'Iron Chef' commentator gets three-year deal

The Food Network, making headlines recently for canceling a nightly live show with Emeril Lagasse and not carrying Mario Batali’s new series, has signed another of its stars, Alton Brown, to a new three-year deal.

Brown is a commentator on Food’s “Iron Chef America” and is writer, producer and host of “Good Eats,” both of which will be back with fresh episodes. Brown will also produce and star in “Feasting on Waves,” a limited-series follow-up to “Feasting on Asphalt.”

Food Network started a push two years ago to tweak the format and style of its programming to appeal to a younger audience, and the strategy is paying off. The average age of Food’s viewers has dropped from 50 in 2003 to 46 in 2007, said Bob Tuschman, senior vice president for programming and production.

Food’s primetime ratings shot up by double digits in 2007 in adults 18-34 (up 15%), 18-49 (11%) and 25-54 (10%) and by 3% in total viewers.

Tuschman said Food will engineer the most aggressive programming blueprint in its 14-year history, scheduling one new weekly series a month for the first three quarters, starting with “Jamie at Home” on Jan. 12, featuring Jamie Oliver.

One bone of contention causing the departure of chefs like Lagasse from hosting daily shows on Food was the net’s desire to negotiate a percentage of the merchandising revenues harvested by these chefs at contract-renewal time.

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