The Star System: The Bread & Butter of the Food Network

In the span of ten plus years, Americans have gone from a fast food culture to a nation of the food curious. A driving force behind the recent fandom of all things culinary arts has been the success of the Food Network. Founded back in 1993 as the Television Food Network by The Providence Journal writer Joe Langhan, it was created as a lifestyle channel, just like its sister stations HGTV (Home & Garden Television), DIY and the Travel Channel.

Unlike its sisters, it has been the cult of personality that has been the fuel behind the network'?'s fire. Stars such as Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, and Mario Batali captured the public'?'s attention early on.

Batali became known for his show Italian themed Molto Mario and for his appearances on Iron Chef America. Like fellow celebrity chef, former Food Network personality and current Travel Channel star Anthony Bourdain, Batali has also found success as a writer. These gentlemen aren'?'t famous for their showy personalities, but more for their vast food knowledge, humor and brass tacks approach to cooking. Batali?'s contract with the Food Network ended in 2007, but he has gone on to host the PBS show Spain?On the Road Again.

Bobby Flay, who is still a huge part of programming with his shows The Next Food Network Star, Throwdown with Bobby Flay not to mention an ongoing stint as competitor on Iron Chef America, has become one of the most recognizable faces on the channel.

The biggest breakout star however was Emeril Lagasse. While there had been famous chefs before the Food Network, Lagasse?'s success paved the way for celebrity cooks like Flay, Rachael Ray and so many more. His first show was the Essence of Emeril, where he quickly found fame, especially for his use of such catchphrases as ?""Bam!"?" and "?"Kick it up a notch."?" Lagasse parlayed his TV fame into a successful merchandising career, including cookbooks, assorted spices and cooking ware. He even briefly had a sitcom with the aptly named but short lived Emeril.

Not since the Golden Age of Hollywood, has an entertainment entity been so defined by its past and present roster of talent like the Food Network. One of their biggest strengths is how their numerous personalities are used for multiple shows. This entails either a guest appearance or, in the case of Flay and Alton Brown, taking on hosting duties. Brown, a former cinematographer who previously worked with directors such as Spike Lee, hosts the cult favorite Good Eats, a show notable for its mixture of recipe instruction, food science facts and a healthy dose of colorful humor offset by Brown?'s dry demeanor. But in addition to Good Eats, Brown also hosts Iron Chef America and the mini-series Feasting on Waves and Feasting on Asphalt.

The award for the mastery of multi-tasking on the Food Network however goes to Rachael Ray. Her career began with 30 Minute Meals, whose genesis traces back to a segment on a local news show in New York. Ray?'s popularity went on to spawn such shows as $40 a Day and Rachael?''s Tasty Travels. All of this led to her landing the Oprah Winfrey-produced syndicated daytime talk show Rachael Ray. Like her predecessors, Ray?'s success has led to a multitude of endorsement deals and unlike her predecessors, even a slightly racy spread in FHM Magazine. (One can assume that as lovable as he is, no one wanted to see Emeril Lagasse half naked and licking chocolate from a wooden spoon.)

If Rachael Ray has captured the hearts of women and the libidos of men through her girl next-door image, then Paula Deen has made her mark as the Southern grandma that everyone wants. Her decadently rich recipes, unapologetic love of butter and folksy, down to Earth personality has made her a huge hit. Her first big show was Paula?''s Home Cooking and like so many before her, it later on spawned such shows like Paula?''s Party and Paula?''s Best Dishes.

The Reality TV trend has also been a part of Food Network'?'s success in the 2000s. Three notable and highly popular shows in the reality vein are Iron Chef America, The Next Food Network Star and Ace of Cakes. Iron Chef America, the US version of the highly popular nineties Japanese show Iron Chef, retains the original?'s basic premise of top chefs from all over the world competing to make the best dishes while utilize the key ingredient of the day. When they are finished the quality of the dishes is determined by a panel of judges that includes a mix of food writers, cooks, and entertainment personalities.

The Next Food Network Star is a show where contestants compete in the kitchen all in the hopes of gaining their very own series. Creating such a show was an extremely smart move on the channel?'s part, since not only do they ultimately gain a potential new star on their roster, but also they got to make a successful show out of it. The biggest star to emerge from the show has been Guy Fieri, who was the second season'?'s winner.

Fieri?'s first show was Guy'?'s Big Bite, which soon begat the even more successful Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Last but certainly not least is Ace of Cakes, a non-competitive show that follows the day-to-day activities of Charm City Cakes, a Baltimore cake shop operated by Duff Goldman. The show stands out from other Food Network programs because it is neither a how-to cooking show or centered around a contest.

The Food Network?'s media savvy has spread out into video game fields, with 2009'?'s Cook or Be Cooked, made for the Nintendo Wii. It is moves like this and the willingness to test out new show formats and personalities that have given the network a broad, mass market appeal.

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