Food Network nailed the recipe for pandemic programming

By Sandra Gonzalez, CNN

Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT) May 20, 2020

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(CNN)“Pioneer Woman” star Ree Drummond’s pure, wholesome sense of positivity is such a hallmark of her cooking show that the slightest hint of motherly concern in her voice was jarring as she introduced the first of her “Staying at Home” specials.

“Gosh, what a crazy time. How are you all doing?” she asked through the television, surrounded by a gaggle of camera-wielding young adults — her children — acting as her crew. “Things have changed so much, but what has not changed is I still love cooking.”

A stuck-at-home audience seems to agree, with more people than ever hungry for Food Network.

Typically, a television viewer can rely on cable’s most delicious channel to be a respite from the messiness of the world. However, this particular mess — the coronavirus pandemic — has been without boundaries. It’s overtaken all aspects of life and changed it in ways that make whatever normal once existed seem like a memory more than a moment that will return — the same feeling one might get looking at a frozen piece of wedding cake.

As productions began to shutter in the second week of March, the network was quick to realize the need for programming that spoke to the moment, and it’s delivered. With a mix of filmed-at-home originals, a healthy stock of programs that had been filmed to completion but not yet aired and a vast library, the network has emerged as the keeper of the perfect recipe for pandemic programming.

“What’s really interesting and encouraging and gratifying is that different types of people are coming to us for different reasons,” Courtney White, president of Food Network, told CNN. “It’s been great to feel like our content is more needed than ever out there.”

    Food for thought

    Last month was the network’s highest rated in seven years, with increases averaging 20-30% on any given week, according to White. Some parts of its daytime lineup have even increased as much as 70%, she said.

    Men are watching more, too. White theorizes the rise is, in part, because some of the void left by the absence of organized sports has been filled by watching chefs go toe-to-toe.

    “What we found is once sports went dark, viewers who are just hungry for competition came to us and they weren’t our regular food viewers,” she said. “Seeing the battles play out on Food Network scratched an itch there.”

    It’s true that the network serves many roles as of late.

    At times, it’s a guide, like when the hosts of “The Kitchen” did an entire episode featuring recipes based on the ingredients they already had in their pantries at home. Or when Amy Schumer and her husband, chef Chris Fischer, recent additions to the Food Network fold, found themselves quarantined without all the ingredients needed to bake their cookies, so they improvised and made a homemade answer to peanut butter cups.

    Guy Fieri appears on a special take-out episode of

    At other times, it’s repeats of traveling food shows serve as a reminder of what once was and what we long to get back to.

    Arguably at its best, it calls attention to an industry rocked to its core.

    On the charitable front,

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