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Sunday, June 7

Review: Next Food Network Star - Ep. 1

Last year I gave you my spiel about Food Network's dilemma in finding a new star out of its most-watched show, The Next Food Network Star. Unlike a lot of reality shows (Survivor, The Amazing Race, America's Next Top Model, etc.) in which the producers are mostly concerned with crafting good story lines, Star's winner, in theory, should go on have a successful show, launch a product line or two, sell a couple thousand books, and maybe teach a few people how to cook in the process. In theory.

The show hasn't been that successful with those goals, though. Season 2's winner Guy Fieri is the biggest star of the "what was their name?" bunch known as former Star contestants. Why is that, I wonder. I don't think Guy is more talented than season 1's Dan & Steve or season 3's Amy Finley or even last year's winner Aaron McCargo Jr.-- he was just the most willing to embody a marketable "personality" for the network.

Food Network also seems to understand the game better now than it did before. If it wasn't for the mega-marketing campaign behind Aaron McCargo's show Big Daddy's House (and the smart decision to premiere the first episode the Sunday immediately following his win), I'm not sure he'd still be around. Who knows where Dan & Steve would be today if they had had that kind of support.

So after watching the first episode, the season 5 premiere of Star, I felt like I was seeing a show produced by people who think they truly get it. They get what kind of kind of challenges work well on TV. They get what the right camera angles are when shooting contestants race through Whole Foods' aisles. They get how to perfectly edit an elimination session for maximum tension.

But just "getting it" doesn't always make for great television. Repeating well-established reality show principles isn't what we're looking for these days, is it?

So that's what I mostly felt after watching the first episode. To make a long story short, the episode opens with a little New York stock footage, some contestants meeting each other in their new living quarters, and an immediate cooking challenge involving some fast shopping for ingredients and catering a large party for Food Network's 16th birthday. There are, of course, some issues with the ingredients and time and things not coming out perfectly.

The party is held at NYC's Butter restaurant, where Food Network's Alex Guarnaschelli is chef (and she looks glam, btw!). Also in attendance are Anne Burrell, Duff Goldman, Sunny Anderson, Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis, Ted Allen, and Morimoto, who has another great line this opening episode, although not as good as last year's:

But unlike last season's opening episode, where the first mini-challenge was an on-camera exercise with Alton Brown, in tonight's opening episode we don't see much in the way that helps show us what kind of cooking show stars these contestants might be if they were to win. I realize there will be lots of these types of challenges to come, but proving you can be a star is the point of the show and the reason for winning. After watching this first episode, I feel like all I know is that when given a limited budget and a few hours to cater a party, problems inevitably arise.

I get it. There is tension when strangers, all competing for the same prize, are forced to work together for the first time. I get it.

I just wanted more.

The Next Food Network Star premieres TONIGHT -- Sunday, June 7 at 9pm ET.

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At 6/07/2009 5:45 PM , Anonymous Greg said...

You know, hard as I try, I just can't get into it. I think of Tuschelson and their snotty comments to the contestants, the rigged way they set up McCargo to win (..so, um, what exactly do the other contestants call you?), a really bitchy Giada..the whole thing just leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Maybe I'll watch a replay in a few days but am in no big hurry tonight. I'll watch Law & Order CI instead.

At 6/07/2009 7:02 PM , Anonymous Greg said...

You know, I really think that they should give up the concept of designing a cooking show for the winner. Top Chef has no real agenda in picking the winner. FN from the beginning has an idea of what they want/could have a niche for, so they mould and prod so that is the winner they want. As Jacob pointed out, only Guy Fie-ty can be considered a success. I'm not sure if McCargo will get a season 3 or not but he is certainly not one of the bright lights of FN. Amy Finley obviously had massive self-esteem issues even though she was a good chef. Actually, JAG was the heir apparent but since that didn't work, they had to rework their concept. Dan & Steve were great, but got zero support from the network.

Fact is, it's pretty iffy if even their handpicked people with an established concept will make it or not.

