Pop Attention Span

Trying to keep up with the zeitgeist

What killed The Chopping Block?

Even if you hadn’t watched it, I’m sure that (if you heard of it) you knew that NBC’s latest attempt at a reality cooking competition (remember Celebrity Cooking Showdown?) The Chopping Block was an utter trainwreck of a show.

The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley has a theory to why the show failed and, well, it makes me wonder about her ability to judge the format:

As anyone who has watched “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Top Chef” or “Iron Chef America” knows, cooking shows are no more about food than talk shows are about conversation. Chef competitions, in particular, showcase personality and pressure cooker brinkmanship — boiling stockpots and roiling tempers. Success depends on the charisma of the star, the chemistry (preferably bad) of judges and contestants and, above all, timing.

Now, there may be a delicate balance at work on Top Chef when it comes to focusing on food or personality but food is a definite part of it. Top Chef is the kind of show people watch and walk away hungry. Viewers want to be wowed by the food so that they can dream of visiting their favorite cheftestants’ restaurants or just try some of the recipes at the Top Chef website. That’s why producers switched from open auditions to recruiting the cast in the third season.

Hell’s Kitchen may be more about the drama than the cooking, but not every realty cooking competition — despite Stanley’s assertion that it’s blatantly obvious to anyone who watches it — is the same.

Last Restaurant Standing (the show The Chopping Block resembled most) places some importance on food, but it also looks at the business decisions that goes into running a restaurant — marketing and managing to get food to your customers efficiently are a huge part of that show and something that viewers can connect with — even if they can’t taste the food. Unfortunately, The Chopping Block gave little time to the challenges of running the front-of-house, except when competitors started yelling at each other in the dining room.

Overall, the problem with The Chopping Block was that it seemed like a show that had been through too many levels of network notes. Host Marco Pierre White seemed capable of offering the kind of criticism that would help viewers understand how a dish tasted, but his words were often cut down to just the bitchiest bon mots. Similarly, I have to wonder if the lack of emphasis on front-of-house was the result of network notes that part of the show wasn’t dramatic enough. The Chopping Block‘s biggest problem looked like it wanted to be a good show about the challenges of running a restaurant, while NBC brass thought they had ordered their version of Hell’s Kitchen.

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April 1, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,

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