Food for thought: Waitrose adds to the TV show mix

WHO would have thought there was the demand or even the space for another weekly food show on TV?

Waitrose are now sponsoring a cookery show and will be using their own branded products. Picture: Contributed

To most of us it seems every format and time slot has been braised, boiled and barbecued by amateur and professional chefs, but Channel 4 think differently. This morning they launched a new advertising-funded cookery show, Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose.

You’ve got to admire their cheek. For eight years now James Martin has been getting up with the sparrows and digesting uncooked omelettes to build the audience for Saturday Kitchen on BBC One. That job done, Channel 4 roll up to try to catch the same audience before the bread is even in the toaster.

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But there is one major difference. While the BBC goes out of its way to tape over brand labels and refers to Marmite as yeast extract, on Channel 4 it is going to be rather a contrast.

Waitrose aren’t ad-funding just to attach their name to the series. Instead, expect their produce to feature heavily, with in-store recipe cards and promotions matching what is on screen. With most people doing their supermarket shopping on a Saturday, it could be a good piece of positioning, but only if it is good TV.

So far they have Heston Blumenthal, Michel Roux Jr and Raymond Blanc lined up to cook, so the right ingredients are in place, but success or failure may come down to the presenting duo of Lisa Snowden and Steve Jones.

You can bet all the supermarket executives will be waiting for the ratings to come in on Monday morning.No such worries for Masterchef, which continues to be the big beast of TV food shows. Now in its tenth year, the current series has dispensed with previous attempts to fiddle with the format and instead concentrates on what it does best – letting ordinary cooks make us all feel really hungry.

That’s clearly what we like because nearly five million of us have been tuning in for each episode, which makes it the most watched weekday peaktime show outside the world of soaps.

But don’t assume TV cookery shows can do no wrong. Ironchef UK was our version of a hugely successful international format but it flopped on Channel 4, drawing in just 750,000 viewers in peaktime.

Earlier this year the same channel got their fingers burned again when The Taste could only pull in similar ratings for the big final.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that, for their latest TV cookery show, Channel 4 have looked to a format that is already up and working on a rival channel.

To understand the secret of food on TV you only have to look at food on our plates. Most of us eat the same dozen dishes week in, week out. We are creatures of habit and we like the cosy familiarity of Masterchef’s John and Gregg as much as we like our mince and tatties, just the same way mum made it.