People I find continuously interesting/worth watching:
Ina, Alex Guarnicheli (sp?), Tyler Florence, Sunny Anderson, Anne Burrell, Ellie Krieger

People I've gotten tired of/am tired of: Rachel, the Nealey's, Paula, Paula's kids and any Paula relative, Giada (she just exhudes too much 'tude for me these days)

People I never liked: Guy Fie-ty, Aunt Sandy, McCargo...

People who weren't that bad but got axed: Robin Miller, Ingrid Hoffman

There are just as many failed shows of theirs when they are working with a KNOWN media personality / chef. It seems like a huge waste of money and production time for people with wobbly cooking skills and a questionable on-camera presence.
Just give then a hundred grand, training at a cooking school and say they will be the top candidates for future FN shows that fit them.

At 6/07/2009 7:05 PM , Anonymous elizabeth said...

First off--this is probably my favorite piece you've written in a while, Jacob. Well done!

This show is compelling because it exposes, as so many have called it, "the underbelly of the network", but it's not great television. A documentary following the making of a new host, and see what exactly is expected of them, the filming of their first group of episodes, etc. would be fascinating to watch--and would do a lot to stem the me-too mentality that spurs people like this to enter a contest, i.e. "I could totally be on the Food Network! That's so easy!" Because you know what? Cooking on-air is not easy, and I can say that from experience.

I guess the fact that Top Chef is the number one food show on cable really sticks in their craw, though (can't blame them for that) so their idea to try to capture some of that interest is understandable, but isn't terribly innovative. Then again, it fits in with their whole mentality of late, which is so focused on personality instead of content, which is why, IMHO, they cannot boast the top-rated food show on cable: content is ALWAYS king.

At 6/07/2009 8:28 PM , Blogger Patricia Appelquist said...

Okay, I am at a friends house who somehow gets Eastcoast time on his satellite dish. Paul plops us down in his livingroom for what was suppose to be the NBA finals and I was happy with that...

He turns on the tv and he gets Food Network Star on. After a futile search for the NBA finals channel the other "hens" call out for FNS-
I excused myself because after 5 sickening minutes of gratitous self serving Food Network hype I had throw up in my mouth.

I will only read about FNS on Food Network Addict plain and simple...now where is the mouthwash.

At 6/07/2009 10:20 PM , Blogger Wicked Good Dinner said...

Ditto that. Should be an interesting season.

At 6/07/2009 10:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

There seems to be a wider gap between the plausible candidates and the throw-away ones this year. There has to be a better way for FN to find new talent and for us to be entertained than to make us suffer through green beans and packaged angel food cake. Makes me want to skip to the end of the season...

At 6/07/2009 10:34 PM , Anonymous Mike said...

Everything started at such a breakneck pace, I never felt like I had a chance to settle in and meet the contestants. I'm sure this was by design but, at least from my perspective, it made the show suffer.

Remember last year when the first challenge was to create an individual dish and introduce themselves?

Do we not deserve that this year? Or are we supposed to be confused until the winner gets shoved down our throats at the end?

At 6/07/2009 10:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I honestly don’t get what half the challenges presented on this show has to do with, you know, hosting a show on FN. Name me one instance where Ina has teamed up with Tyler Florence and tried to feed a giant party consisting of FN execs, other FN stars, and some editor from Gourmet Magazine using limited ingredients.
I also can’t stand how the judges admonish the contestants for using chef-speak, but then you turn on Guy’s Big Bite and hear him bang on about being a chef every 57 seconds.
And the poor contestant who wins…The judges’ critiques have brainwashed him or her into thinking they must explain everything little thing they do. (“Why am I sprinkling salt? Well, it will help season this chicken breast.”)
Like others have said, I’m just going to get re-caps from Food Network Addict and skip the BS.

At 6/07/2009 11:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all the talented young chefs in this country I can't understand why or how FN has come up with some of these people. (Oh waitn the talented ones try to get onto Top Chef).There has been only one "home cook" with any chops - Amy Finley - and Bob and Susie did their best to demoralize her during the competition by knocking her fidelity to French cooking. I wouldn't say this episode was painful to watch because that implies a certain degree of involvement. Boring is the better word.

