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Kill Your TV: The Food Network's Latest 

Wednesday, Jan 20 2016

The Food Network is a juggernaut, and I mean that in the strictest meaning of the word. "Juggernaut" derives from jagganath, a 19th-century word for a roving Hindu temple on wheels; a Popemobile for Vishnu, in other words. The ornately carved, lumbering chapel was said to crush everyone in its wake, especially worshippers. Like Gandhi's death machine, the Food Network has deities that preach to the masses, mowing down all of its competition on TV.

It's mastered what I call the "Trader Joe's Effect," which is the ability to create an entire brand in-house, eliminating the middleman. The Food Network depends completely on its celebrity chefs to keep drawing adherents and supplicants. Unlike other channels that take syndicated shows or sign on with various production companies, everything on Food has been handpicked by its business team — and everything is cross-marketed between shows. For example, Chopped has a revolving set of judges who hail from other slots. But the biggest snake that eats its own tail is The Next Food Network Star, in which contestants compete to win their very own show. (Methed-out-gnome Guy Fieri is by far the most famous winner of that coveted prize, having x'ed out the competition with his Xtreme Xtremity in '06.) Every year, the producers either pick someone equally as annoying, or else they go the opposite direction and choose someone as dull as a butter knife. There's only so much room on the network, so winners usually end up with some lame mid-day Sunday slot before they're permanently terminated with Xtreme prejudice.

But I will gladly take Fieri over another Food Network Star winner, Jeff Mauro, a.k.a. the Sandwich King. God, I hate this guy. He epitomizes every fucked-up thing about this channel. He's fake, unfunny, perky as a cheerleader's tits, and he has a mouth-gasm every time he eats so much as a morsel of food. Big shock, he was once a Sigma Chi. (I can see him standing on his frat's balcony, fists full of Solo cups of Leinenkugel and bent at the knees so as to better let out a hearty "Hoo, mutherfuckers!" before he dives into a kiddie pool of beer.)

No one cares about his sandwich show, but the powers that be just love his "great personality," so Mauro is now part of the ensemble talk show The Kitchen. It competes with other daytime talk shows like The Doctors or The View, only with a food focus. Its current lineup includes some people that are actually pretty cool by themselves —but as George Carlin once said, "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups." Sunny Anderson is a host, as well as Marcela Valladolid — both of whom are among the network's tiny roster of women of color. Generic Katie Lee rounds out the females, and then we have the aforementioned dork Mauro. Strangest of all is host Geoffrey Zakarian, a misfit among all the forced peppiness and jumping up and down about hummus.

If you hadn't guessed, I'm often forced to watch this show at work against my will, so I know of which I bitch. The scary thing is that I've slowly seemed to develop a tolerance for it. So much so that I notice when it's not there. Dare I say, I even sort of miss it if I can't see it. They don't call it "food porn" for nothing. Sure, I mostly enjoy hating it. I enjoy going, "Oh, for fuck's sake" when Guy-Fieri-with-a-uterus Anne Burrell comes on, or if The Sandwich King jizzes all over a whoopie pie. But these people are eternally happy, and there's a certain comfort in that predictability.

And therein lies the power of the Trader Joe's Effect: Make people seek out your brand. Make people feel like its their own, that they can't live without it. For the Food Network, that means hosting shows by Giada De Laurentiis, Ree Drummond, and Ina Garten, then slowly bleeding in other people in between until you have an entire village you can escape to at any time, where it's always lunchtime. Come 'n' get it.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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