NEW YORK – Paula Deen and the Food Network may have controversially parted ways, but it turns out—though some die-hard Paula fans may claim otherwise—viewers were already becoming less interested in the 66-year-old chef’s show.
Deen’s departure, in fact, may be just a minor loss for the Food Network. Viewership for “Paula’s Best Dishes” was down 15 percent this year, according to the Wall Street Journal and viewership among 18 to 49 year olds —the most important advertising demographic— was down 22 percent for the 2012/2013 season.
“Paula Deen is still popular but she is not popular in the way she used to be,” Ileane Rudolph, senior writer at TV Guide Magazine, told FOX411. “She still has a following, but it’s just not what it used to be.”
A source with knowledge of the Food Network’s ratings said the Southern cook’s show was not even among the network’s most-watched daytime series.
“The most popular shows vary based on the time of year,” the source said. “Among daytime shows the most popular are “Trisha’s [Yearwood] Southern Kitchen,” “The Pioneer Woman,” “Sandwich King” and “Barefoot Contessa.”
Recently, Rudolph explained, food fans have been more inclined to tune in for the network’s prime time shows like “Chopped,” “Food Network Star” and “Restaurant Stakeout,” showing a shift in viewer interest from instructional cooking series to competition or reality TV-based shows.
“In the beginning of the brand they wanted personalities of that sort [like Deen]… but they slowly started to sink a bit—in 2010 and 2011—and they wanted younger viewers. They wanted viewers who were not just foodies and not just retired people.”
As a result, the series featuring apron-wearing cooks showing viewers how to de-bone a duck seem to be fading from the Food Network lineup. Instead the Julia Childs—and Paula Deens for that matter —are being replaced by unknown chefs willing to compete in grueling (and sometimes grilling) tournaments to see who can create the tastiest dish and take home bragging rights and an oversized check.
The network is well aware of viewers’ new cooking interests. So much so, in fact, that every single one of the 16 new shows the Food Network announced for the upcoming year has some sort of competition or reality show element attached. Not a single new series coming to the network will feature a cook teaching recipes from an at-home kitchen.
What’s more, the returning prime time Food Network series are all tournament or reality based. The only instructional cooking shows returning to the network will air during the lesser-viewed daytime slots.
“To get younger viewers and definitely bigger audiences they’re doing what networks do,” Rudolph said. “It’s working. [The competition shows are] bringing in a younger audience.”
And while Deen, who was worth a reported $16 million before she was canned by Food Network and a myriad of other companies, stands to suffer a great financial loss from fallout surrounding her admission that she used the N-word, Rudolph predicts the Food Network won’t see a similar loss.
“Paula Deen still has probably several million fans," she said. "They claim they're going to boycott the Food Network and maybe they will for a brief time, but in the end, they won’t. I don’t think it will be a major hit [for the network].”
Reps for the Food Network did not immediately return FOX411’s request for comment.