The evolution of food programming mirrors the wider food world. Fusion offerings, franchise-building and digital are shaping how producers and distributors dish up cooking formats and how viewers around the world consume them. Stewart Clarke finds out what’s hot
Food shows and formats are evolving, but what remains constant is the demand for cooking-based content. “Cooking sits in there as one of the global things in the market, there is a perennial desire,” says Mike Beale, director of international formats, ITV Studios Global Entertainment. “The likes of MasterChef and Top Chef track each other, because broadcasters all want a major cooking brand.”
Joining the menu of major formats are newer offerings such as The Taste, the Red Arrow-distributed cooking competition show that is on ABC in the US and has recently been sold to Fox International Channels in Latin America.
Hat Trick International’s Sarah Tong agrees there is ongoing demand for cooking from buyers, but notes that it takes different forms. “Worldwide, people say they are looking for food and cooking, and sometimes that means ‘chop and chat’ shows and other times lifestyle series or food and travel,” she says. “There are lots of sub-genres beneath ‘food’.”
Israel has become a recognised formats powerhouse, and the country’s producers are cooking up food shows. Amid the recognition for Rising Star, it is Shine’s MasterChef that holds the record for the most-watched show ever in the country. Now, Gil Productions, which produces MasterChef Israel, has an original show that launched at MIPCOM.
Help, I Can’t Cook (above) debuted in September on Keshet in Israel and won a whopping 44% audience share. The format has celebrities who can’t cook locked in a ‘Culinary Academy for Beginners’ where, over three weeks, they attempt to pick up some kitchen skills, taking on tasks along the way. “It’s almost the anti-MasterChef because the contestants have no clue and the cooking in the show is very, very basic, for example cooking an egg,” says Gil’s founder, Assaf Gil. “It’s a comic reality show.”
New companies are alive to the foodie-format opportunities in the market as well. Julie Bristow was well known as a formats buyer for Canadian public broadcaster the CBC, but struck out on her own with Bristow Global Media. The fledgling company has developed a new food format in association with Jamie Oliver’s Fresh One.
Pressure Cooker is a primetime cooking competition series for W Network. The format sees pairs of celebrity chefs and home cooks competing to cook dishes. The home cooks selects and uses ingredients from conveyor belts at timed intervals. “There is nothing in the market that takes a home-cooking scenario and introduces the kind of time and pressure the conveyor belt brings,” Bristow says.
BBC Worldwide will sell the format (Fresh One is backed by FremantleMedia, but it only distributes shows featuring Jamie Oliver). Bristow says the finished version will head to US cable, and the format would work well as a carousel production, with different versions produced from a central hub.
Another format that could be made locally from a central hub is Ultimate Braai Master, which hails from South Africa. From Cape Town-based producer Cooked in Africa Films, the format sees amateur chefs compete against one another in outdoor cooking challenges. All3Media International picked up the format rights earlier this year.
As new shows emerge, some of the existing ones are reaching the end of their cycle. Shouty chef Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen is coming to the end of its run on Fox in the US and Channel 4 in the UK. “I’ve had a phenomenal 10 years making 123 episodes, 12 seasons, shot across two continents, watched by tens of millions of people and sold to over 150 countries,” Ramsay wrote on his website in June. “It’s been a blast, but it’s time to call it a day. I’ll be continuing with my other shows,” he reassured fans. Meanwhile, the format endures, and ITVSGE’s deal with SCTV in Indonesia, which came soon after Ramsay’s announcement, marked the first time Hell’s Kitchen had been commissioned in Asia.
Asia and Latin America are seen as increasingly fertile ground for food formats. ITVSGE’s Beale says the regions are key distribution targets for Come Dine with Me. “They are the next goals,” he says. “With the rise of the dinner party and food becoming more cosmopolitan and global, we will see a second wave of Come Dine With Me format deals as local social and economic conditions change.”
