America's TV screens these days serve up drama, gallons of tears, rage, scary scenarios, comedy, humans crunching odd critters, bleeped-bits and you-gotta-be-kidding moments.
And that's just on the food and cooking shows.
Our television appetite seems to yearn for big servings of sports competitions and reality shows and now all sorts of programs focused on food aim to satisfy that hunger.
The most recent? That would be the recently launched Cooking Channel, a Food Network sibling that's taken over cable's Fine Living Network (FLN) and airs shows ranging from wacky "Food Jammers" and the cerebral "Foodography" to some Food Network personalities.
It joins the all-food-all-the-time Food Network (with a lineup ranging from Aaron McCargo, Jr. to Paula Deen and Tyler Florence) as well as a wide array of channels with food-focused programming. There's PBS ("America's Test Kitchen" to "The Meaning of Food"). There's Bravo ( "Top Chef" and its spawn), TLC ("Cake Boss" to "BBQ Pitmasters") on to the Travel Channel (with "Man v. Food" plus Andrew Zimmern "Bizarre Foods" besting those "Survivor" wimps by eating, say, a lamb's eyeball). Toss in the Brit boys — Gordon Ramsay's tirades on FOX ( "Hell's Kitchen" or 'Kitchen Nighmare's") and Jamie Oliver's fat-battle, "Food Revolution" on ABC.
You begin to wonder if America's appetite for foodie TV is insatiable. Probably not.
More than 60 years ago, cooking shows featured prim home economists. James Beard arrived with his technique-focused "I Love to Eat" in 1946, and the airwaves began to crowd with local and nationally broadcast programs, from Joseph Milani in L.A.s to Francois Pope in Chicago. Child's arrival 1962 signaled a change.
"It wasn't until people loved Julia Child so much that it started to occur to people that these shows can also be entertaining," said Kathleen Collins, author of "Watching What We Eat: The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows" (Continuum). "Graham Kerr was all about entertaining. I really believe his show the first one that the producer said, 'Oh, this is what we're going to do and if they learn to cook, fine, good for them.'"
More cooking shows found personalities serving up a big of ham with their recipes. Paul Prudhomme. Martin Yan. Justin Wilson. Then Bam!, 17 years ago Food Network arrived with celeb chefs like Emeril Lagasse.
Gary Edgerton, an Old Dominion University professor and author of several books on television, credits "Iron Chef" with pushing cooking shows further into the mainstream by mixing soap opera, reality elements and more into the cooking show stew.
"The 'Iron Chefs' in the 1990s gave a certain prominence to cooking shows that hadn't been there before," he said. "Here all of a sudden you mix it with other genres like the quiz show and building up the drama associated with it. …Mixing a basic, sort of classic genre of the cooking show with other genres which widens its appeal. I don't think these shows are any different than the kind of appeals you have across television."
TV programmers haven't looked back. It's entertainment! It's food porn (Sexy chef? Check. Upclose images of luscious cakes? Check. Chefs-swearing up a storm? Check). It's fun.
And for all the grousing by some about a lack of shows demonstrating technique, Collins counters, "I still think cooking shows of all stripes have a strong teaching element, although some people define teaching strictly and are frustrated by the loss of that intimate technique element.
There are still a lot of shows on the air that show technique, she said; you'll find them on PBS and Food Network's daytime lineup.
"They're not the flashy prime-time shows," said Collins. "These shows that maybe don't focus on technique but show people cooking and talking about what they're doing are still teaching people in the sense that they're giving them ideas, inspiring them and just making them think about food in new ways in ways they wouldn't if they weren't watching these shows."
They may not learn how to bone a chicken or bake a great cupcake from scratch, but such shows may remove the fear of the unknown – the kitchen – from generations raised on prepared foods.
And the launch of the new Cooking Channel? "It really tells me there's no end in sight of our fascination with food and cooking and more kinds of people and more kinds of cooking are being brought into the fold ……
A few new shows
With numerous new shows joining the already groaning buffet of foodie programs, here are a few new ones to check out:
"Inedible to Incredible"
TLC / Series premieres June 21
New Orleans chef John Besh rehabs home cooks who've been destroying tastebuds in pursuit of "dinner." A little technique, a little common sense, a lot of "taste bud" education. Think "What Not to Wear" in the kitchen.
TLC / Special June 14
Chef Rodelio Aglibot, whose culinary pedigree stretches from L.A. to Sunda restaurant in Chicago, orders "OOE" (one of each) at three restaurants in a city for each of two half-hour episodes. After digging into each dish, heads back to his own restaurant to create a new dish inspired by what he's just eaten.
Food Network / Series premieres June 15
Cupcake gurus from across America — from Tracey Buchanan of Sweet Bakery & Café (Ellicot City, Md.) to Shayrin Badillo of Cupcakes Nouveau (Coral Gables, Fla.) — face off in three elimination challenges for a $$$ prize. Entertainer/Magician Justin "Kredible" Willman hosts. It's "Top Chef" with buttercream
Cooking Channel / Series
Dudes can cook and do so with a power drill, 2-by-4s and whatever else they need to make soda pop, dehydrate a turkey, whatever. Wayne's World moves from the basement and music, to the kitchen and food.
Cooking Channel / Series
They're calling Aida "Taste Hunter" Mollenkamp trots about the country in search of, well, food crafters such as Sweet Grass Dairy goat farmers in Georgia and San Francisco's Sweet Revolution salted caramels. So that's how they make (fill in the blank).
Cooking Channel / Series
Your muddling not up to snuff? Wonder about all those potent liquids you're mixing and sipping. Darryl "DR Mixologist" Robinson (New York's Hudson Hotel) is "part mixologist, part mad scientist" and libation coach.
Note: Check local listings for air timesCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun