network is starting to lack some substance. But Mario clearly pulled a Bourdain with that Wal-Mart remark.

It's really shallow to imply that where one to shops is an indicator of one's intellect. It's a matter of what you can afford, what's in your wallet, not what's in your brain.

--A Wal-Mart shopping graduate student in CA

 
At 12/20/2007 8:00 AM , Anonymous Jeff said...

I'm sorry to write this, but IIRC, "Top Chef" gave a professional quality range and $100K to a chef to "kick start" his/her career in that first season...and it got me to thinking, "kick start" a career? And then, when the producers hired Padha Lakshmi to host(she is to exotic cooking what Rachael is to almost everything else), the show went off in another direction. From what I've seen, TC concentrates on personalities 75% to 25% food. TNFNS spent about 60% on personalities and 40% on food.
There, it wasn't a kickstart to a career, it was a potential new career, and some people have done well with it(phenom Guy Fieri from season 2), some have fared okay, but not great(Dan Smith & Steve McDonagh, the "Hearty Boys" on Party Line)and the jury is still out on season 3 winner, Amy Finley, and we know far less about her and her personal life...she mentions her husband once in a while, but we never see him or the kids...we've seen Robin Miller's kids, even her parents, on Quick Fix Meals. Giada's hubby, fashion designer Todd Thompson, shows up on both her series, and Rachael's mom has been on 30MM and her syndicated talk show. Even Ina's hubby, Jeffrey, makes frequent appearances on her show.

Anyway, whatever controversy is generated between and among the "Top Chef" contestants can be balanced against the solid, highly instructive(even from Amy)shows on TFN.

I recently saw Rachael pay homage to Julia Child and Jacques Pepin on two different 30MM episodes by preparing one of each of their classic recipes, pretty much without her signature tweaks to either one. That doesn't sound to me like TFN shows--or their hosts--lack intellect.

 
At 7/27/2008 5:35 PM , Blogger Doc said...

Tuschman should stay on his meds!

 

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