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Watch a Promo Reel for Gusto, the Food TV Network That Could Have Been

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Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Here is a six-minute promo reel for the Gusto television network, a food-oriented television channel financed by Viacom and Comcast that never got off the ground. The video features food folk like New York Times critic Pete Wells (then senior editor at Details), chef Gabrielle Hamilton, writer Jeffrey Steingarten, restaurateur Drew Nieporent, and many more. The 2005 video comes to Eater via From Scratch: Inside the Food Network author Allen Salkin, who discovered it during his research for the book (buy on Amazon). In From Scratch Salkin explains that Gusto was to be a competitor to Food Network, marketing materials positioned it as a Whole Foods to Food Network's Walmart. Gusto also helped provide the inspiration for Food Network's spinoff of Cooking Channel.

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In the promo reel below, Gusto previews a television show to be called The Protegé. The show is about Vogue food writer Jeffrey Steingarten's quest to hire an assistant. The clips in the promo reel find Steingarten terrorizing one such applicant, demonstrating his philosophy that "training an apprentice is a matter of breaking down her or his ego step after step after step until they are blubbering jelly." Based on former Steingarten assistant and Top Chef judge Gail Simmon's recounting of her time in that position, the would-be proteg&eacutes should look forward to "countless hours cleaning up wrappers and half-eaten chocolate bars" and plenty of "scolding."

The rest of the promo reel centers on a dinner party with movers and shakers like future New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, New York City chef Gabrielle Hamilton, actress Susie Essman, and restaurateur Drew Nieporent. They discuss how food is like sex, the appeal of red wine, and what's wrong with food television today (there's a lot of competition show bashing). There's also footage from actors like Frances McDormand and Tim Blake Nelson talking about food, plus clips from movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Sideways, and Super Size Me. Apparently the network planned to air films as well.

Pete-Wells-Gusto.jpg

Salkin writes in From Scratch:

Starting in 2005, John Sykes, the president of network development for the MTV Networks division of Viacom, was exploring four or five possible new digital cable channels with Comcast. The idea behind Gusto was to recapture the more food-centric crowd that Food Network seemed to have abandoned as it chased a broader audience ... Instead of Sandra Lee, Paula Deen, and competition shows, Gusto promised urbane programs hosted by personalities like prize-winning food critic Jeffrey Steingarten and wine expert Josh Wesson (one of the stars of David Rosengarten and Tony Hendra's long-ago PBS pilot Three Men in a Kitchen). A teaser reel created to explain Gusto inside Viacom and Comcast included a dinner party scene. Around a table imbibing leggy wines and dark meats were the kind of stars the network would tap.

According to Salkin, Gusto "died" after Comcast decided not to move ahead on partnering with Viacom. Apparently the threat of a network like Gusto loomed large for Food Network, and Cooking Channel was born from the idea of having programming focused on "foodie culture" and "instructional series in prime time." Also to shut out anyone else from launching a competing food-based network on cable. Below, the Gusto promo reel:

Video: Gusto Promo Reel

· From Scratch: Inside the Food Network [Amazon]
· All Food Network Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Food TV Coverage on Eater [-E-]