At 6/07/2009 11:59 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay.... but WHO do each of you think is going to win this thing this year???? Let's make predictions!!

Me? I'm pulling for Jeffrey Saad. I think he's got a great personality and his food was well loved and that was an "off the cuff" recipe! Great job, Jeffrey!!

Kelli in TN

At 6/08/2009 12:29 AM , Blogger SophisticatedSoul said...

I like Jeffery and for some reason Michael. But I think Jamika will win because she has been in the most promo stuff. Remember this contest is over - the finale has already been shot so chances are the final three will get the most face time in ads just like McCargo, Garza and Gertler last year.

I don't believe this show ever actually looks for a new star, just ratings. The last two years have been fixes. TFN knew about JAG's resume before he ever got to NYC. They just pulled that stunt for ratings. Just like the last minute rules change last year to keep from having to boot McCargo after his putrid performance and then the "accidental" web mishap.

At 6/08/2009 1:16 AM , Anonymous Darin said...

I have to agree with the general sentiment here. I want to like this show soo much, but it continues to disappoint. We even scheduled a watch party tonight and everyone at my house felt very apathetic after the show was over.

In theory I guess the challenges given to the contestants are supposed to create tension and drama, but like others have stated, what the hell do they have to do with being a food network star? If this is the stated goal of the show, why waste our time with challenges anyone would struggle with, even current food network personalities.

I hope I'm wrong, but this show is starting to become quite a bore.

At 6/08/2009 3:08 AM , Blogger Prohomemaker.Com said...

I am *so* over this show. That's what I said when I saw it on the channel lineup. Done, done, done.

At 6/08/2009 4:37 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved when the camera glides back over to Alex G blatantly rolling her eyes as one of the contestants is explaining their "culinary view". It was the highlight of the show, in my opinion. I shared her sentiment.
TNFNS is so rigged. Why waste our time and insult our intelligence with continuing? I won't be watching. Go Top Chef!

At 6/08/2009 8:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

@anon 4:37 - I noticed that too!!! I was sure it had to be an editing mishap; but even if that's the case, it was a deliciously fun editing mishap!!!
As for the rest of the show - I pretty much assumed Jen would be the first one booted. (Or Eddie) She seemed like a repackaged, and married, Kelsey (or whatever her name was) from last year.
I am putting early money on Jeffrey. I really like him. I'm pegging the non-kimchi Korean girl as number 2 also-ran.

At 6/08/2009 8:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So far, it just looks like a weak crop of cooks. No one left me with a positive impression. And anyone who would give a group of chefs store-bought Angel Food cake should have been a goner. Jeffery seemed to have the best food knowledge. I'd put Teddy as the dark horse.

The FN chef who comes off like the biggest dick here is Alton. We get it, dude, you're smarter than everyone. That doesn't mean you have to belittle people and react disgustedly to everything everyone says.

At 6/08/2009 10:10 AM , Anonymous Alec Smart said...

Wow looks like we are in for a season where everyone acts like a class A dickweed.

When does Top Chef All Star RealChef Challenge start ?
I think if I grace any culinary program with my viewing presence it will be
Bravo's Top Chef real Chef challenge.
NFNS has too many beginner "judges" and people that think they are somehow part of the current culinary scene. Hey Tuschwipe , why don't you ask the janitor at FN offices to be a guest judge on this show ? He's already on the payroll and you don't have to pay his subway fare.

At 6/08/2009 10:19 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to say it, as a devoted AB fan, but Alton's comments about her shrimp were hateful and completely snotty. Part of AB's appeal was intelligence and approachability, but he was acting like a elitist jerk at the dinner. As for TNFNS, well, there isn't anyone yet I would be rooting for. I think Jeffrey "greek god" has the best chance, and Michael, whom I think is awesomely cool, won't be able to be marketed well. We'll see!

At 6/08/2009 10:32 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

They all suck! Store bought angel food cake? Really? Trying to recreate Aunt Sandy's Kwanzaa cake?

If this is the new face of FN they need a face lift.

I only watched to see want Alton had to say about them. And unlike Anon 8:45, I didn't think he was a "dick." He was probably regretting getting wrangled in the mess.

At 6/08/2009 10:35 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Jeffery and Michael. Right away. Alot of the others are there for TV sake. So annoying some of these people.

At 6/08/2009 10:40 AM , Anonymous Alec Smart said...

I saw that Alex Guarnawhatever did the Giada eye rolling maneuver.

I do the same thing whenever I see you judge some lame FN challenge and manufacture some faux criticisms so as you like flapping your gums so much on TV/

I too think the "culinary point of view"thing is more FN bullshit rhetoric, but honey, these donkeys sign your paycheck, so start rolling your eyes at Tuschwipe. You're a hack.

At 6/08/2009 11:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

After last season I really can't get motivated to go out of my way to watch this year. If I stumble on it I may watch, if not who cares. Last season turned into the standard reality show "cyrfest" with contestants blubbering at the drop of a hat.

The only past winner that has worked out is Guy with DDD because HE is not the show, the people that he interviews are the real stars of the show. Because of his outgoing personality he brings out the best of the people who really matter. Can Guy cook? Who cares!

Look at the early shows with Bobby Flay, Emeril, Mario etc and they are at times painful to watch today. They didn't get where they are today just because of their cooking, but because of their personalities.

Who needs another show to teach us how to make burgers, ribs or fried chicken. Just can the whole competition, we really don't care.

At 6/08/2009 12:04 PM , Blogger Lord of Light AZ said...

After watching the show, I expect much of what we got last year. That Debbie Lee managed to throw how many people under the bus on the first show?

Why not get "I am Gay" shirts an needed?

Deer in headlight dietician.

I alread miss Jen.

Oh well, the Iron Chef episode last night was fun.

At 6/08/2009 12:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this it? Months of preamble and this is what they pull together? A dozen nimrods scrambling to win some contest that they think will legitimize their private fantasies about being cooking stars? They're cannon fodder and FN gets a whole summer of programming opportunities to trot out their dog-and-pony show of "luminaries" while otherwise normal adults make asses of themselves.

Inevitably Tuschman will declare this season of Next FN Star more successful than ever regardless of who wins or what dross they create out of the winner (a la Fieri), probably because ratings will go up. Too bad there's no way of capturing if those people tuning in are interested or just want something to make fun of. I am underwhelmed.

At 6/08/2009 3:00 PM , Blogger John said...

I agree with you to a large extent (and your analysis is much more extensive than my play by play last night on my own blog). They finally seem to have figured out what they're doing on this show. but they still haven't figured out, at least for last night, how to test what kind of show these people would make. Will they be a silly caricature like Big Daddy? Will they be an over-the-top nutball like Guy Fieri? (I know that's not nice. That's just how he strikes me - a male Rachael Ray, so to speak.) Will they be thrown aside like Dan and Steve, or instantly forgettable like Amy Finley?

One thing I did like about last night's show was that, unlike Top Chef, they did at least focus in on the chefs' personalities. That's a big step towards how they will perform as TV stars. Top Chef just goes for the drama. TNFNS is starting to really concentrate on that now - they're "Top Chefifying" in other words. But they know now that they need to factor that personality aspect into who wins.

At 6/08/2009 3:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not nearly as excited as last year after the whole "Big Daddy's House" thing -- and I am sure Aaron is a great guy -- but I digress. But I can't help but watch it -- kind of like a train wreck -- plus I love reading the blogs. And I am sorry, Aaron making a comment on the seasoning of the beef tenderloin? Please. For entertainment value I LOVE Michael, but I wonder if a whole episode of him could be too much.

And I will ALWAYS love Alton :)


At 6/08/2009 3:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Top Chef prize has nothing to do with a tv show. The majority of those chefs do not want a TV show. I like both shows but they are totally different in a number of ways.

