Rescue Formula Clicks For Cable Programmers

Viewers Relate To Tales Of Businesses On The Brink

Business “rescue” reality shows are providing a major ratings makeover for several cable networks.

Shows such as Spike TV’s popular Bar Rescue, Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible and Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible are drawing viewers with relatable stories of often family-run businesses trying to survive against the odds with the help of charismatic, business-savvy experts.

Given the unstable and uncertain state of today’s job marketplace, executives said the business rescue genre is resonating. “There’s certainly a wish fulfillment element in these shows: who doesn’t want some strong, commanding expert to swoop into your life and make your business, home and family perfect, particularly in environment where jobs are in jeopardy?” Bob Tuschman, general manager and senior vice president of Food Network, said.

Food’s Restaurant Impossible has been a staple of the network’s programming lineup since its 2011 debut.


The series, in which chef Robert Irvine and his staff are tasked with renovating a failing restaurant, is one of the network’s more popular shows, averaging about 17 million viewers per month, according to Food officials.

The key to the show’s success is the interaction between the no-nonsense Irvine — who, among other aggressive moves, has unapologetically gutted a restaurant’s menu to help improve its fortunes — and restaurant owners desperate to turn their business around but not sure how to go about it, Tuschman said.

“There are a lot of elements in telling the story that I think are great drama, but are essential to what our audience likes,” Tuschman said. “There are very high stakes. You have a failing business that represents people’s livelihoods and dreams, and there’s deep drama because the reasons that they are failing are usually rooted in conflicts within families and problems within their own lives.”

For such shows to work, viewers have to relate to the often tough-love elements of its hosts and the underdog owners of the flailing business, Spike TV executive vice president of original series Sharon Levy said. That formula has helped make Bar Rescue the most-watched show on the network.

The third season of the show, in which bar and nightlife expert John Taffer helps failing establishments transform themselves into profitable businesses, is averaging a network high 2 million viewers per episode.

“It works because for people it’s completely relatable — bars are where we go to socialize, to meet other people, to talk about our problems and connect with one another,” Levy said. “We also relate to all the complexities in the relationship between John Taffer and the business owners.”

But while Food and Spike have found success in the genre, not all networks have been able to cash in on its popularity. National Geographic Channel last month pulled Church Rescue after only two episodes due to poor ratings.

Levy said it’s a balancing act to find both a strong leads and compelling business storylines. “The reason a rescue genre show works is that is that the audience is relating to the people that are struggling on camera,” she said. “They think our talent cares so much about helping them help themselves that it’s really fun to watch.”

Spike has already turned up the volume on the genre, launching this past summer Tattoo Rescue, which follows tattoo expert Joey Germinario and his team as they transform failing tattoo ventures. The series generated 750,000 in its freshman run, according to Spike.


Spike TV also is going to going to give the rescue formula a working by focusing on struggling gyms. Gym Rescue, staring mixed martial arts fighters Frank Shamrock and Randy Couture, will debut next spring, according to Levy. Also in that time frame, Spike TV will debut Hungry Investors, in which Bar Rescue’s Tapper, celebrity chef John Besh and Top Chef’s Tiff any Derry have to choose between two restaurants known for offering the same cuisine to determine which one gets investment money.

Food will also remain hungry for the genre with the March 2014 launch of Save My Bakery, featuring cake maestro Kerry Vincent. The series pilot aired both on Food Network and on sister service Cooking Channel. The network will continue to look for other genre-specific content that appeal to the network’s viewers, Tuschman said.

“You have to have a host that your viewers find credible, compelling and dramatic but I also think you need to find the real people who are sympathetic and who you are rooting for,” he said. “You also get a lot of insider info through failing business about how a business should be run. Add it all up, and you have a compelling hour that is based in reality.”


Reality shows focused on the “rescue” of failing businesses are earning repeat views from cable audiences.