File this under Department of Unfortunate Timing: last week I got a screener in the mail for the public-TV show Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth, a food series with Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl. On Monday, publisher Conde Nast announced that Reichl would have no magazine to edit, as it was closing the venerable food bible.
The show is still scheduled to start airing on October 17. (I’ve made inquiries, to no response, on the future plans for the show, but its maker WGBH still lists it.) Which raises the question—can “Gourmet” continue to exist as a virtual brand, with no actual editorial outlet to back it up?
This is what puzzled me about the shuttering of Gourmet: maybe it was too expensive and its demographic too old. But it had decades of brand equity: if you read no food magazines at all, it’s the one whose name you know. Surely in a world where there are so many media platforms, there has to be a way of monetizing that brand with spinoffs—increasingly these days, magazines survive by selling things that are not magazines.
The TV series was one of those spinoffs. But the value of having the brand in the title is the implied promise that the ancillary product has the same quality as the mothership institution. (Gourmet.com is still live, but Conde announced no plans to continue with an online version of the magazine, save for continuing to offer recipes at epicurious.com.)
If that institution no longer exists, will the brand mean anything? Or is this like taking a currency off the gold standard—do we no longer need to believe that there are backup gold ingots of editorial credibility existing in the Fort Knox of Gourmet magazine?
We’ll find out. In the meantime, check out the clip, above, from happier times in the show’s first season.