Michael Pollan has an amusing if somewhat bewildered piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine in which he tries to make sense out of Julia Child, the Food Network, and sundry cultural artifacts. He seems to have discovered (horrors!) that the Food Network is popular among people who do not cook.
I can relate. I first discovered the Food Network when I was living alone for a few months in apartment in New York City. I like to cook, but not for myself only and hey, NYC is so crammed with over the top wonderful takeout (I was about six blocks from Balducci's. now Citarella, on Sixth Avenue). My nightly routine was to plop my quarry on the kitchen counter and flip on the TV more or less simultaneously, deploying the Food Network to give me the consoling illusion that something was actually happening in the kitchen. Back home, as I've mentioned I do cook--quite a bit, actually--although I acknowledge that I am (semi) retired so I have time for that sort of self-indulgence.
I still use the Food Network as talking wallpaper some--even when I am in the kitchen myself--but I would also knowledge that the new round of "eating" shows and "competition" shows is just over the top, around the bend, out the window, down the drain, whatever is the metaphor for wretched excess. But I do think I should not one important reason: it is the curse of any long-running entertainment, you find yourself competing with yourself after a while. Necessarily you get crazier and crazier until you are just lost in space. I miss the old days, but how many ways can you broil a chicken, anyhow?
A few passing bits of advice for Pollan, who seems to need more guidance about content: Emril is better than people give him credit for (ignore the band). Paula Deen is a nice lady, but really a terrible cook. Michael Chiarella is easy to overlook. And the Barefoot Contessa is still the sexiest celebrity alive (cotton underwear division).
Afterthought: Has anybody actually cooked a Julia Child recipe lately? She's an icon, of course, and I still have a copy of The Way To Cook (second hand, from Palookaville's fine used book store). As a nostalgia trip, it can be fun to look at, but when I need something in the way of an encyclopedia, I tend to pull down the old original Madelaine Kamman.
Afterthought to Afterthought: And what is this stuff about 27 minutes to cook and four to clean up? My impression is that cooking to cleanup is pretty much 1:1.