UPFRONT & CENTER: Food Network, Other Scripps Networks Pitch New Shows

New York -- Food Network is adding another cooking competition show to TV’s mix. Chopped will pit four contestants against each other to find the nation’s top sous chef.

The show -- rumors of which had trickled out on foodie blogs over the past several months -- was officially announced by Food at an upfront for its parent company, Scripps Networks, here Tuesday morning.

The show joins a slate of newly announced projects for Food’s primetime and daytime blocks.

Food’s goal in primetime is to lower its demos and even out its split of males and females, president Brooke Johnson said.

Also a priority is increasing the community feel of Food’s shows. To that end, key talent like Rachael Ray will include more “real people” guests in their shows, and new reality shows like Rescue Chef will include everyday viewers in their homes.

Food is entering the upfront strong -- the network was up 13% in primetime viewing over the same period last year to an average of 874,000 total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Other new programs on deck at Food include Feasting on Waves, a nautical version of Alton Brown’s food travelogue, Feasting on Asphalt; The Chef Jeff Project, an aspiriational series in which drug-dealer-turned-chef Jeff Henderson works with kids who want to be cooks; Eat the Clock, an Amazing Race-type road competition centered around food; and Food Sleuths (working title), a food-mythology show that will seek to answer culinary questions like whether chewing gum sticks to one’s intestines when swallowed and whether food that has fallen on the ground is still safe to eat if retrieved within five seconds.

New talent coming to primetime includes Anne Burrell, Mario Batali’s sous chef from Iron ChefAmerica, who will answer viewer e-mails; Sunny Anderson, who will feature cooking gadgetry; “sophisticated simple” chef Mary Nolan; and Alex Gaurnaschelli, chef at New York’s Butter.

Like the other category-specific Scripps Networks channels, including Home & Garden Television and DIY, Food is seeking to position itself to advertisers as a flexible partner and a must-buy network with engaged viewers with the slogan, “Your best friend in food.”

“It is this passion for the brand that drives our viewer engagement,” Johnson said. The goal: to “stay true to the brand with fresh ideas, fresh faces and fresh formats.”

At the upfront, Scripps ad-sales executives highlighted new sponsorship deals featuring Food talent, like one with Simply Delicioso’s Ingrid Hoffman for Tostitos, as well as partnerships with movie studios like one that featured Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille in conjunction with Food’s competition show, The Next Food Network Star.

Also at the upfront, HGTV presented for the first year under new president Jim Samples, who joined the network after leaving Cartoon Network amid a marketing snafu.

New projects for HGTV -- which recently instituted a new on-air look -- include a new season of Design Star (http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6424711.html) and several eco-themed projects, including Red, Hot and Green and Green Home, a home-building contest modeled after HGTV’s Dream Home.

Scripps’ three emerging networks -- DIY, Great American Country and Fine Living -- presented, as well. Fine Living said it will become Nielsen-rated during first quarter of 2009.

For complete coverage of the upfronts, click here.