Restaurant: Impossible returned for its 18th season on Food Network on Jan. 7, with an episode titled “Changing with the Times.” Actually, it was titled: “Discovery+ First Look: Changing with the Times.” While the title referred to the restaurant, it also was perfect for the episode itself, and not just because construction manager Tom Bury was replaced, temporarily, by Lynn Kegan (Tom and his wife had a baby).
That’s because the episode was the last episode of the Robert Irvine-hosted restaurant makeover show to air on Food Network.
A bug on the lower-right of the screen soon appeared to explain that this was an “exclusive preview,” informing us that “new episodes [are] moving to Discovery+”. (Yes, they used the word “preview” for a show that’s been on Food Network for a decade now.)
During the first commercial break, the change was made even more clear in a promo, whose narrator said, “Love Restaurant Impossible? Now, Discovery+ is the only place to watch new episodes.”
Discovery+ is the new streaming service from Food Network’s parent company; it costs $5 a month, or $7 a month without ads.
This seems like a risky strategy to me. It’s one thing to offer a library of past shows and new shows on a pay service. That’s what Disney+ did, for example, with old movies plus new shows like The Mandalorian.
But Disney+ also shifted original content from cable to streaming: some shows intended for National Geographic Channel, such as Jeff Goldblum’s show, went to Disney+ instead. So this is part of a growing trend, I fear.
Robert Irvine apologizes to fans
Restaurant: Impossible was not on the list of “exclusive original series” that the service released in mid-December, which suggests this was a more-recent decision—or something they didn’t want to publicize back then.
It’s not thrilled fans of the show. While one person tweeted to Robert Irvine, that they “may drop everything else for Discovery plus including satellite. Literally 90% of what we watch is on there,” another person tweeted that it was “Incredibly disappointing” that the show was moving to pay streaming.
To the second person Irvine responded, “I am sorry. It’s way above my power .. I have am sending all these comments to the network.”
Another person responded, “Just cannot justify *more* money for another streaming service. Love all your shows, Chef, hate to see it pulled.” Robert replied to them, too, adding a prayer hands emoji to the end of his tweet, which said, “I will promise and sorry , but I understand.”
Those hoping Discovery will reverse its decision are probably going to be even more disappointed. When someone expressed hope that Robert Irvine could get executives to change their mind, he tweeted, “Unfortunately that’s unrealistic I think , but I am sending all these comments from my platforms.”
Why is Restaurant Impossible leaving Food Network?
For those already paying for cable, taking away shows they already love—the reasons why they’re paying for cable—may be enough encouragement for them to cancel cable, accelerating the demise of cable.
Last summer, Variety’s Michael Schneider and Kate Aurthur reported in a must-read story about how cable is “struggling for survival,” dropping from 105 million houses with cable in 2010 to 82.9 million in 2020.
What really caused a decline were streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. And that’s why, as the story’s subtitle says, “media companies that once relied on cable TV are chasing streaming dollars instead.”
I wonder how many people will end up like me: I’ll miss watching Restaurant: Impossible, but that one show is not enough of a reason to convince me to pay for Discovery+ at this point.
So many shows across Food Network, HGTV, and Discovery are fine to watch and nice to have as background, but aren’t something I feel the need to watch weekly, like I do when season two of The Mandalorian came out, or when Netflix’s The Circle returns this year.
And while I might not have subscribed to Hulu for an unknown show like Padma Lakshmi’s oustanding Taste the Nation, I will stay a subscriber for more of it—or more high-quality shows like it.
Restaurant Impossible goes from cancelled to subscription-only
This is another twist in Restaurant: Impossible’s rocky 10-year history.
Robert Irvine was first host of Dinner: Impossible, but Food Network fired him for “embellishments and inaccuracies in his resume.” Thought he was replaced by Michael Symon, Irvine came back final three seasons.
That show led to a spin-off, Restaurant: Impossible, which took the form of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and premiered Jan. 19, 2011.
It returned in 2019 with a terrific, refreshed season that went the opposite direction: instead of the phony drama of the ambush episodes, the producing was less heavy-handed.
Robert Irvine also started revisiting past restaurants as part of a new series—which continued during 2020, when he visited restaurants he’d previously helped that were now suffering because of the pandemᎥc.
Now, you have to pay to see it.
Of course, we were already paying to watch it: Food Network is a cable channel.
But clearly, the economics make more sense for the company to get people to pay them directly, then to get paid by cable companies per cable subscriber.
In a filing with the SEC at the end of its 2019 fiscal year, Discovery said “per subscriber payments also represent a significant portion of our revenue,” so cable TV viewers still matter. How many of them will Discovery alienate by taking away a long-running reality show?
And how will this affect the restaurants? Besides a makeover of their space and menu, the restaurants featured get publicity and exposure, which is helpful for an industry where, in normal times, “Sixty percent of restaurants don’t make it past their first year and 80 percent go out of business within five years,” as FSR magazine reported.
Now the only exposure they’ll get is to people paying for Discovery+.