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At one point, the perpetually upbeat and acronym-loving cook had three shows on Food Network, but in 2006, Rachael Ray launched a nationally syndicated show. During its debut in 2006, nearly three million people tuned in to watch Ray’s star guests assist her in cooking fast and simple meals. The show is said to average about 2.6 million views daily.
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The combination of genuinely talented professional chefs, the excitement of quickfire challenges, and amazing celebrity guest judges have made Top Chef a ratings bonanza for Bravo. It has also produced several spin-offs: Top Chef Masters, Top Chef All Stars, and Top Chef Just Desserts. According to Nielsen, at its peak in 2009, Top Chef had an average of 3.02 million viewers.
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While the show also focused on things like how to properly wrap presents, make decorations out of freshly picked pine cones, and build massive gingerbread houses, a significant portion of it focused on cooking elaborate meals. For a while, the syndicated show averaged 2.8 million people per viewing. After an 11-year run, Martha Stewart Living ended in 2004 because of Stewart’s stint in jail. But a new show was born, and The Martha Stewart Show can now be found on the Hallmark Channel.
This short-lived show can best be described as a cross between Top Chef and The Apprentice. Contestants who wanted to open their own chain had to complete weekly challenges. Each week someone was voted off by a panel of judges, including celebrity chef Bobby Flay.
Although it averaged 4.33 million viewers in 2011, these ratings were considered too low for NBC, and the show was cancelled after only one season. The three restaurants opened by the show's winner, Jamawn Woods, met the same fate, the last one closing after being open for just two months.
Another vehicle for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, Master Chef is similar to Ramsay's other successful show, Hell’s Kitchen, because the contestants on both compete for a prize. But while the cooks on Hell’s Kitchen are professionals, contestants on Master Chef are amateurs. Despite the fact that there is little discernable difference between the two shows, analysis of available figures reveals that the show averages 5.64 million viewers. And nearly six million people tuned in for last year's debut.
The premise of this popular show is simple: Have a world famous chef with a hair-trigger temper constantly yell at a group of hapless “professional cooks” who want to run one of his restaurants. If crying and throwing things happens during challenges, all the better. For a while after its 2005 debut, this format garnered Gordon Ramsay’s show an audience of nearly 12 million people (it opened season four with 11.85 million viewers), but only about half that audience has tuned in for its current ninth season.
Tall, lanky, nasally, bespectacled, and with a penchant for talking loudly, Jeff Smith was an unlikely superstar. But during his long run as a budget-conscious gourmet (starting in 1983), Smith’s popularity rivaled that of Julia Child. During its peak, The Frugal Gourmet was watched by more than 15 million people a week and could be seen on more than 300 public TV stations. His show abruptly ended in 1997 when he faced multiple accusations of sexual abuse (which he settled out of court).
It’s hard to believe that this beloved show, which spawned countless copycats, got on air by chance. When a cooking demo to promote her seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking wowed the audience of a Boston TV station, it encouraged Julia Child to develop a cooking show. With that, The French Chef was born in 1963.
Her unaffected style and obvious passion for food and cooking soon won a loyal following and captivated an audience that during the series run was estimated at around 50 million people. As beloved as she was, apparently her charms didn’t travel across the pond. The BBC allegedly stopped airing her show because viewers complained she was drunk or crazy.
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After more than 3,000 episodes, Martin Yan still manages to say his catchphrase, “If Yan can cook, so can you!” with as much enthusiasm as when he started his show in 1981. Thanks to his bad puns and awe-inspiring knife skills, by 1997 Yan was watched in more than 76 countries. He was christened the "the most watched cooking show in the world," and and will "tell you that his TV show reaches hundreds of millions of viewers."
Although Yan is certainly not the only reason Chinese food became a more respected cuisine in America, Yan did introduce a large audience to it long before the average household stocked soy sauce.
Apparently the recipe for overwhelming success is to have a whirling dervish masquerading as an Englishman ham it up in front of the camera, while preparing artery-clogging recipes that rely heavily on cream and butter. A former cook in the Royal New Zealand Air Force who galloped through his kitchen, Graham Kerr’s charisma and showmanship led to the international syndication of the show, which started in 1969. The 440 syndicated episodes were, "being watched by as many as 200 million around the world," before ending in 1971.