Food Network Serves Up Seasonal Comfort Fare

While countless networks serve up the Christmas content like Santa tossing out toys, a somewhat unlikely one is significantly ramping up the Santa stuff this season. Food Network is offering 70% more holiday fare than last year, including Holiday Baking Championship and Christmas Cookie Challenge.

The network saw ratings records last holiday season and decided to double down. “We listened to our audience,” president Courtney White said. “We really saw an appetite for this across the schedule from viewers.”

Food Network is hardly alone. Celebrating its tenth “Countdown to Christmas,” Hallmark Channel premieres Christmas in Rome on Nov. 30, among countless other holiday movies. Freeform kicks off “25 Days of Christmas” on Dec. 1, calling itself “the go-to network for holiday-themed original content and beloved classics.” The originals include the film Ghosting: The Spirit of Christmas on Dec. 4 and a two-hour episode of Good Trouble on Dec. 16.

ABC has The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration on Nov. 28, A Charlie Brown Christmas on Dec. 5 and Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade on Christmas Day. CBS has Frosty the Snowman on Nov. 29; a pair of Robbie the Reindeer specials, starring Ben Stiller, on Nov. 30; and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on Dec. 2.

Over on NBC, Ellen’s Greatest Night of Giveaways sees Ellen DeGeneres and pals give gifts to unsuspecting people on Dec. 10, 11 and 12.

FX is the home of dark dramas, where Snowfall isn’t about the frozen precipitation that sleighs slide so nicely on, but crack cocaine. Even that network is getting in on the merriment. On Dec. 19 FX premieres A Christmas Carol, with Guy Pearce playing Ebenezer Scrooge.

Netflix, for its part, has A Christmas Prince 3: The Royal Baby on Dec. 5, among other offerings.

Holiday programming works particularly well when fighting in Washington, school shootings and wildfires dominate the news. “In a world where there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on, holiday programming can really be comfort food,” Linda Ong, chief culture officer at Civic Entertainment Group, said.

“Slipping into the holiday rabbit hole can be very comforting.”

Lovely Weather For a Slay Ride Together

The Christmas stuff is so widespread that some networks are aggressively counter-programming. Syfy, for one, promises viewers a “slay ride” when a Friday the 13th marathon happens Dec. 13, and a Nightmare on Elm Street marathon starts Christmas Eve and extends into Christmas Day.

Courtney White said Food Network, part of Discovery Inc., is good for holiday get-togethers because it offers programming the whole family can sit down to. “It’s a place where everybody can watch,” she said. “Food Network has always been that place to go to for feel-good programming.”

Ong agreed. Shows about cooking and food are the opposite of the highly serialized shows that, entertaining as they are, can be taxing. “Food really speaks to nostalgia,” she said. “Food speaks to family.”

On Nov. 28, Casey Webb heads to the North Pole for new Food Network series Santa’s Baking Blizzard, which shows ice sculptors and cake masters doing their things. New seasons of Holiday Wars and Holiday Gingerbread Showdown begin Dec. 1, and Molly Yeh hosts Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge starting Dec. 21.

White is particularly excited about The Great Food Truck Race: Holiday Hustle. Tyler Florence hosts in its first-ever holiday themed season. Shot in snowy New England, “it has a very different feel for our network,” White said. “It’s holiday fare meets Ice Road Truckers.”

In an era when the Christmas lights go up days after Halloween and one has heard “Jingle Bell Rock” a dozen times before Thanksgiving even arrives, might some viewers burn out on all the holiday programming? “We’ll see,” White said.

If so, Food Network can scale back some of the holiday themed reruns on the schedule, she said.

The network is seriously psyched for Christmas. Some 30% of the viewers who turn up for its holiday programming are new to the channel, said White, so this time of year is a serious opportunity to hook the samplers.

“It is a chance for us to broaden our reach,” she said.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.