RSW ’13: Cooking Channel looking for reality, docusoaps

In a food-focused panel at Realscreen West, Cooking Channel's GM Michael Smith revealed that the network is rethinking its programming strategy.
June 7, 2013

In a food-focused panel at Realscreen West, Cooking Channel’s GM Michael Smith revealed that the network is rethinking its programming strategy.

“We started Cooking Channel because we decided to move Food Network into [being] more about the characters and less about cooking information, and foodies were upset,” said Smith of the network that launched in May 2010.

“We found that it’s not working anymore, because of Internet and cooking videos. We’re trying to get at the important life-changing and transformational power of food experiences, because it’s not enough to show cooking information.”

Smith, previously the SVP of marketing, creative and brand strategy for Food Network, said that the network is telling producers to think broader, and that it can be about dating, party planning, weight loss or weddings, as long as it has a food-adjacent connection.

He also told realscreen that the pitches can be in the reality, docusoap and competition genres, and that the network will be moving away from its instructional programming. An example of the new direction for the Cooking Channel is the reality show launching on June 10, The Freshman Class.

As for talent, he told the assembled audience that there has been an evolution from the cook being a teacher, like Julia Child or Rachael Ray, and that now the main characters are judges in competition shows.

“I’m curious to see what will be next,” he said. “In the early days of TV, we showed people how to cook, and where to go, and in the past five years, they’ve raised the bar on finding good characters and through competition they’ve created stakes.”

Insights from other panelists on the ‘Joining the Food Fight’ panel included Eden Gaha, president of Shine America, who admitted that the team behind MasterChef wonders what happens to the winners of the Fox reality show.

“More than any other genre, the cooking shows change lives forever. We see people come out from where they were and become who they want to be,” he said. “It really does make a difference, they get a job in the food industry which is where they wouldn’t have gone without the show.”

Shine America is currently in production on a food show for National Geographic, called Forage Wars.

Elsewhere, Karrie Wolfe, senior VP of Kinetic Content – the production company behind The Taste – spoke of how difficult it is to find talent.

“We’ve had people say, I was in Louisiana recently and the chef was really great,” she said. “We take advantage of people having contacts in other parts of the country. YouTube is great, but if you’ve seen it, our competitors have seen it. We’re lucky to have past cooking shows, to [be able to] look back at contestants to see who popped.”

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