Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Cooking Without Looking" funding shaky for third season

Host Annette Watkins, Host Allen Preston,
Creator/Executive Producer Ren'ee Rentmeester,
and Host Celia Chacon

The Associated Press reports that the Florida PBS cooking show for people who are blind or visually impaired, "Cooking Without Looking," may have an uncertain future because funding shortfalls have put the third season on hold.

"Budget cuts at Florida’s Division of Blind Services have left the program scrambling for new sponsors," The AP reports, "but show creator and executive producer Ren’ee Rentmeester remains upbeat."

“When you’re doing something that’s new and innovative, that’s just part of the game,” she says.

Longtime NPR television critic David Bianculli says in The AP story that “Cooking Without Looking” is groundbreaking. It's unique to have a television program so specifically tailored to those with vision loss.

“If television is supposed to save us, not through broadcasting but through narrowcasting, this is exactly what they’re talking about it,” he says. “Focusing on such a narrowly targeted group and servicing them is a good thing.”

Rentmeester hit on the idea for the show after working 10 years in television journalism, where she did community outreach with nonprofits for the Miami CBS affiliate. From that work, Rentmeester — who isn’t visually impaired — wanted to create an organization to help people across a broad demographic range and blindness fit that goal.

While looking at Internet discussions within visually impaired communities, she noticed lots of talk about cooking. “That would be a cool idea for a TV show,” Rentmeester recalled thinking.

The show has three hosts and a rotating lineup of guest cooks — all with some level of vision loss — who carefully narrate everything they are doing in the kitchen, as well as giving hints to make preparation go smoothly.

For example, host Celia Chacon "carefully feels her ingredients as she dices them, then arranges them in the order she’ll use them," The AP story says. "At the stove, she listens to the sizzle to make sure the heat is right.

"To help the audience follow the featured recipes, steps are narrated, and often come with blindness-specific tips or techniques, such as listening for bubbles popping to know the yeast is working, or putting dark ingredients on light-colored plates because the contrast makes them easier to see for those who are partially sighted. And at the end of each segment, the recipe is shown on the screen and read aloud."