Content companies in Latin America, meanwhile, want to be food-format sellers as well as buyers. Kitchen to Fame, from Mexico’s Comarex, is a stripped format in which 14 cooks tackle international cuisines while living together and facing eliminations. “They live in the school, and the audience sees them challenged and how hard it is,” says Comarex CEO Marcel Vinay. The distributor launched the paper format at MIPCOM, and Vinay says the company has spoken to potential buyers in Asia. He notes the product-placement potential for cooking implements and goods.
Also fusing food-format and classic reality formatting is MTV’s House of Food, which follows in the best traditions of the cable channel’s reality shows by putting a group of young, attractive participants together in a house and watching the fun unfold. The foodie twist is that the residents are culinary students competing for a leg-up into the food business. “It’s a young-skewing twist on a traditional cooking show, putting cooking into a Real World-style house,” says Caroline Beaton, senior VP, international programme sales, Viacom International Media Networks.
Beaton adds that there is a move away from celebrity chefs and towards injecting humour into food formats, with Bake Off a good example. The UK-originated format ostensibly tasks amateur bakers to test their skills against each other, but is overseen in the UK by comedians Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, lending it a fun air amidst the competition. The show is made by Love Productions and the format has been sold widely by BBC Worldwide outside the US, where Love itself brokered a deal with the CBS network (this show is called The American Baking Competition, because baking brand Pillsbury owns the ‘Bake Off’ trademark). Like MasterChef, there is a version for young bakers, Junior Bake Off which notched its first format sale, to Thailand’s Now 26 channel, in June.
Asian food formats are also coming to market. From South Korea, Crazy Market tests contestants’ food knowledge against experts’ in a series of challenges. Korea’s CJ E&M has optioned the series to Ballandi Multimedia in Italy. Also out of Korea, The Kitchen Musical, is in a category of one as a cooking-based scripted musical format. The Small World IFT-distributed show, a musical drama set in a restaurant, originated in Singapore and aired in numerous Asian territories. It was in line for a US network bow, with ABC piloting a version from Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman, but didn’t make it to series, meaning the format is back on the market.
Small World IFT launched a new food format at MIPCOM, Chef at Your Door. It was created by Germany’s Tresor and has been gaining traction with Gulli in France, TVP1 in Poland and Inter Channel in Ukraine among the buyers. The format pitches two families (each with a chef) against each other in a cooking competition, with the results judged by other neighbours. Small World IFT’s Tim Crescenti says it is more than just a ‘food show’. “The families cook and learn together,” he says. “It’s more lifestyle than cooking; it’s not foodie, it is mainstream.”
A common theme is that distributors seek to open up a greater range of slots by identifying their food format as a broader proposition in genre terms. Come Dine With Me is at the top of this food-but-not-food category. The format sees members of the public, and in some cases celebrities, put on and rate each other’s dinner parties. “It doesn’t present itself as a cooking show, it’s a people show first and foremost,” says Beale.
Food formats are fitting into the wider format categories, such as the talent or dating show: dating and food seem to work well together, for example, and Hat Trick has sold UK-originated Dinner Date to Seven Network in Australia and Direct 8 in France among others. Along with its new format, Win It Cook It, in which contestants compete for ingredients before they start cooking, Dinner Date can be a weekly show or stripped, giving the broadcaster the same flexibility as with a CDWM.
CDWM has also embraced romance with Come Date With Me. ITVSGE bills the show as a combination of the snooping and sniping of CDWM with a classic dating-show format, and it has so far gone out on Channel 4 in the UK, on Canadian specialty channel W Network and in Australia on Network Ten. The big established food formats are clearly becoming franchises, and CDWM has other spin-offs in its portfolio. There are celebrity and couples versions and, Beale reveals, talks about a ‘professionals’ edition.
Executives identify cooking-based quizzes as a gap in the food-format market, although there are some shows in this category such as Chef des Chefs from Belgian prodco KNTV for RTL Belgium. The format sees contestants quizzed over their knowledge of dishes, ingredients and cooking methods. DRG has picked up international rights.
