Back in the 90s, I was a huge fan of the Iron Chef when it got imported to North American television.  Although I was normally uninterested in cooking programs, something about the drama and pageantry that went on in Kitchen Stadium struck a chord.

The show was even imported to western countries who tuned it to suit their own tastes, and a lot of others around the world got into those weekly culinary competitions.

So when Fuji TV announced the return of Iron Chef to primetime television, a lot of buzz was generated. However, their two-hour debut claimed just a 10% share of the ratings, half of what the original program regularly held. It got worse from there as later episodes slunk to around 7%.

So what happened to our beloved Iron Chef? Everyone’s got an opinion and so do we.

■ The New Host?

The original Iron Chef was hosted by actor Takeshi Kaga who played off the role of Kitchen Stadium owner with just the right combination of flamboyancy and mystery. The guy danced on the edge of camp perfectly.

There were big shoes to fill, but his replacement, the younger Hiroshi Tamaki, had the look and attitude to pull it off pretty well.  However, according to some entertainment magazines, Tamaki’s reputation with the ladies was less than stellar.  Allegedly it was so bad that some female personalities outright refused to join the program because of his involvement.

■ The Fish Semen?

During the 13 year gap of Iron Chef broadcasts a lot has changed. One big change in television was the conversion of terrestrial broadcasting to a digital signal which provided a higher resolution than our standard TV signal, and thus a much clearer picture.

The old adage that “people want the steak but they don’t want to see how it’s made” has now become crystal clear in HDTV.  Images of live crabs being executed in high-def seemed to have been a little upsetting for some according to comments made on the web.

Other people were turned off by watching the cooks reuse old pans with the previously made food still caked on.

Moreover, we could see the debut’s special ingredient, Pacific cod, get its belly slit open expelling blood and seminal fluid in lifelike resolution. While for some blood and semen sounds like a fun Friday night, for many it didn’t.

■ Old Hat?

HD aside, the butchering of animals and dirty culinary tools were always a part of the series, and maybe that’s the problem. This has all been done before. In fact, aside from personnel and mild stylistic changes it’s the exact same show as it was two decades ago.

The rules of play are exactly the same. A challenger from the real world takes on one of Kaga, I mean Tamaki’s three Iron Chefs to create a full course meal with each course containing the theme ingredient of the evening.

Upon completion, the dishes are served to the host and some arbitrary celebrities who have no official expertise in food critiquing or preparation, and a winner is chosen by votes.

Fuji TV could have made some deeper changes to the formula but instead opted with the “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” tactic.

■ All of the Above?

The show had a good run – heck, it had a great run – but it ended in ’99 for a reason. It was just the right time. Resurrecting past successes has been the MO of production companies as of late so we can’t blame them.

However, along with the resolution of our TVs, people tastes change with the times. While fish semen is actually a popular topping in Japan (known as shirako), the younger generation is less tolerant of seeing it squirt out of a writhing fish.

And for the older generation who isn’t as phased by such things; they’ve seen it before. Many probably tuned in for nostalgia’s sake, but nostalgia is very fleeting.

If this is the case then someone needs to step in to FujiTV and tell them, like they did with Rambo, “It’s over, Johnny.”

■ None of the above?

Wait a minute. As an avid fan of Iron Chef I find these theories to be way off. I enjoy it just as much now as before. I’m gonna say loud and proud: I love fish semen!

When you think about it, a 7% to 10% viewer rating is pretty good these days.  For example, the original show aired at 11 p.m. when it raked in 20%, so holding its own in the primetime slot of 8 p.m. is pretty respectable in my opinion.

In fact, the younger people who might not be into watching lobsters boiled alive probably aren’t even watching TV.  They’re too busy Facebookin’ and hoola-hoopin’ and whatever it is these kids are doing… pacmanin’.

Even those of us left watching TV have considerably more to choose from now than in the 1990s. Getting a 7% rating when many people have 100-500 channels to choose from isn’t too shabby at all.

Perhaps Iron Chef isn’t as doomed as everyone hopes or thinks it is. Now, everyone: Allez cuisine!

Source: J-Cast News via Hachima Kiko (Japanese)
Image & Video: fujitv (YouTube)