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Food Network vs. PBS “Create” Smackdown

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not work for Public Broadcasting, or any of its affiliates, heirs or assigns. I just love it. I also have no personal axe to grind with The Food Network, aside from the fact that, as a foodie, I feel completely ripped off in every possible way by their programming choices. I know I have ranted against them before, but this time I actually have an alternative to offer, which has become my Holy Grail and gold standard of instructional cooking programming: “Create” from PBS.

The Food Network seems to believe that it is necessary to compete with network reality shows by presenting during prime time an array of competitions involving cakes, burgers, pizzas, and candy. There is a moment in every one of these shows when its not clear who the judges will choose (notwithstanding the fact that the contestants who will win the top three prizes are the only people profiled during the show) or a peril-fraught movement of a giant cake, Christmas tree or ice sculpture from work area to display table. They have even institutionalized this mentality in shows like Bobby Flay’s “Smackdown” in which the eternally smug Mr. Flay either deprives some old lady in Maine of her rep as the best pie baker on the island, or loses to the local and sulks. I can only believe that this is meant to stimulate in the viewer the same kind of breathless suspense created by, say, Brett Michaels selecting his bimbo of choice on “Rock of Love,” or the learning the outcome of the votes on “American Idol.”

The thing is, if I want to watch reality TV (which I don’t), I know where it is, and it’s everywhere. If I want to learn how to bone a haddock, or make pasta from scratch, I require no suspense, no gimmicks and no clips of interviews in which contestants snipe about one another or their fondant. I just want to see someone cook something I’d like to make, and get some basic information about the best way to get through the tricky bits.

Comparisons are tough, because “Create” includes travel, craft and home & gardening programming, but looking at two hours of evening food-related viewing I have the following choice:

Tonight’s lineup on The Food Network includes

9:00-10:00 “Challenge: Gilroy Garlic Cook-Off.” I have already addressed my objection to these contest shows, although this one is unlikely to involve the necessity of moving a giant and precarious garlic sculpture.

10:00-11:00 “Dinner Impossible” which involves no recipes, and no instruction, just a great deal of running around and creating kitchens out of twigs, bolts and farm implements.

On “Create” I can see

6:00-6:30 “Simply Ming”

6:30-7:00 “Lidia’s Family Table”

7:00-7:30 “Hubert Keller” Secrets of a Chef,” and

7:30-8:00 “Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie” with Chef Jose Andres in Barcelona

There is no choice there. Other food programming on “Create” includes “America’s Test Kitchen with Christopher Kimball,” “Best Recipes In the World” and “How to Cook Everything” with Mark Bittman, “Chef’s Story,” “Chefs A’ Field: Culinary Adventures That Begin on A Farm,” “Jacques Pepin: Fast Food My Way,” “Master Class at Johnson & Wales,” and many others. There are multiple shows focusing on Asian cuisines, at least three presenting Italian recipes, and a number of programs revolving around vegetarian and/or healthful cooking. There are no contests or competitions, no Personalities, no shows about how to cook without actually cooking…this is the real deal. There are also no commercials, and it is truly family viewing. Often, when the food shows are done, we stay and watch Rick Steves and Rudy Maxa travel, which is considerably more entertaining, educational and appropriate than an evening of sitcoms. (Although we watch some of those, too. And “American Idol,” although I’ll deny it if you quote me).

If you can’t get “Create” where you live, call your nearest PBS station and plague them. Last year, our local PBS station chose to replace twelve out of the daily 24 hours of create with public affairs programming, and in response to constant (but pleasant) harassment from people like me, they have given it back to us. Get “Create,” watch it, support PBS, and maybe, just maybe, Food Network will get the message if they lose viewers and sponsors. Maybe they’ll put actual cooking shows back on prime time, or actually any time other than Saturday and Sunday morning.

Lidia Bastianich or Rachel Ray. Hubert Keller or Sandra Lee. An interview with Charlie Trotter or a Disney Princess Cake competition. The choice is yours, and if it isn’t, work on it.


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

24 responses »

  1. *blinks innocently* you mean you don’t like the HOmade simple girl either? geesh the food network certainly seems to think booze and boobs sell pretty well! lol lol

  2. East Lansing and WKAR are eating crow, Annie! But it’s well prepared crow, served up elegantly! We are the PBS station that took Create off in primetime back in November. It’s back, and our viewers are delighted (as am I — I had a feeling that would happen, because I was missing Create in the evenings, too!).

    Speaking as a PBS station rep, I must say that Create returned, as Annie mentioned, because viewers like Annie wrote and called us. They were polite, they didn’t withdraw pledges (we don’t think), but they were very firm and eloquent about how much they valued the terrific cooking (and other) shows on Create. As a viewer, if you don’t like what you see on your station (I suppose any station, for that matter), it really does make a difference if you let your local station know. PBS stations rely on their members for support, and while most stations can’t please every member, we know it’s very important to listen to them.

    We listened to Annie and others! And we’re delighted to eat her well-prepared crow!

