In 2023, the food media landscape is a fascinating place. As appointment television has become scarcer and TikTok has created a platform that fosters viral "recipe/content creators," the definition of a "celebrity chef" is more ambiguous than ever.
Rachael Ray is a perfect encapsulation of this phenomenon. She was an early addition to the network with her shows "30 Minute Meals" and "$40 a Day." Then, in 2005, she signed a deal to host her namesake syndicated daytime TV talk show. This helped to widen her horizons beyond just food knowledge and cooking demos, allowing her to venture into the usual daytime TV fare, like celebrity interviews, to more personal undertakings, such as sharing her newly rebuilt home with the audience after a devastating 2020 fire leveled her home.
But now, as daytime TV continues to shift and its boundaries blur much like food media's — who would have thought that Kelly Clarkson and Drew Barrymore would be dominating the weekday talkshow space? — it looks like it's time for Ray to redefine herself again.
In a statement released by CBS on Friday, Ray announced that she would be ending her talk show, which has won two Outstanding Talk Show-Entertainment Emmy awards, after this season.
"In my more than 20 plus years in television I have had 17 wonderful seasons working in daytime television with 'Rachael.' However I've made the decision that it's time for me to move on to the next exciting chapter in my broadcast career," she said. "My passions have evolved from the talk show format production and syndication model to a platform unencumbered by the traditional rules of distribution."
She continued: "I am truly excited to be able to introduce and develop new and upcoming epicurean talent on all platforms. That is why I am looking forward to putting all my energies into my recently announced production arm, Free Food Studios. Thank you to all of our 'Rachael' daytime show partners, crew and affiliates, and the wonderful years we all worked together."
Free Food Studios is a collaboration between Ray and her longtime producing partners Brian Flanagan, Anthony Amoia and Sean Lee. Per the company's website, the "self-contained production and distribution company produces and owns a library of original content in the food space for distribution both domestically and internationally across a variety of social, linear and streaming platforms."
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So — what's next for Ray?
Signs suggest that, in part, she may be going back to her "30 Minute Meal" roots - which, selfishly, makes me a very happy camper.
According to Denise Petski at Deadline, "to date, Ray has created 30 episodes of 30-minute instructional cooking videos with Free Free Studios."
Ray's early Food Network programs helped distill real-life food questions into approachable, simple shows and lessons that offered legitimate, actionable tips and techniques. It's how I learned so much from her back in the day. However, as stated, I know that sitting down to watch an afternoon, instructional cooking show is not something that most are looking to do in this day and age.
While Ray's informational content is proven and tried-and-true, 2023 poses new challenges in terms of distribution and medium. For some inexplicable reason, jumpy, edited videos that are typically visually and audibly over-stimulating seem to be all the rage, which has allowed even-keeled, real-time, slow-down-and-cook-with-me type programming to fall by the wayside, which was also outlined by Salon deputy food editor Ashlie Stevens in 2016.
Since then, TikTok has furthered this chasm even more so, while platforms like Twitch are diversifying the content and framing of a cooking tutorial even more.
Ray notes that she is looking forward to beginning a "platform unencumbered by the traditional rules of distribution." If television isn't on the horizon, I'm curious where Ray will focus her content: streaming? TikTok? YouTube?
If food media is cyclical like fashion, will the notion of a half-hour cooking show soon be deemed "retro" and make a comeback? With the success of various YouTube shows and programs within the past few years, it certainly does look like the good ol' instructional cooking video is prime to make its mark again.
For some television chefs, the capricious food media landscape might limit their endeavors, but thus far, Ray has remained nimble enough to thrive. I don't think it will be any different as she returns to a format she helped define.