Food Network Spawns Edgy, Young Cooking Channel

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Byline: Michael Hill Associated Press

There's more food TV than ever to chew on -- shows featuring barbecue tips, chef smackdowns, sailor-mouthed kitchen bosses, diner dispatches and cakes that look like race cars.

Want more? Or maybe the better question is, need more?

The Food Network is betting on it.

The Cooking Channel debuts next month and, like its well-established sister channel, it will offer 24-7 food programming. Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay and a few other Food Network stars will pull double duty on the new channel. But executives with Scripps Networks Interactive, which owns both channels, say the Cooking Channel will have a different flavor, one with more emphasis on international cuisines, drinks, food culture and advanced cooking techniques.

"The tone and the style and the feel that we're going for is a little grittier, a little younger, a little more contemporary," said Bruce Seidel, the new channel's senior vice president for programming and production.

The TV landscape is dramatically different from when the Food Network launched in 1993. Back in that pre-Iron Chef era, food shows were typically "behind-the-stove" shows on public television.

The Food Network helped usher in a culinary era in which top chefs cut loose, compete and are idolized like pop stars. Critics grumble that they have elevated personality over food. But by producing a series of household names -- Emeril, Giada, Mario, Rachael -- the Food Network has had a huge impact on food TV and the cookbook industry.

One big marker of that success is the boom in food shows. Bravo has scored with "Top Chef" and TLC has "Cake Boss." There's "Hell's Kitchen" on Fox and "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" on ABC.

The number of hours devoted to food shows has more than tripled in five years, said Cooking Channel General Manager Michael Smith. But he added that Food Network ratings grew 40 percent in the last two years, even as the food field became more crowded. Scripps executives believe there is more room for foodies to get their fix, a feeling shared by industry watchers given Americans' continuing fascination with food.

"We saw that this category is so hot that if we didn't launch another full-time food channel, somebody else probably would," Smith said. …