From French Chef to Angry Scot

Rash Report: Fox's 'Hell's Kitchen' Reflects Shifts in Cooking Shows

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- A fortnight from now the forthright Julia Child will be introduced to a whole new generation, via Meryl Streep's portrayal in the upcoming "Julie and Julia." The movie concurrently chronicles how "the French chef" changed the culinary world with her cookbook and how an American author, Julie Powell (Amy Adams), changed her own world by cooking one of Julia's recipes every day for a year, and then wrote about it in the best-selling book "Julie and Julia."

'Hell's Kitchen' star Gordon Ramsay's in-your-face style is less about enjoying the meal and more about surviving the preparation of it.
'Hell's Kitchen' star Gordon Ramsay's in-your-face style is less about enjoying the meal and more about surviving the preparation of it. Credit: Fox
Of course, since Julia Child's heyday, times and tastes have changed. Witness Bravo's "Top Chef," with the exotic Padma Lakshmi, who before becoming famous for reality-show judging juggled dating author Salman Rushdie with writing an Indian-cuisine cookbook. Or the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern," which often looks like a cross between the Food Network and "Fear Factor," NBC's gross-out reality series.

And it's not been the sublime subtleties of Julia Child's French cooking that have topped the menu recently on Food Network but rather the American interpretation of Japanese cult hit "Iron Chef," the southern-fried suppers of Paula Deen and the aggressive "Bam!" of Emeril Lagasse's New Orleans-inspired food.

This evolution of cooking shows from cuisine to characters puts Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" into context, shifting the pop-culture perception from unlikely hit to inevitable success. The show is hosted by Scottish chef Gordon Ramsay, whose in-your-face style is less about enjoying the meal and more about surviving the preparation of it.

The contestants might sweat in "Hell's Kitchen," but audiences and advertisers are cool with it, as evidenced by last night's season premiere, which averaged a 3.1/10 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic over two hours (the 8 p.m. premiere whipped up a 2.8/10, while a "special episode" at 9 p.m. rose to a 3.3/10). That helped Fox finish first for the night, ahead of NBC's 2.5/8, CBS's 1.6/5, ABC's 1.1/3 and the CW's .3/1.

While impressive -- especially considering network prime time has been about as popular as cooking oatmeal in the summer -- last night's two-hour average for season six's season opener was down a third from the 4.8/12 for season five. But that was in January, when viewing levels were considerably higher.

Rash chart July 21, 2009Click for PDF
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

And last night "Hell's Kitchen" faced the scheduling purgatory of running against NBC's hit "America's Got Talent." Its ratings are set to rise even higher tonight, as the pop-culture curiosity shifts from angry Scot Gordon Ramsay to Susan Boyle, an Englishwoman who seemed to go mad after "Britain's Got Talent" moved her from everyday person to overnight sensation, resulting in hostility and hospitalization.

As it is, Tuesday's tryout (also known as an 8 p.m. rerun) had a 2.1/7 but scored a 3.4/10 from the Nielsen judges for an original episode at 9 p.m.

Wednesday: Sure, you could watch NBC's scripted series "The Philanthropist." But why not watch the real thing? After yesterday's announcement that Tyler Perry will pick up the bill to send the 65 daycare kids spurned from a Philadelphia pool to Disney World, the least we can do is to tune in to "House of Payne" and "Meet the Browns" on TBS.
Thursday: With most of the network schedule reruns, go for a classic instead: AMC runs "Rio Bravo," and TCM airs "Of Mice and Men."

Rival network executives to eye ratings for Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," which will run in place of President Barack Obama's prime-time news conference tonight. This is the second straight time Fox has relegated a presidential presser to cable, and other networks may soon be temped too.

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see

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