Deep-Fried Career: What’s Next For Paula Deen?

The firestorm of controversy surrounding Paula Deen and both the admission to and allegations of racist statements won't go away anytime soon.

So that happened yesterday. In case you missed the storm that blew through the Internet yesterday, Paula Deen issued two apologies but still got the ax from Food Network. This shouldn’t be entirely surprising given the unbelievable stories and comments that made headlines this week. Deen admitted in a legal deposition to using the N-word. A discrimination lawsuit filed in 2011 against Deen and her brother Bubba by a former employee, Lisa T. Jackson, outlines other loathsome allegations (read: racism, sexism, harassment, and remarks made that are offensive to anyone with ears).

Deen made public two videos after she failed to show up for a scheduled appearance on the Today show. In the videos, she offered awkward apologies to Matt Lauer and to “those who I have hurt.” The question (with a fairly easy answer) is whether her career or reputation can be salvaged after all this.

Despite the apologies, the Food Network pushed out a terse statement saying, “Food Network will not renew Paula Deen’s contract when it expires at the end of this month.” Deen’s fame and fortune were, in large part, due to her relationship with the network, which began airing Paula’s Home Cooking in 2002 and Paula’s Best Dishes in 2008.

She still has some clueless defenders, but Deen has rightfully earned the disgust of a much larger portion of the population. Allegations aside, her admissions in that deposition paint a picture of great ugliness, doing much to alienate fans of every stripe.

Deen is no stranger to controversy. In early 2012, she revealed that she suffered from Type 2 Diabetes, had been afflicted with the disease for years, and then announced a deal with the drug company Novo Nordisk. That she had been pushing high-fat, high-calorie dishes despite her own ailing health drew backlash from many including fellow celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

We didn’t hear much about that situation once the news cycle changed. But this is a whole different can of worms. As we saw in the case of Michael Richards (Seinfeld‘s Kramer), the sound of racial epithets are a bell that can’t be unrung. The allegations made in the complaint and comments made in the deposition are appalling. The audience is left with the impression that the 66-year-old white-haired woman with all that Southern charm and all that butter is actually a fraud. The complaint alleges that she backed off of a slave-themed plantation party because of what the media would say, indicating that she knew her behavior is unacceptable.

In other words, her reputation was obliterated this week. Everything the audience was sold on turned out to be fake. Suddenly, that diabetes situation means a lot more. Her smiles, including those she flashed to Oprah when she appeared last year on Oprah’s Next Chapter, seem a like a scam played on all of us. Without the Food Network, who will take her? Not one other network. And even if one did, who would watch? Maybe those lovely people who have jumped to her defense on the Food Network’s Facebook page? (“Shame Shame on you Food Network for firing Paula, anyone can make mistakes especially how she was raised and she apologized. I will never watch Fool Network again,” writes one commenter.)

Today, Deen issued a statement thanking the Food Network for 11 “great years” and wishing “[l]ove and best dishes to all of ya’ll.” (Shows appearing on the Food Network and Cooking Channel starring her sons will not be affected by this news, according to People.) Everything that she’s done in the past 24 hours is too little too late. She has nothing else to do but hang back, keep her folksy apologies and farewells to herself, and resolve this lawsuit as quietly as possible. Any other comments and she might find another group to outrage.

(*And thanks to TVNewser’s Chris Ariens  for that headline.)

Publish date: June 22, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT