Quietly (of course), "British Bake Off" nears its PBS finale

Lately, PBS has offered dazzling settings ("Kingdoms of the Sky"), complex dramas ("Endeavour") and a gripping look at modern-day hatred ("Frontline"), Still, some of its success comes from quiet shows like "Antiques Roadshow" and "The Great British Bake Off." Now the latter is ending its PBS run, Aug. 10 and 17; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

TV people, life is a grand guessing game.

They try big things
– epic shows that span the globe and span centuries. And then ...
well, they succeed with old reruns that have pleasant folks baking
things in the English countryside.

That's been the
experience for PBS, which is down to its last two “Great British
Bake Off” episodes.

“We knew it had
been successful in the U.K.,” said Paula Kerger, PBS' president. “I
had no expectation that it was going to be as successful here as it
turned out to be. I think people really loved it.”

It was so popular
that PBS dug out an old season. The one airing now ran six years ago
in England.

(Yes, that means you
could search Online and learn who won. But that's always been the
case; PBS ran other seasons a year after the British. That's why you
shouldn't have “Bake Off” pools at your office.)

Other networks have
also pointed to hardy audiences for food shows. At recent Television
Critics Association sessions, there were comments about:

-- Individual shows.
“Gordon Ramsay's '24 Hours to Hell and Back' is the No. 1 new show
of the summer,” said Dana Walden, CEO of the Fox Television Group.

-- An entire
network. “Our network is on fire,” said Food Network president
Allison Page, “with second-quarter ratings up 14 percent over last
year, for adults 25-54.”

-- And public-TV,
which has had food success since launching Julia Child's show 55
years ago.

“Food is a
powerful thing,” Kerger said, “both from the creation of it –
which 'Great British Bake Off' represented – but also the cultural
role that food plays, in bringing people together.”

The latter concept
was clear as the late Anthony Bourdain traveled the world; his reruns
have continued on CNN and the Travel Channel.

And it's been
reflected in PBS' “No Passports Required” with Marcus Samuelsson,
who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, then thrives as a
Harlem chef. It “has done extraordinarily well this summer, as
another way of looking at food,” Kerger said.

By comparison, “Bake
Off” is stationary: Under a tent in rural England, a dozen laymen
tackle challenges amiably. The group this season (actually 2012)
ranged from a gym teacher to a vicar's wife.

After eight seasons
on England's public-TV networks, the show has moved to a commercial
one. Both hosts and judge Mary Berry dropped out; so did PBS. Kerger
calls it “sort of the legacy of public broadcasting, with many
things that we have started (moving) to commercial television.”

Instead, PBS went
way back, grabbing the only available season it hadn't shown. (here
were two others, from 2010 and 2011, but they weren't shot in

So things will end
with 2012. Over these final two weeks, we'll see a semi-retiree
compete with an intensive-care specialist, a law student and a
medical student.

At least, they were
students back then. Don't look it up; it's more fun this way.

-- “The Great
British Bake Off,” 9 p.m. Fridays, most PBS stations.

-- Aug. 10 has the
final four doing petits fours, fraisier cakes and choux gateaus; Aug.
17 has three going for the championship.

-- Still in the
running are the oldest contestant (Brendan Lynch, who was then 63 and
a recruitment consultant) and the two youngest, James Morton, 21, a
medical sudent, and John Whaite, 23, a law student. Also, Daniele
Bryden, 45, an intensive-care specialist.

-- “No Passport
Required” concludes its first season at 9 p.m. Aug. 7 (the Haitian
community in Miami) and 8 p.m. Aug. 14 (Ethiopian community in
Washington, D.C.). Check local listings.

-- Other
food-related shows: Gordon Ramsay at 8 and 9 p.m. Wednesdays on Fox,
plus a rerun, 8-10 p.m. Aug. 9... “Sugar Rush” on Netflix ... All
day on Food Network and Cooking Channel ... and more.