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In this installment of Tabletop Wrestling, Hanna Raskin and Dan Person consider the future of Top Chef.
Hanna Raskin thinks the show is pretty much done for.
Television viewers have been confidently predicting Top Chef's cancellation for years.
"Has Top Chef jumped the shark?" a disappointed Chowhound poster asked back in 2007. "Is it just me, or has season 3 marked an increasing reliance on gimmicky challenges, sad pandering to sponsors, and generally less focus on the actual food?"
If the writer was right, it made no difference to Top Chef's success: It's since survived a guest appearance by Pee Wee Herman and a finale challenge set in ski gondolas. So it's probably foolhardy to declare that the show is doomed. But my guess is show is just a season or two away from becoming an online-only program with a spate of tie-in products.
In the culinary world, a brand's reputation isn't contingent upon cooking, as judges Tom Colicchio and Emeril Lagasse would surely attest. Top Chef can thrive as a themed cruise, cookware line and frozen dinner endorser without the bother of producing a television show. Other Top Chef projects include Quickfire wine, Teleflora flower arrangements and a pop-up restaurant. "The products are...essential for us," Frances Berwick, president of Bravo, last year told the Chicago Tribune.
But the show itself is seeming less essential with each passing season. The show's ratings are abysmal, with each episode attracting about one million viewers on its original airdate. By contrast, the simpler and presumably cheaper Last Chance Kitchen - the adjunct web series introduced last season - was streamed 8 million times in its debut year. With viewers growing increasingly comfortable with online series, there's little reason for Bravo to waste a prime time slot on a show that's far less popular with viewers than the Real Housewives franchise.
And Bravo's already proven it's not afraid to pull the plug on a show bearing the Top Chef name: After two seasons, Top Chef:Just Desserts, hosted by Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, was canceled. "The detail-oriented nature of the subject proved too challenging," a report in Variety explained.
But Dan Person believes Top Chef's run will never end.
Hey, Hanna, did you catch last week's Office?
You know, the NBC sitcom that was Steve Carrell's comedic canvas for the better part of the 2000s?
I don't blame you if you didn't. After all, ever since Carrell's departure three seasons ago, the show has totally lacked purpose. But I raise the point because it goes to show how reluctant TV executives are to kill a winning brand, even if that brand hasn't been so winning lately.
Think also of Happy Days, whose last ditch efforts to keep the show going far past its expiration date has pervaded our culture via the overused phrase "Jump the shark."
Top Chef isn't going anywhere for a while. It's a matter of inertia: even if it's obvious there's no propulsion behind the show any longer, it's going to take a long time to stop that massive thing.
Even if Padma and Colicchio bow out for other pursuits, you can count of contrived methods of keeping the brand in the Bravo line-up. When this happens, if Bravo has a sense of humor, I know exactly what the producers can have the cheftestants cook: shark.