Food TV Defers to the Digital Realm
By Graham Kates
September 3, 2013
Photo by: Bravo
Last week’s episode of Top Chef Masters ended in unfamiliar territory. Two cheftestants were set to battle each other for the right to remain on the show, a culinary fight to the death that would be aired… online.
All season long, Bravo has been attempting to lure Top Chef Masters viewers to the web for the online series, "Battle of the Sous Chefs," and this gambit left fans with little choice.
"Battle" is perhaps food television’s most high-profile foray into the realm of Internet programming. The series, which airs online only (or on-demand for certain cable television subscribers), has debuted during a year in which the Internet has suddenly proven itself as a viable contender for high-budget programming.
Earlier this summer, Netflix’s House of Cards, Arrested Development and Hemlock Grove brought in 14 Emmy nominations and glued millions of binge-watching eyeballs to screens for hours at a time, while Amazon and Hulu added their own programming to the competition.
These shows, often deep and risky, and certainly worthy of air-time on traditional television networks, are a far cry from even the best original programming offered so far by the food television powers that be.
But rather than creating shows that might capitalize on viewers’ newfound love of marathon online viewing, food television has the habit of repurposing edgy Internet fare into a well-worn cable TV box.
Recently, the Travel Channel premiered Best Daym Takeout, an adaption of Daymon Patterson’s popular web series, "Daym Drops." On Drops, Patterson reviews fast food joints like Five Guys - famously screaming in exultation “Damn! Damn! Damn!” about the bacon on his burger - from the front seat of his car.
Takeout includes the same dashboard reviews that made Patterson famous, but it's paired with the same restaurant chatter that made Guy Fieri famous on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (and has been replicated a zillion times since).
Perhaps the best attempt yet by any network to go the other way - bring television to the Internet, instead of vice versa - is in fact "Battle of the Sous Chefs." At nine minutes, it’s one of the longer culinary shows around, and the contestants are unique in that they’re not celebrities or even the head honchos at their restaurants.
But it’s basically a quick hit for those who need a Top Chef fix more than once a week.
From the Food Network to the Travel Channel and Bravo, the web is typically treated as an addendum to traditional television programming. Want to see Andrew Zimmern cook some of the crazy things he eats on his show? Check out the website. Interested in hearing more about the challenges on Cutthroat Kitchen? Alton Brown’s After-Show on FoodNetwork.com might satisfy you for five minutes.
Even last week’s episode, meant to drive viewers from their televisions to the web - in which Top Chef Masters cheftestants Sue Zemanick and Jennifer Jasinski take on each other on "Battle" - immediately drives viewers back to the remote. The winner of their online battle will be revealed at the beginning of this week’s Top Chef Masters episode.
It’s the kind of boilerplate synergy programming that viewers have come to expect from food television, and perhaps it’s a sign that Bravo et al. will be beaten to the punch by new online programmers like Netflix or Hulu.