Looking at the restaurant business is another obvious direction for cooking shows to move. Kitchen Nightmares pioneered the format and MasterChef also has cooking business credentials as contestants go into professional kitchens in later rounds.
Restaurant Startup is produced and distributed by Shine for US news and current affairs net CNBC. It has MasterChef US and Italy judge Joe Bastianich and fellow restaurant owner Tim Love pass judgment on teams that want to launch their own eateries. “I was involved in the development and wanted to bring to the screen what I do in real life in the restaurant business, it’s a back-door [for the viewer] into the industry,” Bastianich says.
Kabel Eins’ German daytime format, Mein Lokal, Dein Lokal, also looks at the restaurant business. It is shopped internationally as My Restaurant Rocks. The show sees rival eateries compete to be the best in the region. Red Arrow sells it and recently licensed it to TF1 in France, which will name its version L’Addition, s’il vous plait.
In the food/lifestyle category, Hat Trick has the Keo Films-produced River Cottage franchise, which features British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. With personality-driven shows, tape sales are easier to sell than a local version, although Hat Trick International does market River Cottage as a format, and Lifestyle Channel commissioned River Cottage Australia. The Keo and ITV Studios-produced series saw Fearnley-Whittingstall and Tasmanian chef Paul West set up a sustainable farm.
Another food format with a social conscience is Dining with the Enemy. The Nordic World-distributed format has a well-known war correspondent and a top chef host a meal for guests from opposite sides of some of the world’s most deep-seated wars and conflicts, including Palestine, Afghanistan, Rwanda and Burma.
Travel Channel ordered an English-language version earlier this year. French-language Canadian network TV5 Quebec has also ordered a local version of the format, which has been optioned by Red Arrow-owned producer Sultan Sushi in Belgium.
Hungry food format buyers aren’t leaving the table just yet.
Digital and hipster fare prepared for Cannes
One new cooking-formats buyer and seller is FYI, the A+E channel that took the place of Bio. The lifestyle channel is a natural home for foodie fare and one of its shows is Epic Meal Empire, which highlights the increasingly well-worn route from online to TV. YouTube food star Harley Morenstein, aka the ‘Sauce Boss’, and his friends hit the road to make visually spectacular recipes. Morenstein built a big following online with his Epic Meal Time show, and had already made the move to TV with Epic Chef, his take on the likes of chef-battle formats such as Chopped.
A+E’s programme sales unit was shopping Epic Meal Empire at MIPCOM. Ellen Lovejoy, vice president, content sales, says: “A lot of cooking shows have been studio-based, – MasterChef, Top Chef and others – but we wanted to get out of the studio and do something unique, have a different take on the tried-and-tested competition show.”
The show fits with a new wave of irreverent, young-skewing food formats. “It skews young,” Lovejoy says. “You don’t need a subscription to [high-end food and entertaining magazine] Bon Appétit to be a foodie. We’re looking at what’s good online and taking it to linear. It’s a great place to source talent and test creativity.”
In the hipster world, food has become a big deal and food formats have emerged as a battleground for the eyeballs of hip young tastemakers. MTV is among those going after a young demographic with food formats. Viacom International Media Networks’ new offering Snack Off (pictured) is inspired by classic food formats – but turns it the template on its head. In each half-hour, three amateur chefs cook epic late-night snacks. The prize is having a recipe published in the Snack Off cookbook and a golden spork [spoon and fork] necklace.
The show, which launched on MTV US to 1.7 million viewers, was one of VIMN’s big MIPCOM launches. “It’s taking a cooking-competition format and doing the opposite,” VIMN’s Caroline Beaton says. “It’s late-night, irreverent and trashy. You could say it is the antithesis of MasterChef.” Accordingly, the challenge is not to turn out restaurant-quality food. “It’s more about the best thing to do with cheesy Wotsits after midnight,” Beaton says. She thinks the show will go on late-night slots on cable and free-to-air channels. “Format buyers are very keen on cooking formats with a twist,” she says.