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Alton Brown made one of Food Network’s defining programs by throwing out the recipe · The A.V. Club


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Looking at the programming history of the Food Network, Good Eats probably can’t lay claim to the title of the network’s most popular show, nor its most important one—Emeril Live, Iron Chef, and even Chopped are all arguably more integral to the channel’s growth and development over its 20-year history. Spanning 14 seasons and some 250 episodes, it could be called the channel’s longest-running show, but the vagaries of production schedules mean other shows best it in terms of episode count (Emeril Live’s 1,000-plus) and number of seasons (Diners, Drive-Ins, And Dives’ 17 complete seasons), so longevity is relative in this case. But setting aside such superlatives and looking only at content, Good Eats might just be the platonic ideal of Food Network programming: a perfect balance of instruction, education, and entertainment. 

When it launched as the Television Food Network in 1993, the nascent cable channel put a tight focus on cooking instruction: people standing in front of a stove and walking viewers through a recipe. In recent years, however, it has tipped hard toward food as entertainment, with an emphasis on reality and competition-style formats, relegating what remains of its instructional cooking shows to a daytime programming block called “In The Kitchen.” Educational programming looking at the history, production, and cultural impact of food is sprinkled throughout the network’s programming history, the most notable probably being the Marc Summers-hosted Unwrapped—thought that’s always been more of a background player. Good Eats—along with the show it debuted alongside in 1999, Iron Chef—bridges the two major eras of Food Network, while remaining unmistakably its own entity. Unlike so many shows on the network, which repurpose similar ideas under new personalities or slightly altered gimmicks, Good Eats has spawned no true imitators, at least on its parent network. (Its spirit lives on in many of the countless online cooking programs that have sprouted up in recent years.) The closest approximations are probably the other programs and specials that Good Eats creator and host Alton Brown has hosted over the years, but with the possible exception of his residency as commentator/know-it-all on Iron Chef America, he’s most closely associated with the series that cemented his place on the Mount Rushmore of Food Network personalities. 

It's a very good point. Good Eats is one of a kind.

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