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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

On the Next Episode of The Lead

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October 25th, 2013
05:52 PM ET

The Lead Read: 'From Scratch: Inside the Food Network'

When the first Food Network president, Maurice "Reese" Schonfeld, told his wife about his concept of a 24-hour food channel, she said it was "the worst idea I ever heard." That was 20 years ago. Today, the network is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Schonfeld was also the first president of CNN.

"Reese was a guy who thought of Food Network as CNN with stoves. His idea was to tape many, many new cooking shows every day on an extremely low budget," said Allen Salkin, author of the new book "From Scratch: Inside the Food Network."

"No one thought this was a good idea, it wasn't just his wife. It took about six or seven years before anybody actually started watching the network," said Salkin.

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack played a role in the network's success. In the aftermath of 9/11, said Salkin, viewers were looking for comfort, something other than the major news story.

"The network made a very conscious decision to provide comfort food, and something that would soothe you, and contribute to the national mood for cocooning," said Salkin.

Food Network pivoted away from high-end chefs and careful cooking techniques, and started "looking for personalities who could appeal to people like their comforting next door neighbor, maybe Ina Garten, or Paula Deen – back then a sort of wacky grandmother," said Salkin.

Food Network recently cut Deen from its programming line-up, after she admitted she had used the racist n-word, and discussed a desire to have an Old South themed wedding. The fallout came after Deen was deposed and asked about her views on African-Americans during a lawsuit alleging discrimination.

"Now that the network is a $6 to $10 billion industry, expanding internationally into Asia and Africa, it's not the kind of company that can be associated in anyway to something as troubling racism," said Salkin.

For more of our interview with Allen Salkin, including why Bobby Flay is an "ultimate New York kid survivor," watch the video above.

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