The food channel's recipe for success

November 21, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

The main thing people want to know, says Sue Huffman, vice president for programming for the new Television Food Network, is why didn't anyone do this before? The new cable channel will offer cooking, nutrition and fitness information, call-ins, vintage cooking programs and news 24 hours a day.

"We feel like the time is really right," says Ms. Huffman, a self-described "foodie" who was a food editor first at a St. Louis newspaper, then at the Ladies Home Journal. Changes in dietary recommendations, more concern with eating right, and continuing interest in healthful lifestyles have raised everyone's consciousness about food and food issues. After all, she notes, "Not everybody cooks, but everybody eats."

TVFN President Reese Schonfeld was quoted in a recent interview as saying that current TV Nielsen ratings and research surveys show growing public interest in cooking programs and, with the economy still sputtering in most areas, more adults are turning to home cooking instead of the more costly dining out.

TVFN is aiming for a nationwide launch Tuesday in a 6-hour format, with shows being recycled at intervals, depending on what programmers believe would appeal in each market. A few shows have already aired on a sneak preview basis. So far, in this region, cable companies in Salisbury and Aberdeen have signed up for TVFN; negotiations are in the works for others.

Some show hosts already have national recognition. Robin Leach, of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," will chat with guests about all aspects of food and take calls from viewers. Jane Curtin, of "Saturday Night Live" and "Kate and Allie," will introduce "Cooking Classics," featuring some of the most popular cooking shows of the past -- Dione Lucas, James Beard, Jacques Pepin and Graham Kerr.

And Olympic track medalist Florence Griffith Joyner and her husband, Al Joyner, will contribute to "Food and Fitness," a program designed for people with little time for exercise who nevertheless are concerned about diet and health.

Noted New Orleans chef Emeril Legasse will star in a new series called "How to Boil Water," that will focus on basic cooking

techniques.

" 'How to Boil Water' was my idea," Ms. Huffman says. "There are so many young people who didn't learn to cook, because Mom didn'tcook, because she was going back to school or working, and now they're saying, 'Gee, I kind of missed the boat . . .' "

Other programs will offer "Food in a Flash," with host Curtis Aikens, of "The Home Show," and "Getting Healthy," with Dr. Stephanie Beling, a specialist in endocrinology and metabolism, and "Feeding Your Family on $95 a Week."

Ms. Huffman notes that while some aspects of the new network's programming have been done before, no one has ever attempted to put those elements -- chef's shows and fitness programs -- together with new elements in a full-time food and health and entertainment channel.

"To do food around the clock -- we're definitely breaking new ground," Ms. Huffman says.

Some of the new ground belongs to Donna Hanover, co-anchor with David Rosengarten, of "Food News and Views," a live, daily, hourlong program that will present news on all aspects of food, from industry topics to food trends to government actions to health and safety concerns to cookbook authors to controversies.

"The philosophy is that everyone is interested in food because everyone is a consumer," says Ms. Hanover, who has been a television news anchor and professor of journalism in New York.

"There's a lot of interest in nutrition questions and safety questions," she says. "In general, there's more interest in food -- it's not just cook ing."

"Food News and Views" has been on the air since late summer. Ms. Hanover said a recent program included interviews with a labor leader and a food industry journalist on the impact of the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement. Other show topics include demonstrations of new products, and "Rhubarb," a sort of "Point-Counterpoint," with people of opposite philosophies arguing an issue.

Ms. Hanover happens to be the wife of the new mayor of New York City, Rudolph W. Guiliani. She anticipates no problems managing her professional life and public obligations.

"I actually think it will be nice for young people to see a two-career marriage," she says.

The Television Food Network was developed by Reese Schonfeld, founding president of the Cable News Network, and Colony Communications, the cable arm of the Providence Journal Co.

Ms. Huffman said future programs might deal with fine dining, for the expert cook, and with various ethnic or seasonal topics, such as a series on Tex-Mex food, or on barbecuing.

"We'd like to do something with entertaining," she says, "that would cover also tables settings and decorations." The hope is to have something for every interest, she says. "We want to target viewers with special programs. But after all, nine-tenths of it is the chemistry the viewers feel with the talent."

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