Friday, May 30
While executives at the CW barely have time to shout a quick see yah to the winner of America’s Next Top Model mere minutes after her crowning, Food Network has placed itself in the somewhat difficult position of actually needing the person who wins its own competition show, The Next Food Network Star, to really fulfill what's bestowed upon them--the chance to become a star.
More Rachaels and Giadas and Emerils and Tylers are needed to assure the long-term success of Food Network. Rachael won’t be getting any less busy anytime soon, so they can’t rely on her for the next 15-20 years.
For other competition shows, though, it honestly makes no difference to networks if the winner of Survivor, The Bachelor, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, or even Top Chef is ever heard from again. In fact, execs would probably prefer you forget all about what's-her-name last year who won and instead just focus on watching the current season. Just sit down and be entertained.
But to Food Network (and other networks that have similar competition shows), this winner represents more than just the end-result of a ratings bonanza, but in fact the beginning of what could be a very profitable and long-lasting endeavor.
So it must come with some grief that after three seasons of TNFNS, the only winner who has truly taken hold is that of season two winner Guy Fieri. When asked about why Dan & Steve or Amy Finley didn’t become major players on the network, Mr. Tuschman kindly dismissed my questions, referencing initial success periods that naturally played themselves out or, in the case of Amy Finley, personal decisions to leave the network.
Still, you know FN must prefer the success of a Guy Fieri over the spark and fizzle of an Amy Finley. Now there probably will never be any Amy Finley cookware, Amy Finley DVDs, or Amy Finley cookbooks--all of which Food Network would have gotten a cut of the profits.
So here we go again. This Sunday is the premiere of season 4 of TNFNS. Back again as judges are Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson (TUSCHELSON), along with now full-time judge Bobby Flay who had previously served as a semi-regular guest judge. With what appears to be a greater focus on food this season (and finalists with greater skill than in seasons past), Flay is an obvious choice to add a little culinary legitimacy to the judging panel.
After the ten finalists arrive at Food Network studios, Tuschman reminds them that to win this particular competition, the finalist needs to have first-rate “cooking chops” (a phrase I’m quickly growing tired of), a unique culinary point of view, and a personality that can excite millions of viewers. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to reveal that in the first episode the finalists complete one challenge that tests their star potential and another that tests their cooking ability.
I’ll let the first one be a surprise and focus solely on the cooking challenge.
Finalists draw cards to form teams of two and must prepare three dishes within 30 minutes. Invariably, dishes aren’t completed on time, drama ensues, and tempers flare.
It’s strangely ironic to me that what is set up as a very intense, high stakes, drama-filled challenge is basically just a take on 30 Minute Meals—the vanguard of Food Network’s easy, accessible, care-free lineup of programs.
The fact that producers went to such great lengths to make cooking three dishes in 30 minutes (by two people!) look incredibly difficult was actually laughable at times, especially after so many other shows on Food Network enforce the “It's easy! Anyone can do this!” mantra.
I could be giving them a bit of a hard time here. They do have to plate more than Rachael does, and their food is served to a room of Food Network stars--all a bit more intimidating.
The best moments of the episode are in this room and come from the Food Network stars themselves, seen in a rare exchange interacting and--shock--disagreeing with each other! Morimoto has the best line of the entire episode--perhaps the whole season.
In the end, the finalists line up (in the same house as last season!) and feel the wrath of TUSCHELSON and the Flayster. Someone goes home.
Unnecessarily heightened drama aside, it's an enjoyable first episode filled with star cameos and a slightly higher culinary level than we've seen before. I probably shouldn't be getting that bent out of shape over the challenges. It's supposed to be entertainment, right?
Well, it's entertainment and it's business. Food Network can't just give the winner a Covergirl contract and say goodbye. They gotta find someone who can deliver. So, who will it be?
Season four of The Next Food Network Star premieres this Sunday, June 1 at 10pm/9c.