Johnson’s New Chef at Food Network

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Brooke Johnson’s kettle is on the boil. She was named president of Food Network last week, a promotion from within that coincided with news about the service enjoying its best-ever ratings.

Johnson steps into the shoes of Judy Girard, who since January also has been serving as president of Scripps Networks’ shopping service, Shop At Home.

Johnson, who has been with Food since May 2003 as senior vice president and general manager after stints at A&E Network, The History Channel and WABC-TV in New York, believes the network’s burner is at the right flame level.

“We really don’t have to make many changes,” she said. “Advertisers like the network. Viewers are very passionate about the service and we just came off our highest-rated week ever.”

The network averaged a 0.8 household mark from April 19 through 25, according to Nielsen Media Research data. That performance helped push Food forward 17% to a 0.7 mark for the month, its best-ever April mark.

Food’s Nielsen fire was stoked by its “Iron Chef America: Battle of Masters” weekend. The Iron Chef America: Battle 4 Tag Team Finale in which Bobby Flay and Masaharu Morimoto topped Mario Batali and Hiroyuki Sakai (secret ingredient: fruits de mer) was the most-watched show in the channel’s history, averaging more than 1.3 million viewers on Sunday, April 25, at 10 p.m.

The night before Battle 2: Morimoto vs. Batali secured 1.3 million viewers, as did the Friday night food fight between Sakai and Flay.

The April 25 encounter at 9 p.m. between Morimoto and Wolfgang Puck drew 1.2 million.

The appearance of those cooking icons in, er, heated competition drove Food to a 1.0 household rating average that Friday night and a 1.1 for the following evening. More impressive was the Sunday-night menu, which produced a 1.4 in primetime, matching the service’s best-ever Sunday Nielsen grade, dating back to the Iron Chef New York Battle between Morimoto and Flay on June 25, 2000.

Johnson, who has extended the network’s instructional “In The Kitchen” block to fringe and weekend daytime since coming aboard, said the success of the Chef stunt speaks well to the network’s plan to have more event programming in primetime.

Food is baking a national pastry competition, a talent search for a prospective network host and a “big wedding stunt,” according to Johnson.

She adds that the network is eyeing kitchen remodeling fare and other non-traditional shows “to cast a slightly wider net.”

“People say they don’t want to watch because they don’t cook. I was one of those people. If we can lure them in, they will find the programming addictive.”

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