With so many food-related series on the market, producers and distributors weigh in about what a show needs to stand out.
Food programming has come a long way from its instructional stand-and-stir origins. Rather than a prim homemaker demonstrating the proper way to make a super-fluffy soufflé, the food shows that are popular today feature high-tension competitions, around-the-world explorations, celebrity chefs who have achieved rock-star status and practically everything in between. And the inventive iterations just keep on coming, as the appetite for food-related series shows no signs of waning.
Michael Lolato, the senior VP of international distribution at GRB Entertainment, says that culinary battles are also in vogue. “What has evolved from the traditional [food] shows is the competition element,” he says. Another new development, Lolato adds, is the rise of “exploration elements—whether it is people searching for new types of places to eat, variations of foods or exploring different cultures.”
Often, having a charismatic host is what gives a food show its flavor—whether it be a well-known personality, a highly regarded professional with a long list of culinary credits or a less experienced but passionate presenter who’s just downright relatable. Hayden Quinn, for example, didn’t have the background of working in a five-star restaurant when he first appeared on TV; he got his start as a contestant on MasterChef Australia. “His personality is just so endearing that now everybody is in love with him,” says Lolato at GRB, which represents Hayden Quinn South Africa. “On the flip side, we’ve had BBQ Pitmasters now for six seasons. Myron Mixon, who is the head judge, is an expert. He’s become so popular that he got spun-off with one of our new shows, BBQ Rules, which is more instructional barbecue versus the competition [angle of Pitmasters]. The expert element in that one paid off.”
They also provide a nice amount of scheduling flexibility for broadcasters and can work across a variety of slots. “The advantage of food shows is that they can be played any time of day,” says GRB’s Lolato. “It’s general entertainment and safe for the family—there’s no violence, death, sex. These shows can be for daytime, prime time when they’re brand new or weekend fare.
“The other beauty of it is that they’re self-contained, so you can dip in to watch a show and not have to have seen the episode before it,” he adds. That’s another scheduling bonus for the broadcasters.
“The only thing I don’t see happening is selling food programs to the big public broadcasters; they have their own,” says GRB’s Lolato.
He adds that sales to VOD and digital services are “definitely gaining.” Digital platforms are “no longer the tiny little cousin sitting at the big kids’ table; they’re starting to buy across all genres, including food.”