Everyone’s a Critic: Stop changing my show's format
June 21st, 2011
03:10 PM ET

Everyone’s a Critic: Stop changing my show's format

Last week, the third season of “Top Chef: Masters” wrapped up, and my immediate response was that congratulations were in order… to all of us viewers who made it through the entire wretched season.

The problem wasn’t that the chefs weren’t talented. It was that the producers drastically altered the format of the show from the first two seasons, and in doing so sapped it of any drama or appeal.

In seasons 1 and 2, many of the “Masters” contestants were true celebrities (in the culinary world, at least). The show was also structured so these top-name chefs could actually compete. All they had to do was dedicate a weekend to their preliminary round, then maybe one week if they made it to the finals.

But producers decided to shake things up for this latest version, requiring chefs to stay for the duration of the competition, and when you require more time, you can’t get big names. The result: a group of chefs who, while established in their own right, were indistinguishable from a standard “Top Chef” cast to the majority of the audience. Combine that with the restructured elimination format, and you’re basically watching a standard season of “Top Chef.”

Except, since these chefs were established, they were playing for charity. So you lose the drama of up-and-coming chefs trying to establish themselves, and you lose the whimsical fun of watching culinary icons take on “Top Chef” style challenges. (Seriously, the idea of Hubert Keller using a dormitory shower to cook pasta will never stop being awesome.)

It’s a trend that we’ve seen, especially on reality shows, where producers throw in a completely unnecessary format change that ultimately ends up backfiring.

“Survivor” introduced the idea of Redemption Island this past season (and in the process totally ripped off MTV’s “Real World/Road Rules Challenge”), but the twist proved utterly pointless since the people who made it back into the game were voted off again immediately. Thankfully, the show’s planning to do it all over again in the fall.

“So You Think You Can Dance” tried something similar last season by cutting its field of contestants in half in order to bring back all-stars to pair with the competitors. I enjoyed watching some old favorites, but it raised serious concerns about whether viewers were voting for the actual contestants or for the already-known partners, who of course weren’t eligible to win anything.

Even “The Amazing Race,” long seen as a standard-bearer when it comes to competition-style reality shows, went off the beaten path when it tried a “family” edition several years ago. But racing in teams of four instead of two, and involving a number of underage racers, meant that the travel possibilities – a huge drawing point for “Race” – were severely limited.

We love these shows because of what they are. Little tweaks here or there can be helpful (anyone remember the original hosts of “Dance” or “Top Chef”?), but the shows have longevity because they’ve found a format that works well for what they need. Attempts to alter that wholesale just sacrifice quality in an effort to grab more viewers, especially when the changes are made for no reason other than to shake things up.

In the case of “Top Chef: Masters,” it was such an egregious format change that it might have ruined the franchise entirely.


soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Chucklehead

    How many cooking shows do we need? I'm so tired of cooking shows and housewives of Podunk, not to mention anything of irrelevence on Bravo. What ever happened to creativity and originality?

    June 22, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ziek

    I wouldn't mind if they changed the format of these teriible shows. Change them in to be fantastic shows with great writing, acting, and set pieces – ENOUGH "REALITY" TELEVISON.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. Maryann

    Don't EVEN get me started on Big Brother!! One of the few reality shows I watch, because you can watch a 24/7 live feed of the house. Every single year they throw in a 'twist' that always backfires, and ruins the original concept of the show!

    I wonder why they do this – are they that bored with their own show??

    June 22, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  4. Heather

    I completely disagree. Reality shows need to make tweaks to their format every few seasons, or it gets stale, predictable and boring. Remember the first 6 seasons of Survivor? Remember how, during the season when Tom won, it was the most boring season because everyone had years to study the game and know how it was played? Then, they introduced the concept of idols and totally changed the game.

    Reality shows that expect to keep being exciting, season after season, need to shake up the format a bit in order to keep its contestants and the viewers on their toes.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • alice

      Heather you sound like one of those fat enabling mother hens that sits around rolling your doo doo into bonbons then eating them. You twisted freak.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. sorry

    i know i am on the wrong blog. SOMEBODY NEEDS TO HELP ZSA ZSA GABOR, THAT CRAZY HUSBAND VANALT
    TAKING PICTURES OF HER AND MAKING HIMSELF LOOK GOOD. THE DAUGHTER FOR GOD SAKES CAN'T EVEN
    SEE HER OWN MOTHER. CANT THE POLICE OR ABUSE FOR ELDER PEOPLE, SOMEBODY MAKE SURE OF HER
    HEALTH.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ben_the_Dog

    I actually preferred it the way it was this season, but I am a die hard Top Chef original fan. I didn't care for the first 2 seasons of TC Masters.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:18 am | Report abuse |
  7. Steve Bishop

    OH GET A LIFE Jordan. Oh I forgot. Silly me. Anyone who could possibly get this upset about a television cooking show can't possibly have a life.

    June 22, 2011 at 6:04 am | Report abuse |
  8. poppy

    They screwed around with Criminal Minds last season, and it was awful. Next season they're bringing back a favorite character. Hope it's not too late to save the show.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Greg C

    They did this with the Human Target. The first season was tough and gritty. The second season was softened up by adding a rich woman and a 18 kid for the Dawson's Creek crowd. It was awful and the show tanked.

    June 21, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sara

      To be fair, it wasn't doing that well in the first season, and they added the ladies to try to draw a wider audience. It was better the first season, but I didn't hate it the second season.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  10. nunya

    It just seemed to me that the challenges were so goofy and untraditional, that some of the more talented chefs got thrown out early. I remember watching the last 'Next Iron Chef', and Celena Tio made it to the last 3 or 4. She didn't seem very into this one, probably due to the goofy format and challenges. I thought for sure she was the favorite. Watching the finale, I couldn't help but think that half the dishes looked decent at best.

    June 21, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mmmmm

    sorry. i meant redemption island. i sure wish survivor was on tv tonight.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. christine C

    I agree totally; these folks were just marginally more talented than the usual Top Chef bunch, not Master Chef level. Ho hum.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Truth

    As far as i am concerned, they never should have dumped Kelly Choi. Epic fail.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. dave nelson

    If I had a lemon I would make sure to stick it up my nose.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mmmmm

    This season had Survivor Island. It made things different.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  16. shakeNbake

    I enjoyed this show. I especially enjoyed the episode when they competed for who made the best duck butter.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • dweebotl

      You weren't paying close attention to the ratings then. Viewship for this season fell of a cliff compared to last season; 40% drop in the Nielsen's. And, as a die hard fan of the "Masters" series, I didn't watch anything past the first episode because the of reasons outlined by the author. Unless you are part of the fine-dining/restaurant culture, there was no way you knew who more than two of these people were. Enjoy your crappy tv.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yolanda Weiner

      You people that watch these shows are truly societys buttcrust.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Maryann

      Yolanda – I would bet anything that you would NEVER insult anyone to their face like that.

      So brave, behind your keyboard.

      And if you don't watch these shows, why are you even commenting? No life?

      June 22, 2011 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
    • sirmixalot

      I enjoyed the episode when they competed for the best tasting fromunda cheese

      June 22, 2011 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  17. dave nelson

    Peace is just a troll.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |

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