He was billed as the culinary genius who earned three Michelin stars aged 33 and, in the breathless words of Time magazine, "mentored both Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali". But Marco Pierre White's attempt to follow his former protégés to Hollywood superstardom appears to be collapsing like an overdone soufflé.
The British chef's debut US television show Chopping Block was unceremoniously dropped from its prime-time slot yesterday, less than a month after its high-profile launch, after both critics and audiences weaned on the saccharine conventions of American TV failed to warm to its host's grumpy disposition and ironic sense of humour.
NBC, the broadcaster that launched the reality cooking contest on a wave of hype, announcing that White aimed to take culinary TV "to a whole new level", quietly told advertisers that, as of next week, Chopping Block will disappear from its Wednesday night line-up.
The show had modest ratings when it debuted on 12 March but suffered mixed reviews. Swiftly declining audience numbers for its two subsequent episodes forced NBC to pull the plug. For the next few weeks it will be replaced with repeats of the detective drama Law and Order: Criminal Intent.
"Any way you slice it, Chopping serves tripe," was the stern verdict of The Washington Post after the first episode. The newspaper's influential TV critic, Tom Shales, billed the brooding White as: "A bloated and gloating bully who nibbles at dishes and either mildly praises or wildly assails those who threw them together."
The programme intended to follow eight pairs of chefs – married couples, siblings, or mother-and-daughter teams – as they attempted to restore the fortunes of an abandoned restaurant in New York. White didn't do any cooking but instead passed judgement on their food, and at the end of each episode voted for one unlucky pair to be eliminated.
Its format borrowed heavily from shows such as Hell's Kitchen, which has been successfully exported to the US by White's great rival Gordon Ramsay and remains a smash hit on NBC's rival network, Fox. This week Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares was renewed for a third series, and a new prime-time US show was announced. Meanwhile, his current series of Hell's Kitchen is pulling 8 million viewers.
White, by comparison, was struggling to attract 2.5 million. Chopping Block's fate was sealed on Thursday, when ratings for the previous night's episode came in, reported TV Week. "It dipped below a 1.0 rating for adults aged 18-49, immediately transporting its ratings from disappointing to embarrassing."
A spokesman for NBC has promised that already recorded episodes of Chopping Block will see the light of day "at some point".
White can draw somecomfort from the fact that several critics believed that the major problem with Chopping Block was its highly derivative format, rather than the host. During the first episode, one pair of contestants quit on the basis that they found the bitchy nature of the contest degrading.