  3. Ann Graham Nichols–a real mover and shaker. You go, girl!!!!

  4. wow. i didn’t even know about create. i’m on it for middle tennessee.

  5. jayedee, I think if I met Sandra in a dark alley I’d be scared. I’m more an Ina kind of girl.

    Jeanie, thanks so much! We love PBS precisely because you are so very responsive to your viewers. Well, and there’s all that good programming. I look forward to seeing you here again!

    Eric, I am nothing if not a nagging pain in the rear. I was raised to be an activist. (Seriously. My brother is named after Pete Seeger).

    Mary, go for it!! Its out there, you just have to make them give it to you. Well, I mean, you have to ask nicely.

  6. I adore Ina! She’s so delightful! I have one of her cookbooks and I’ve made everything in it.

    We can’t get PBS here. Our bunny ears don’t work and Direct TV doesn’t offer any local stations. I am going through withdrawal. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVED Last of Summer Wine, Waiting for God, To the Manor Born, As Time Goes By, Are You Being Served?, and Keeping Up Appearances. They came on our PBS in Washington (state). Now we’re in Georgia — goodbye fun tv!


  7. Are You Being Served? Lacy, are you kidding? That was the first PBS show that I totally got hooked on and inspired my first-ever pledge to PBS….I thought I was the only one in America that revered that program. I caught John Inman on a telethon and made my call.

    The widow Joan Kroc left millions to PBS and her money came from…wait for it… McDonalds

    She was an ANGEL and had her own wings (a Lear jet, i think)

  8. not in nashville
    but i called and requested

    i like eric’s last line… funny

  9. claudia, you would like Eric. He is smart and funny, which are my top two. Well, nice matters a lot, too.

    Chris, you are so right! I have a bumper sticker on my car that says “A PBS Mind in an MTV World.”

  10. Lacy, I’d be pretty lost without my PBS. You just make me feel guiltier and guiltier. 🙂 Ina is very high on my list – she’s “real,” she actually shows us how to cook what she’s cooking, and she makes it look perfectly natural (and fun) to entertain at the drop of a hat. At least you can still watch her, right?

  11. Ann,
    You are too kind. Smart, funny and kind people like you make the world a much more interesting place, and throw in creative cooking skills, and life become delicious, too.

  12. Ann,
    The only shows that I watch on the FN is Ina garten becasue she is just “fabulous” and she is the one who taught me how to cook corns properly, and most recently Jamie oliver’s new show because he is really talented… and cute, too 😉 I don’t know if I have this show on my local PBS. I am not sure I do. Will check for it. Otherwise…they are going to hear a lot from me. Love PBS!
    Long live Public Television and public radio.

  13. Eric, wow. I needed that today. I’m glad to have re-discovered you, toots.

    Warda, I like Ina partly because I think I would actually…like Ina. Jamie is adorable, and has those rosy cheeks and great recipes. I bet you can get “Create” in your neck of the woods. I hope you bloggers all had a great shopping adventure today!

  14. I couldn’t agree more, especially about recent “let’s see how much stuff we can put on a burger” shows on FN. I miss the days when their home cooking show was Cooking Live with Sara Moulton. She was full of information on ingredients and techniques.

  15. imagineannie

    Maggie, you’re preaching to the choir. I have never learned anything from the contest-y shows, but I was up at 6:00 today enthralled by a Master Class at Johnson & Wales on “Create” that explained how to prepare different wrap sandwiches from prep through presentation. I love Sarah Moulton, too – she has been replaced by clouds of teeth and hair.


  17. Andrea,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Particularly about Guy Fieri (the guy with the hair).

  18. disappointed foodie

    DITTO! I rarely watch the FoodNetwork channel anymore. They’ve lost yet another viewer.

  19. disappointed foodie, I keep hoping things will change, but last night I had a free hour and checked out FN (because Create had gardening stuff on and I don;t so much garden) only to find that FN was running – you guessed it – a cake decorating competition from 2005.

  20. I like food network in the day time when they have actual cooking shows on like Tyler, Giada, Ina, Paula etc.. but watching during the day isn’t always so convenient. It’s the night time stuff that isn’t any good, and that’s when I turn on Create cause they actually do have the cooking shows at night.

  21. I take that back, they have Alton on at night on Food network, but the’s the only thing any good.

  22. Justme, I couldn’t agree with you more. I tend to be working during the day, and have no DVR/Tivo, so I miss all of the good stuff om Food Network. We do love Alton, both “Good Eats” and his various roadtrip series.

  23. I turn on Create at night and that’s it – I’m set for the night. Jacque Pepin’s Fast Food My Way, Lidia Bastianich [love that Ossu Bucco recipe], Simply Ming – it’s all there. Not to mention the non-cooking shows — Rick Steves, etc.

    I cannot understand the interest in Rachel Ray. Sure, we all want to be able to throw something together fast sometimes – but why make a cooking show about it? Hey – I have a great recipe for making leftover mashed potatoes into patties – want to hear about it? [NOT!!]

    I want to hear and see about something I’m not likely to make in a long time – until a very special occasion. It is NOT likely to be grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup!


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