'Top Chef: D.C.' debuts to low ratings on Bravo

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, June 18, 2010; C04

Are "reality TV series" and "Washington, D.C.," mutually exclusive?

America didn't have much of an appetite for the debut of "Top Chef: D.C." Wednesday night on Bravo. The cooking competition series' seventh edition opened inauspiciously when just 1.8 million people tuned in.

That's the franchise's smallest opening audience since the first edition was launched way back in March of 2006.

This news comes about six months after MTV's "Real World D.C." opened with one of its smallest kickoff crowds in that reality franchise's long history. The run of "Real World D.C." went on to become the lowest-rated in its 23-edition history.

Word of "Top Chef's" watered-down D.C. ratings comes even before viewers know that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, CIA Director Leon Panetta, White House assistant chef Sam Kass and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough are going to make appearances in coming weeks!

Network suits naturally thought viewers would find Washington a very sexy place in which to set a reality TV series when the Obamas moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. That's how they think.

So far, however, the viewing public isn't swallowing it. This does not bode well for "The Real Housewives of D.C." -- Michaele Salahi or no Michaele Salahi.

This is the first time in its history that Bravo's "Top Chef" has not grown or at least remained flat-ish each cycle.

Last August, for instance, 2.6 million people caught the launch of "Top Chef: Las Vegas."

In fairness, that was down a tick from nine months earlier, when the fifth edition, "Top Chef: New York," had opened with 2.7 million people tuned in -- still the record launch for the franchise.

On Wednesday, "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi charged the cheftestants with representing where they're from, by "cooking for 300 young, successful Washingtonians at the kickoff party for the annual cherry blossom festival."

Except the party was not affiliated with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which had had its opening ceremonies almost two weeks earlier. The party was by, and for, "Top Chef D.C.," said Washington Post food editor Joe Yonan, who ought to know since he was there. "So much for reality, right?" Joe wrote Wednesday in his blog.

Dear Joe, so sweet -- so naive.

Contestants are competing for $125,000 to open a restaurant; a feature in Food & Wine magazine; and the title Top Chef.

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