From Baron Ambrosia dueling with John Waters on the Cooking Channel on Friday, to Adam Richman featuring Faidley's crab cake sandwich this week on the Travel Channel, Baltimore has been getting its share of foodie TV lately.
But it looks to be mere prelude to what Baltimore's most irrepressible TV chef, Duff Goldman, is planning for Hungry, an entire YouTube channel devoted to food, which he is helping create, produce and will appear on starting July 2. Described as a cutting-edge example of cable TV for the Internet, Hungry will have a definite Baltimore flavor, the former "Ace of Cakes" star vows.
"How can something I do not have a Baltimore flavor, man? Come on," Goldman said in a telephone interview from Charm City Cakes West in Los Angeles. "But that's one of the advantages of doing this on YouTube and not going the traditional TV way: I can be myself, and that means being Baltimore — and goofy and edgy if I want."
"I don't know — if I can do a prank like making tomato soup and onion-flavored cupcakes, right?" he said, warming to the scenario. "And then, just like walk around Baltimore getting people to eat them. That would be funny, wouldn't it?"
"No, wait, if I can have [Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman] Haloti Ngata carrying a tray of disgusting cupcakes with me, and we just basically force people to eat them. Now that would be really funny," Goldman continued. "That's the kind of stuff I want to do — and in this new situation, I can do it. That's what's so great about doing it this way."
As usual, the uninhibited Goldman had a lot of fun talking about on-camera "pranks" he is planning for the channel. But I couldn't help seriously thinking how much the channel he is developing with Bruce Seidel — the former head of the Food Network and the man who created such TV shows as "Iron Chef America" — seems to fit with a larger trend of the programs that sound most exciting these days being created out of new and innovative media business models.
That trend includes Netflix, known primarily for distributing programs to its 20 million subscribers, making the leap into creating its own content by ordering 26 episodes of "House of Cards" from director-producer David Fincher's team. That example is literally right under my nose: The producers built a newsroom set on a soundstage at The Baltimore Sun and have been filming since April.
But examples are all over the place these days. Netflix is also putting the canceled Fox cult hit "Arrested Development" back into production. Charlie Sheen is making a sitcom deal for "Anger Management," which premieres Thursday on FX, which could fast-track the series to 100 episodes and syndication in two years — something that takes five years under the typical model. And there's DirecTV, another distributor of subscription programming, commissioning its first original drama, "Rogue," which will debut next summer.
"What's exciting for me is that we can do things that don't happen on network television," Goldman said. "So, we are not constrained by having to fill 22 minutes of programming. And we're not constrained by having to adhere to the 'mission' of our show."
Goldman uses a fictitious show about making pies to make his point.
"When you launch a show, and the show is called 'How to Make a Great Pie' — well, after the first two episodes, you've pretty much covered everything there is to cover about pie," he said. "And then the rest of the run, you're trying to figure out what the hell to do. You can't really switch gears on network television. But on here, you can totally switch gears."
Like, for example, if viewers don't find your onion cupcakes prank as funny as you do.
"Being online this way is a great way to be flexible on your feet and respond to what people are saying," Goldman said.
Echoing the loss of faith in Nielsen ratings being sounded throughout the TV industry these days, Goldman said YouTube and Google, the media giants behind Hungry, have a better way to measure their audiences.
"With all the new screens, Nielsen never really knows anymore how many people are watching a TV show," he said. "But YouTube tells you exactly how many people are watching. I can look at it every five minutes and see how many people have watched my show. And not only can I look at it and see how many watched, I can read what they're saying about it, because they comment."
Goldman believes the biggest challenge for him and the other TV professionals creating Hungry is trying to maintain the immediate, authentic look of YouTube in the content they create.
"I am a consistent YouTube viewer. I love videos of frogs sitting on a bench. I love videos of antelopes head-butting mountain bikers. I love watching fights in McDonald's at 2 in the morning," he said. "It's honest and real, and it's really happening — and someone captured it. It's just a little slice of something crazy. That's the challenge: to not alienate the people like me who love YouTube for what it is."
In the end, Goldman said, Hungry is just trying to catch up with an audience that is migrating to new media spaces.
"You can watch Hungry on a computer screen. You can watch it on your iPad. You can watch it on a phone," he said. "There are a lot more people looking at computers and iPads than are looking at television, and this is a great way to really capture those guys."
Foodies & Baltimore
"Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America" will feature Faidley's famed crab cake at 9 p.m Wednesday on the Travel Channel. That's nice, but typical of the way foodie TV shows pigeonhole Baltimore, says celebrity baker Duff Goldman.
"It's very hard to get past Natty Boh and crabs," he said.
In talking to Richman about the show, Goldman said, "I went up to him and was like, 'Hey, Adam, you ought to come to Baltimore and check out Faidley's crab cake sandwich,' right? But I also asked him, 'Do you really want to do crab cake sandwich? Because we've got so many good sandwich places, like the Italian deli Trinacria, which is one of my favorite sandwich places in the universe.'"
But Richman was thinking Baltimore equals crabs, not Italian delis, Goldman said.
"And he was like, 'Yeah, I've got enough deli stuff. What else you got? I'm coming to Baltimore — give me crab cakes. ... I don't want to do deli in Baltimore because we're going to do deli in New York.'"