Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Gordon Ramsay in a scene from Master Chef. (Greg Gayne/Fox)
Gordon Ramsay in a scene from Master Chef. (Greg Gayne/Fox)

John Doyle

The Fatal Attraction of Gordon Ramsay Add to ...

The other day, at the tail end of the summer TV season, Fox aired the season finale of Hotel Hell. The short-run series featured Gordon Ramsay descending on hotels and other lodging places to give them a piece of his mind. And help them get ship-shape with cleanliness and customer service.

Before the finale aired, Fox announced it would renew the series for a second season, to arrive next year. The show is Ramsay’s fourth series for Fox, the other three being MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares. In the summer period this year and before, Gordon Ramsay takes up vast amounts of space and time on the Fox prime-time schedule.

More from John Doyle

Why? Good question. I mean, is TV success as easy as having a short-temped English guy show up, tear a strip off people and command them to do better?

Let’s consider the possible reasons why Ramsay is such a compelling TV personality and so many of his shows succeed.

First, he’s fierce. Has been for years. The first time I heard of Ramsay was when he threw people out of one his restaurants in London. The people were Sunday Times food and television reviewer AA Gill and his dining companion, who happened to be Joan Collins.

Realizing they were in his establishment and very likely to review it, Ramsay went ballistic and tossed them out. Got a lot of media attention for that.

After he went into the TV racket in Britain, that fierceness had an impact. The BBC TV guide, Radio Times, polled thousands of readers to determine “television’s most terrifying celebrity” and Ramsay came in at No 1. Cranky and sarcastic Idol judge Simon Cowell was way down the list. More recently, a Ramsay TV special in the U.K., Ramsay’s Great British Nightmare, drew many complaints from viewers. One pointed out that 312 swear words were heard in a program lasting 103 minutes.

The short temper and the swearing are part of the appeal of Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares. But, in truth, Ramsay is a compelling figure not just because of the temper and swear words. He is absolutely confident in the rightness of his methods and the validity of his attacks. He’s one of those people on TV who manages to be gripping not because of egotism, but assuredness.

Mind you, MasterChef and Hotel Hell are far better shows than the Kitchen ones. They are better because they are about quality cooking and, in Hotel Hell, customer care. On MasterChef , Ramsay and his fellow judges can be sarcastic and abrasive, but the point is to make the contestants better cooks. There is the usual flim-flammery about some contestants hating each other and feuds developing, but the show is mainly about food. It’s Ramsay’s personality that drives it, the brutally frank assessments of food and the effort put into its preparation.

Hotel Hell is less gimmicky than it might sound. And it’s a smart idea for a show, given the huge success of such sites as TripAdvisor.com, which encouragers customers to assess hotels with relentless vigour. Again, it’s Ramsay confidence and outspoken attitude – for all the swearing he does with ease, he’s also very articulate in his hatreds – that carry the show.

Of course, Ramsay is not the only TV figure to parlay a short temper and colourful insults into TV stardom and success. He’s part of a pattern on U.S. network TV – the bossy Brit who can command attention from an American audience. Simon Cowell falls into the same category, with his arrogance and acid remarks on Idol and The X-Factor.

A few years ago, when there was a brief passion for shows about nanny figures, the two main entries in the genre were British and bossy.

Both ABC’s Supernanny and Fox’s Nanny 911 featured a British nanny whose job was to bring kids into line and make indulgent parents look sharp.

Conclusion: Gordon Ramsay has multiple successful shows on U.S. TV because he’s the quintessential bossy Brit. Viewers won’t tolerate a bully or a creep on TV but the Brit accent, persona and the way with words makes extreme bossiness acceptable.

 

Airing Tonight

 

Perception (Bravo, 9 p,m.) is a new and middling-good drama series made for the cable channel TNT. The gist is this: “Dr. Daniel Pierce, a talented but eccentric neuroscientist, is enlisted by the FBI to assist in solving some of its most complex cases in Chicago. Dr. Pierce works closely with Special Agent Kate Moretti, a former student who recruited him to work with the FBI. Also on the team are Max Lewicki, Dr. Pierce’s teaching assistant and Natalie Vincent, his best friend.” Canadian Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) plays the leading, loopy character, who says things like, “Reality is a figment of your imagination.”

Thus the show is a standard mystery drama featuring a mad genius as the investigator.

You have to believe in the guileless innocence of the mentally disturbed to find it charming, but the plot lines seem sharp.

The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS, Omni, 11:35 p.m.) features Michelle Obama, again, doing the Top Ten List. Nobody has to wonder why.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories