Broadcast TV has seen the writing on the walls at Food Network, Bravo and TLC: competitive food shows can build solid followings (Chopped, Top Chef) and so can shows about baking (Cake Boss, Cupcake Wars). Throw in a format popular in Britain called The Great British Bake-Off, and add the appeal of television that leads with how unpretentious and down-home it is. Soak in a deep dish of Jeff Foxworthy, and you've got CBS's new offering, The American Baking Competition, which premieres Wednesday night.
It's always interesting, and perhaps most likely in the oddball days of summer, when the big broadcast networks try to figure out how to take the inherently niche programming that cable networks can embrace and turn it into programming that can work for their broad audiences. ABC tried a cooking competition staffed with stars like Nigella Lawson and Anthony Bourdain this past season, but The Taste was received with a popular and critical shrug. It was renewed, but it can't have performed the way they were hoping.
The Taste, though, was taking very much the foodie angle, involving the exacting palates of well-known chefs like Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre. The American Baking Competition is going the other way, focusing on decadent, gooey goodies prepared by eager home cooks and gobbled up by Foxworthy as he complains/brags about all the weight he's going to gain from all the delicious food.
If ABC bet on the highbrow end of the food-show demographic, CBS is betting on what you might call the populist end. Jeff Foxworthy is already the host of a show on GSN (which doesn't seem to go by Game Show Network anymore) that's aimed squarely at the Bible belt, literally — it's called The American Bible Challenge. Using him as your host is a way of telling your intended audience that this is not a show about snooty food people, but a show about regular people — people who might conceivably both like and relate to the redneck jokes that built Foxworthy's career. Perhaps that's the way to take an idea that's flourished on cable and make it work in broadcast, where they need bigger numbers to make a success.
[Note: Our commenters pointed out that I left out the Gordon Ramsay competition shows here, particularly Hell's Kitchen and Masterchef. They're right, certainly, with my only real defense being that to me, Ramsay shows are Ramsay shows, not actual competition shows. Unlike the competitors on Top Chef, for instance, many of the competitors on Hell's Kitchen are pretty clearly not very good at what they do, and the attraction is much more him than them, so I tend to not think of them as real competition shows at all. But — fair point.]