40 Hours of Television

The class is over, but the discussion continues. Does the media shape reality, or does reality shape the media? Art can imitate life...and life can imitate art. "40 Hours of TV" will explore the media and its impact on us all.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

June 29th Continued

Show: Cooking Under Fire
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Network: Oregon Public Broadcasting
Genre: Reality show

Cooking Under Fire is PBS' entry in the reality show sub-genre of cooking competitions. It's very different than, say, Hell's Kitchen, because of pacing and a lack of meanness. And I have to confess, but I like it when Chef Ramsay on Hell's Kitchen yells at someone, curses them, and then just shoves that bad dish of food right onto the contestant's apron, sending that person away to cry (probably).

When I discovered that PBS had its own cooking show, I wanted to see how PBS would handle things.

It's too friggin' nice.

There's no conflict at all. Everyone is friendly. The contestants are forgettable and there's no Ramsay character cursing at everyone. The pace is slow without all the editing techniques you see in most reality shows. Also, the contestants were not assigned into specific personality roles as is the norm in reality TV. They were just ordinary folks. And the prize: the opportunity to be hired as a chef at a restaurant. So I guess the people on the show aren't interested in fame and fortune. A quick search on Monster.com shows that, at least for the positions posted, a chef in New York makes an average of about $60,000 a year.

In the episode I saw, the contestants were required to come up with a three-course meal using a certain kind of fish. So each contestant had an hour (Chef Ramsay would have given them ten minutes, screaming obscenities at them all the while) and they presented their dishes to the panel of judges, where no screaming ensued. And when the judges decided who would be eliminated, they did so in a friendly manner (they call it being "86'd") and handing the eliminated contestant with a frying pan with "86'd" written on it.

As far as the portrayal of reality goes, it's common knowledge that most "reality" shows are in fact heavily edited, with the producers creating situations and dramatic tension. What emerges is almost like a fictional show. PBS opted for the opposite route, although it's possible that some creative editing was used. As far as Cooking Under Fire goes, it seems to be attempting to create a more "real" reality show.

Grade: C, mainly because I missed the cursing and lack of tension.


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