Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook or follows me on Twitter (@amorris7012) knows that I am likely watching Food Network at any given point in the day. It’s like a black hole that sucks away all my motivation to do anything except eat, and on my more ambitious and productive days, cook something delicious for dinner.
Food Network has created a niche in the last few years of quality reality competition television shows with the chefs they’ve turned into household names or those who are already public figures. The Food Network nighttime lineup features such names as Ted Allen (formerly of “Queer Eye” fame, now hosting “Chopped”), Cat Cora (“Iron Chef America”), Giada de Laurentiis (“The Next Food Network Star”) and perhaps the most recognizable chef in America, Bobby Flay.
Flay, probably one of the most famous New York chefs and restaurateurs, actually figures into many Food Network shows at one time or another — whether on his own show, “Throwdown with Bobby Flay,” or via challenges on “Iron Chef America” and the upcoming special series, “Chopped All-Stars.”
So perhaps it’s unsurprising that when NBC started developing its new food-related reality series for a summer run, they looked for Bobby Flay to anchor the judging lineup.
“America’s Next Great Restaurant,” premiering at 8 p.m. Sunday, actually features a panel of chefs and restaurateurs that’s pretty starry — including Flay, chef Curtis Stone, executive chef Lorena Garcia and Chipotle founder Steve Ells — who will search for the contestant with the best restaurant concept. These judges are not fooling around; press materials tout the fact that all of the judges are also investors in the winner’s prize, which is the start of a three-restaurant national chain.
It comes as no surprise that this concept is produced by Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, who developed “Project Runway” and other quality Bravo reality shows with studio Magical Elves, which is also involved in this project. It smacks of their skillful hand for producing dramatic stakes in a reality show concept. This one is part “Shark Tank,” ABC’s shockingly well-rated show about millionaire investors and the home inventors who pitch their products to them for financial assistance, and part “Top Chef,” the other hit Bravo series the producers helped develop.
The show is being rather brilliantly marketed. A Facebook promotion for the show required fans to watch a 90-second commercial in order to unlock a buy one, get one free coupon for Chipotle, and the ad went viral last week. And teasers appropriately highlight both the credentials of the judging panel (Ells in particular seems to be a compelling figure) and the show’s similarities to proven cable hit “Top Chef.”
Obviously, nothing would please this columnist more than a food television invasion of primetime TV. There’s something inherently stressful about the kitchen for most people, I think, even (or especially) for experienced cooks, and that translates very, very well to television. There’s a reason “Top Chef” won that Outstanding Reality Competition Series Emmy after all, and it’s not just the gorgeous visage of host Padma Lakshmi.
NBC is making all the right moves thus far with “America’s Next Great Restaurant” — scheduling a laid-back spring premiere, hiring stellar producers and casting Bobby Flay — but it remains to be seen if American network TV viewers will embrace food television as well as cable viewers have.
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