I saw that Food Network personality Rachael Ray is getting her own syndicated talk show. I passed this item on to Fitz-Hume with the question, “Oprah’s successor?” His response: “God, I hope not.”
The linked story mentioned that Oprah’s production company is involved in Ray’s new show, and it seems it will be a lead-in to Oprah’s show in many markets. That can’t hurt. Ask Dr. Phil how much it helps to be taken under Ms. Winfrey’s wing. Like all great leaders, Oprah will one day have to choose someone to take up her mantle and carry on. Maybe that day is coming sooner, or maybe it’s coming later. But maybe this is Rachael Ray’s audition to be the next Oprah.
Even if Ray never reaches that stratosphere (and really, how could she?), I think this is just the start of bigger and bigger things for Ray. I’ve never watched her Food Network shows, and I’ve never read her cookbooks. But even a non-foodie like me can tell that she is too big a fish to stay in the basic cable pond forever. Whatever “it” is, Rachael Ray has it. Just like George Clooney was too big for “E.R.” and Eddie Murphy was too big to stay on “SNL” and Bill Clinton was too big for Little Rock, Rachael Ray is bigger than the Food Network.
Certainly some foodies like Fitz hate Ray. I’m not the one to mediate that rift; I’m not foodie enough to know the lingo or the reasons for the bitterness. I’ll note that the general food-eating population seems to like Ray: one of her cookbooks is in Amazon’s top fifty overall sellers, and three of its top fifteen food books are hers. I don’t know whether the hatred for Ray is due more to her supposed sins against cuisine or her personality or that she may be a bad tipper. (I won’t address sexism, but it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility here, at least as one factor.)
But, a couple of points. First, the fact that she inspires such strong sentiment is a sign of her pop culture immersion. Second, to the extent the Ray-haters’ complaints are food-related, her new show will be broader than her Food Network shows. People who don’t care for the way Ray cooks might be willing to sit through a celebrity interview or a segment on dating advice for the elderly. Plus, I get the sense that some of the foodies dislike that Ray doesn’t seem to worship at the high altar of Cooking as Religion. And, to the extent the complaints are based on Ray’s personality, her attitude seems to me more suited for the daytime talk show than perhaps anything else. I think she’ll be a natural.
I’m sure there were some who criticized the meteorological acumen of David Letterman back when he was doing the weather in Indiana. And I’m sure some people doubted Oprah’s journalistic bona fides when she was a news anchor in Nashville (as we’re seeing with Katie Couric now). Similarly, some people are going to take their criticism of Ray’s culinary skills and assume she can’t be a superstar in a broader field. Feel free to come up with a tasty and simple recipe for crow for me to eat in case her show ends up cancelled in a year. But my prediction is that Rachael Ray’s talk show will be a success.