The seventh season of "Next Food Network Star" (Sunday, 8 p.m. CDT) rolls along as one of the highest rated shows on the network, pulling in more than double the number of prime-time viewers than the network's average. Another 2.3 million tuned in again last weekend. It's even made a star out of Bob Tuschman, the network's general manager and a judge on the show. As this year's batch of contestants, including Chicago's Jeff Mauro, faces harsh questions about their stage presence and "culinary point of view," The Stew got a chance to ask Tuschman to explain the show's popularity.
Have you been surprised at how strong the ratings have been? Can you explain them?
Obviously we're thrilled by them. One of the great things about this show is that we have a lot of different kinds of people who watch Food Network for different reasons. This show brings all of our viewers together. Whether you're a viewer who likes our in-the-kitchen programming, which is our more instructional programming that we have on weekend mornings and daytime or whether you like more reality programming or informational programming or competitions or history . . . any program you like in the food world, this show is of interest because all of our top stars appear on it. If you're a daytime viewer, all of your favorite stars are on this. If you're a competition viewer, it's an extremely well done competition show. I think people like it for so many different reasons. I'm surprised because I'm a behind-the-scenes person. I'm amazed at the range of people who stop me on the street, in airports just to tell me how much they like the show.
It's interesting that the highest rated show on the network last year is more about starmaking than actual food. Is this a direction the network is headed?
The unique promise behind Next Food Network Star is that you get a peek behind what it takes to be a celebrity chef in this day and age. And it's very different than most viewers think it is because most viewers think it's so easy. In truth it's very complicated. It's a lot of skills. It's a lot of behind-the-scenes forces coming together to make a star. I do think that's what we're trying to show in this show. If you look at our network, there are shows in every different area. There are some shows that have much more food-centricity to them like a "Chopped" or an "Iron Chef America." There are shows that are a little more about personalities in the food world, like a "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." I think we try to show the food world from a lot of different angles and we want each show to have its own unique promise to the viewer. To me, the starmaking machinery is what "Next Food Network Star" is about.