Cable network unveils eight at upfront

HOLLYWOOD — Coming off of its highest-rated quarter ever, Food Network unveiled eight new primetime shows at its upfront event in Gotham on Tuesday.

The cabler’s focus on cooking competitions continues in the upcoming programming slate. “Chefs vs. City” is a foodie version of “The Amazing Race” in which notable chefs Chris Cosentino and Aaron Sanchez take on a pair of local chefs in a different city each week, vying in a series of five challenges. Skein begins in July.

Launching in the fall is “Extreme Cuisine With Jeff Corwin.” Corwin, whose former series “The Jeff Corwin Experience” appeared on Food sister net Animal Planet, will head to foreign locales to taste native cuisines.

“We don’t want to overdo it with competition shows, but viewers like it,” president Brooke Johnson told Daily Variety. “We sort of have a bifurcated strategy. We have the ‘In the kitchen’ blocks — Saturday and Sunday morning, and weekdays — which are as important to us as primetime. We’re able to develop new shows and draw on talent from the kitchen.”

Net has done well with competition series, such as “Iron Chef America” and “Food Network Challenge.” Top-performing shows also travel far from the net’s inhouse kitchen, focusing on restaurants and cuisine from around the globe, including the Guy Fieri-hosted “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” — the net’s No. 1 show in primetime.

Food Network was up 16% in total viewers in the first quarter compared to a year earlier (982,000 vs. 844,000). “I’d be lying if I didn’t say we were helped by the writers strike,” Johnson said. “People started sampling us and didn’t go back. We’ve had that great base to build on.”

Other new primetime programming coming to the Scripps-owned cabler includes “Worst Cooks in America” and “Foods That Changed the World.” Existing series drawing renewals are “The Next Iron Chef,” “Ultimate Recipe Showdown” and “The Next Food Network Star.”

On the daytime side, “Sandra’s Money Saving Meals” will preem on May 10, “Viva Daisy” returns for a second season in July, and “What Would Brian Boitano Make,” in which the former Olympic figure skater entertains guests, begins in August.

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