[Left] Any mention of Top Chef is a good reason to include a picture of Katie Lee Joel, my favorite host, who I also find quite foxy. Good going, Billy.
Another Top Chef season starts tonight, although it is a spin-off show, Masters, as opposed to a proper season. Still, anything is better than nothing, since we have hit the dead zone (not The Dead Zone) of the television season. All of my favorite shows - Family Guy, Heroes, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Office, Life on Mars - are either on break or canceled completely. Only wrestling and baseball are on to entertain me, and both can be quite hit or miss.
Anyway - focusing. I like Top Chef because, although it is a reality show, the contestants are all professionals. The focusing is on the cooking, and as far as the meals go, what they make looks far better than almost all of the things made on the Food Network. This is surprising, since most weeks the challenge is something ridiculous. "Make a gourmet meal out of these 20 things from a convenience store!"
Sadly, the more recent seasons haven't been as good as the initial ones, as the focus has shifted subtly to the drama between contestants. The first season was special because Harold just STFU and cooked awesome food. But the lesson the producers seemed to take from it was that we needed more Stevens, the pompous wine guy who lecture incessantly. (Shockingly, Steven is the one reality show contestant ever to look at his behavior on TV, then to come back and admit that he was a gigantic tool and to completely reform his ways.)
I understand the need for some drama, since it is television and all. But the drama on a show like this should originate from the tension over what the judges will pick as the best dish, as opposed to relying on relationships between contestants and their personality traits.
I think this is an underrated aspect to American Idol's success - You don't see behind the scenes vignettes about how Kelly Clarkson hates Justin Guarini. (Timely reference, I know, but I don't really watch Idol, and their god awful movie deserves more attention.) You might see a piece or two about their home lives, but the bitterness from other reality shows isn't present. The focus is on singing and popularity and the judges, which is smart, because the judges (at least the mains) don't really change from year to year.
On a random note, Masters has different judges than the main show, which is unfortunate, because Tom is awesome. Anyway, one is Kelly Choi, who last appeared on TV in... Eat Out NY. What an unfortunate name.