At 6/08/2009 9:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's up with Debbie still being there? She is a dispicable liar, (cake) didn't get the important ingreiedents for Jeffery and Katie. Litterly threw her team under the bus?? Is this who you want to be the NFNS? The green bean gal was at least honest!!

At 6/09/2009 12:34 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually the best moment of the night was when Sunny called out "It's bangin'!" about Debbie's spicy mayo and a nervous Bob looked up with a classic "take my wallet and don't hurt me" look.

At 6/09/2009 2:18 AM , Blogger Single Serving said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6/09/2009 11:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Housewife 2.0 got sent home. SS - if you haven't seen it BY NOW, tough luck.

It's not a "spoiler" if the show aired 48+ hours ago.

At 6/09/2009 12:37 PM , Anonymous Laura said...

I have not seen the whole show, just a couple of parts (ending included). I did see the part with Ann Burrell and I have to say that is the pot calling the keetle black. I wanted to like her show, the the sounds and saying make me nuts. Not to mention the crazy hand jesters. To me, her show seems like one long run on sentence. I mean she jumps from one think to another without taking a breath. I'm sure it's just me, but she needs to tone it down too. I'm going to watch the show in full tomorrow night, and I can't wait to see the parts with Alex G. After watching "Chopped", I find her to be a snot. Her comments make no since and she just looks for ways to cut them down. I'll bet she has never done one of the challenges.

At 6/09/2009 3:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually liked the first episode of NFNS. Jeffrey is my pick. I love his strength and ability to bounce back from being totally ran over by that..... Michael is so colorful and fun to watch too but we want to see more episodes and see more personalities and abilities.

At 6/10/2009 9:39 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

By seeing the contestants on NFNS, it is easy to see why lots of people think they can do this. If these contestants are the best out of the thousands that apply, how bad can the rest be. One thing I didn't like about this episode was that they put them in teams immediately and did not give them an opportunity to shine or show themselves as an individual. After all when they get their own show they will not be working with a team of cooks. It would have been nice to have seen them plan as individuals first. I agree with the above comment too, Alton Brown is to full of himself. I really liked Alton but that diminished him to Giada's level in my opinion.

At 6/12/2009 1:25 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also thought that Debbie was the worst! I would be so upset if she was my team captain... not only was she to over see, but she was the one who made the decision to buy angel food cake from Whole Foods... and Whole Foods has so many options for dessert. She also mentioned she sis catering but was so off on the budget! Sandras money saving meals might help out this one! And I was looking forward to a Asian background cooking on the show but she said she cant make kimchee. Shw was a slob.

At 6/12/2009 4:12 AM , Anonymous meg4fancast said...

Hi! Be sure to check out the weekly exit interviews of each kicked off contestant- Food Network Interviews on Fancast

At 6/12/2009 8:33 AM , Anonymous Laura said...

I saw the show last night and agree that they made the wrong choice. As for telling Jen her dish was not FN worthy, I have seen both Rachael and Ann boil green beans, then sautee them in EVOO. I guess that's ok though. And they were captivated by Michael? I guess that's what makes the world go around. I could not watch 5 minutes of him. At this point, I don't know who I will be voting for. I'll have watch a few more episodes..

At 6/12/2009 2:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...



At 6/12/2009 2:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those apple tarts looked retarded. Tragic. And what's with the fat gay dude? I hate when queens try to be funny and all, snap snap with the fingers and calling everyone honey.

The episode itself was pretty dry, The Network needed to have a storyline, which is why they picked on Debbie. In all honesty, she did nothing wrong. The desert wasn't her responsibility in the first place. And the douche bag who wanted that stupid spice for his dish? HELLO!!! This is a f-ing cooking show, you're a f-ing chef - THINK OF SOMETHING ELSE TO COOK!!! Jeffrey is a big ole bitch.

At 6/12/2009 2:10 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't trust Eddie at all. He seems to cocky for his own good. I bet he gets kicked off very soon.


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