Sunday, November 23, 2003

Food Network sizzlin' on all burners


'Cooking channel,' having created loyal views and celeb chefs, marks its 10th year

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A decade ago today, the Food Network debuted with a mere 6.5 million subscribers. More than a few predicted the "cooking channel" wouldn't last.

But the network has proved critics wrong, growing to more than 79 million cable subscribers, making stars out of chefs such as Emeril Lagasse and creating a cult following for a quirky Japanese show called Iron Chef.

Over coffee at the Cincinnatian Hotel this week, Food Network president Judy Girard credited viewers' "need to know" and a little luck for the channel's success.

When did you really know the Food Network was going to be successful?

When we put Iron Chef on (1996). We had a chef scheduled to go on, but ... had to pull his show at the last minute. Iron Chef was one of the few (video) libraries available. I'd like to say it was brilliant programming, but we backed into that sucker and it was an instant hit.

Do you ever have to pinch yourself, knowing that your network is so successful and yet it's about nothing but food and cooking?

There is a different viewer relationship. ... It's very passionate because it's part of people's lives. They are very connected. People use the network in different ways. One is they learn how to cook from the hardcore cooking shows. Those ratings are as high as prime time, which is more entertainment-based.

How do you explain your viewers' passion for watching?

I think the majority of the people who watch the network don't cook. It's voyeuristic. It's the intrinsic "knowing how." ... If I watch Emeril and I learn to saute, that's going to stay with me, and that's all I need to know.

You recently signed a five-year, multimillion-dollar contract with Emeril Lagasse. Have your figured out why he is so popular?

I think he could do almost anything and he would break through as a personality. We've watched him train his staff at restaurants. It's amazing. He's a forceful personality and great motivator.

Have you learned anything by watching your programming?

I remember hearing Sara (Moulton) one day say that if you put hot water in your ice cube trays they'll come out clear.

Do you cook?

No. It takes a patient person and love of the creative act, and I don't have that.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

We're going to my brother's house and I'll bring dessert. Bought.

E-mail cmartin@enquirer.com




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