Smith Indulges His TV Tastes

Cooking Channel GM creates network for the serious foodie

Why This Matters

Michael Smith

General Manager, Cooking Channel

B.S., Stanford University, 1984
M.B.A., University of California at Berkeley, 1986

Young & Rubicam, account executive, 1986-1988
CBS TV Network, manager of affiliate relations, 1988-1990
Disney Channel, manager of affiliate sales and marketing, executive director of on-air promotion, 1990-1998
Food Network/ Scripps Networks, VP of creative services, senior VP of marketing, creative and brand strategy, 1998-2009
Current position since 2009

b. May 10, 1963; married to Marchette Richardson

Michael Smith’s one-time dream job was to be the general
manager of a TV station, like one of the people he
used to call on as manager of affiliate relations during his time at CBS. “I aspired to be a general
manager like those on [TV show]
WKRP in Cincinnati,” he says, citing
the late-1970s Loni Anderson sitcom.
“Back in those days, those jobs were
pretty cool. Twenty years later, it’s
cable that’s more prominent.”

Now, as general manager of the
Cooking Channel, which launches
May 31, Smith has oversight of both
the programming and marketing of
this Scripps Networks Interactiveowned
Food Network spinoff. The
channel’s Facebook fan page has
already notched more than 14,000

Smith began his ascent after earning
his M.B.A. from the University of
California at Berkeley in 1986, spending
his first two years working at advertising
agency Young & Rubicam.
During his first job in TV, he traveled
the country pitching CBS shows to affiliate stations, before leaping to Disney
Channel to begin pitching that
service to cable operators.

That role didn’t quite fit his highly
creative streak, which he kept alive
by operating a photo studio from his
apartment as well as recording CDs
and writing music for singers. In 1992, Disney gave him the big break
he wished for, signing him as director
of on-air promotions for the channel.
He spent six years in that role,
moving up the ladder and helping
to launch the service in Singapore.
Smith got his next big break with
Food Network, where he became VP
of creative services, overseeing marketing
and creative strategy.

One of his biggest challenges has
been figuring out exactly how distinct
the Cooking Channel should be from
Food, its sister service. Should it look
like ESPN2, the team wondered, or
go in a completely different direction?
The answer turned out to be something
in between.

Smith has created a network that
gives foodies wider opportunities to
get more of what they love from Food
Network while also targeting “a different
type of food interest,” he explains.
“They’re people who grew up
watching Food Network and now are
ready to go to the next level. They’re
fairly accomplished, and it gets a little
deeper and broader.”

Smith, who admits his favorite
dish is nothing more sophisticated
than General Tso’s chicken, describes just how Cooking Channel intends
to cater to those interests. Drink Up
is a show about cocktails, wines and
beers, hot bars and wineries; while
Foodography is the network’s answer
to AETN’s Biography, only for food:
“It’s all about the history of various

The channel will also air documentaries.
Two other shows that excite
him: Food Crafters, about people who
have “unique artisan food businesses
or custom cafes or sell special kinds
of pickles,” and Unique Eats, which
features one-of-a-kind restaurants
such as Aureole in Las Vegas.

“The people who are hyper-passionate
about food used to be upscale
and older—the Masterpiece Theater
set,” Smith points out. “But the interesting
trend is that young people are
more passionate about food than their
parents. And they want something a
little less food-Disneyland; they want
something grittier and independent.”

Family ties
Talking about his career success, the
Canadian-born Smith lauds his parents
for their role in equipping him
with the skills necessary to survive
and ultimately thrive. “I owe a lot
of credit to my parents, who were
Jamaican immigrants,” Smith says.
“My mother had the courage to leave
and went to the U.K. without even a
winter coat to study nursing in Wales,
while my father left his job as a carpenter
and went to become a missionary
in Canada.”

Without the courage to leave their
Caribbean island and step out and do
something different, Smith ponders
what else he might have cooked up
in his life. Whatever it is, chances are
good it would still leave him time to
whip up his beloved spicy sausage
with penne.