Here's Why The Food Network Canceled Paula's Party

While many know about "Paula's Home Cooking" — the Food Network series that shot Paula Deen to fame — not many associate the celebrity chef with her less popular but equally riveting show from the late 2000s, "Paula's Party." Unlike the former, which shows Deen whipping up delicious grease-laden food in a kitchen all by herself, the latter has her unleashing jokes, hugs, and animated gestures before a packed audience. Deen's double entendres, her trademark "hey, y'all," and words laced with a classic Georgian drawl compete with the recipes that she creates on the show. In "Paula's Party," the audience inevitably gets the limelight — Deen often picks people at random to help her stir and fry or join in the fun of licking a chocolate fountain. The show has humorous, camp vibes, with Deen showing no hesitation whatsoever in sitting on the audience's laps, or feeding them in a coquettish way. 

Shot between 2006 and 2008, the series had a sprinkling of celebrities who showed up to cook with Deen. It ran on Food Network until 2013, when the Network decided to abruptly cull it. Of course, fans were disappointed and showed it by sending butter wrappers to the Network office in support of the butter queen. But no amount of empty butter wrappers changed the Network's mind, and here's why.

Paula's Party was Paula Deen's second Food Network show

When "Paula's Party" aired on Food Network in 2006, Paula Deen had already won hearts by showing everyone how comforting comfort food can be. She had developed a fan following by being the kind of chef who makes her hoecakes, peach tarts, and pot roasts without stinging on grease, sugar, or butter. Her first Food Network show, "Paula's Home Cooking," aired in 2002, and was a hit among anyone who was curious about Southern cuisine or simply wanted to see a chef deep fry butter.

Deen had nothing to prove walking into the sets of her second show, "Paula's Party." She ran a successful restaurant, The Lady and Sons, and had a bunch of best-selling books to her name, besides her television fame. Unlike in her first show, Deen did not restrict herself behind a kitchen counter but split her time equally between interacting with the audience and whisking up pie batter.

The concept was inspired by cooking classes

How does Paula Deen teach cooking in real life? Do her students laugh as much as the audience does in "Paula's Party"? As it turns out, yes. According to WTOC, the idea for "Paula's Party" was born when a TV crew happened to tape Deen teaching a cooking class at her restaurant, The Lady and Sons, in Savannah, Georgia. "They saw this [the cooking class] and said, 'My gosh, Paula! This is a show!'" said Deen. According to the report, they liked how much fun the students were having in learning from Deen. Although, Deen does warn that she can make some students uncomfortable — "I tell people who come to my cooking class that sometimes I can be a little bawdy and I sure hope that don't upset them," she writes in her 2006 memoir, "Paula Deen: It Ain't All About the Cookin'."

It seems like her cooking classes were quite sought after back in the day. A Tripadvisor thread from 2008 has a series of comments, with people enquiring about her classes. "Just HOW does one go about getting into one of Paula's Cooking Classes in Savannah?" asks one user. The replies suggest that the classes fill months in advance, with one user writing that the classes are a thing of the past.

However, in 2013, Deen did organize a one-day cooking class at her home studio for 60 odd students. And, three years later, she offered online cooking classes to members of Paula Deen Club — an online club that gives its members exclusive deals for Deen's products/books (via Facebook).

Many popular personalities were featured on Paula's Party

Sure, we all like to watch Paula Deen deep fry cannolis, but what if she did it along with Donald Trump Jr.? In "Paula's Party," Deen chums it up with a host of celebrities who roll up their sleeves and get cooking with her. The VIP list, though not as glamorous as "Cooking with Paris," included comedians like Rosie O'Donnell and Joy Behar as well as actors such as Mario Lopez, Antonio Sabato Jr., and David Hyde Pierce of "Frasier," to mention a few (via Paula Deen).

"Paula's Party" also featured other Food Network chefs even before they achieved stardom. One of the episodes had a young Guy Fieri with his trademark spiky hair whipping up a pie with Deen. At the time, Fieri was a fresh face on Food Network, and had only just been crowned Season 2's "The Next Food Network Star." In yet another episode, Deen brought in Gina and Pat Neely from "Down Home with the Neelys" for a barbecue session. This appearance was a life-changer for the Neelys as it helped them snag their own show on Food Network.

Paula's Party was filmed at her brother's restaurant

"Paula's Party" was filmed at Uncle Bubba's Oyster House (via WTOC), the restaurant owned and operated by Deen's late brother Earl "Bubba" Hiers. The restaurant, as mentioned in Deen's memoir, is set in a scenic location in Whitemarsh Island on Turners Creek, Savannah, Georgia, "[...] with a creek running out back, koi fish swimming by the pond in the front door [...]." If you watch the show keenly, and look beyond Paula and her pans, you can spot the still and serene creek outside the window. Deen's home, as she points out to chef Guy Fieri in one of the episodes, is right down by the creek.

The show was shot in the restaurant between 2006 and 2007, before shifting to the Food Network studios in New York City in 2008 (via IMDb). Uncle Bubba's Oyster House was permanently shut down in 2014, after it was mired in a scandal the year before. Three years later, Deen opened a new restaurant, Paula Deen's Creek House, in the same spot, serving similar cuisine (via The Atlanta Journal Constitution).

Paula's Party lasted four seasons

"Paula's Party" was a short series, compared to Deen's other Food Network shows such as "Paula's Home Cooking" (12 seasons), and "Paula's Best Dishes" (14 seasons) (via IMDb). The four seasons had 13 episodes each, with at least one episode in each season dedicated to butter or deep fried items. When Deen says, "If y'all know anything about me at all, you know I like fried food," she means every crumb of it. Just scanning through the episode names — "Grease is the Word," "Butter Than Ever Christmas Party," "Cheese Glorious Cheese," to name a few — can kick your diet plan out the window.

The show often featured Deen's sons Jamie and Bobby Deen, besides husband Michael Groover. Over the years, the location took on a more sophisticated look — with chandeliers and bright curtains — compared to the high school classroom feel it had when it first began. But other than that, the format of the show remained the same, and so did Deen's bouffant hair.

Food Network discontinued the series in 2013

From running a small catering business out of her home kitchen in the late '80s to becoming a media maven two decades later, Paula Deen has a classic rags to riches story. In 2011, she was the fourth highest-earning chef per Forbes, which estimated her earnings being around $17 million. But all of that came crashing down when she and her brother Earl 'Bubba' Hiers were slapped with a lawsuit in 2013. Lisa Jackson, an ex-employee at Heirs' restaurant Uncle Bubba's Oyster House, accused the brother-sister duo of racial and sexual discrimination, filing a $1.2 million lawsuit to the effect (via CNN).

The lawsuit mired Paula Deen's brand, but her deposition was the final nail in the coffin. Deen said that she had used "the N-word" while describing to her husband a horrific incident from the past when she was held at gunpoint by a robber, who was a Black man (via CNN). Though the incident was several years ago, it was enough for Food Network to flash a red signal at all things Paula Deen.

Cementing its stand against discrimination, the Network stopped airing all three of her shows, "Paula's Home Cooking," "Paula's Party," and "Paula's Best Dishes," in 2013 (via IMDb). 

More complaints piled up against Deen

Though Paula Deen lost her Food Network contract for the use of racial slurs, the 33-page lawsuit filed by Lisa Jackson, Deen's ex-employee, had a volley of other complaints. Jackson quoted instances where Deen's brother and co-owner of Uncle Bubba's Oyster House, Earl "Bubba" Hiers sexually harassed his employees, and accused Deen of condoning it (via LA Times).

Jackson encouraged Deen's long-time cook of 22 years, Dora Charles, to voice her complaints about being underpaid and mistreated. She told The New York Times that despite earning gobs of money, Deen paid her less than $10 an hour. Right when we thought it couldn't get worse, Charles said that at one point Deen had also asked one of the other Black employees to make hoecakes for the guests while dressed as Aunt Jemima (an image that has been criticized to be a racist portrayal of a Black woman). All these allegations were denied by Deen. 

Paula Deen apologized on YouTube

Besides threatening her career, the lawsuit also made it obvious to Paula Deen that she had hurt a lot of people. She tried to make up for it through three apology videos that she posted on YouTube. "I've made mistakes, but that is no excuse. Your color of your skin, your religion, your sexual preference does not matter to me. But it's what's in the heart," she said, in one of the videos (via Today).

What happened to the lawsuit, though? The three-month-long legal battle came to an end when a Georgia judge dropped the racial discrimination charges against Deen, saying the charges were filed by a white woman who couldn't have been directly racially discriminated against (via New York Times). The sexual harassment charges were dismissed too. A settlement was reached between Deen and Lisa Jackson.

Sure, Deen got a clean pass, but her multi-million dollar empire had melted like a softy in the sun.

Food Network did not bring her back

As noted by Today, Paula Deen's apology videos seemed earnest but also heavily edited. There were tears and pleas for forgiveness, but Deen's mea culpa did not soften Food Network's resolve to not renew Deen's contract (via Today). Around the same time, Walmart, Target, Sears, and J.C. Penney stopped selling Deen's cookware, kitchen appliances, etc; home shopping channel QVC stopped featuring her products; and Smithfield Foods and diabetes drugmaker Novo Nordisk dropped her as their spokesperson (via CNN Business).

No one wanted to have their brand name associated with Deen: Even Ballantine Books canceled the publication of her cookbook "Paula Deen's New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up." In total, according to Daily News, Deen lost $12.5 million in earnings. The report quoted Forbes wealth reporter Caleb Melby's estimates of a $7.5 million loss in merchandising and licensing deals, and a $5 million loss in restaurant and TV deals.

While all this happened, Deen's fans had no way of catching an episode of "Paula's Party" or any of the other shows, until several months passed by and Deen decided to do something about it.

Paula Deen bought the distribution rights to Paula's Party

While the scandal slimmed down Paula Deen's wallet, it left her popularity unaffected in some circles. After sitting lame duck for a few months, Deen decided to launch a new company called Paula Deen Ventures in late 2014. If winning her empire back was a resolution that Deen had taken for that year, it was working. Her company got a whopping $75 to $100 million from the private investment firm Najafi Companies, which believed that the Paula Deen brand was "alive and well," per Wall Street Journal

With that money in her kitty, Deen set off on a nationwide live tour "Paula Deen Live!" (via The Shelby Report), doing what she did best: demonstrating how to cook her favorite dishes. Deen was probably convinced that she had her fan base intact; a few months later, she got in touch with Food Network, and purchased all 440 of her episodes, which included those from "Paula's Party," "Paula's Home Cooking," "Paula's Best Dishes," and specials such as "Paula's Southern Thanksgiving" and "Paula's European Vacations" (via CNN Business).

Without divulging the financial details, Food Network spokesperson Irika Slavin, said "[...] Paula asked if we'd be willing to sell the library. We reached an agreement, and everyone here wishes her the best as she embarks on her new venture" (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Paula's Party comes to the Paula Deen Network

The next obvious step to owning all her shows was to start a platform where people could watch them. Duh. So, Paula Deen started her own channel, The Paula Deen Network, in 2014 and uploaded all the shows, including "Paula's Party," that she had freshly purchased from Food Network, on her network. Those who subscribed to the channel, for a cost of $7.99 or $9.99 per month (via Savannah Morning News), could access the vintage episodes that Deen gradually released on the website (via CNN Business).

Paula promised that her network would include shows that are more personal and candid. Deen told Savannah Morning News: "It's [The Paula Deen Network] not being governed by a network because we are our bosses, and we're going to give our friends what they want, not what a bunch of executives in New York City think we should have." Was that her taking a dig at Food Network? Maybe, but she was serious about the personal content. The network features cooking tips, recipes, posts about her family, new year resolutions, life lessons and more.

Positively Paula features her family and celebrities

"Positively Paula" was the series with which Deen made a comeback into television, five years after Food Network bid adieu to her and her shows. To recap, Deen lost a ton of money, contracts, and television slots since 2013. Ever since, she has been trying to rise from the ashes. This pursuit led her to start her own company and her own network, as well as an appearance on "Dancing With the Stars" (via Eater). She launched podcasts, and juiced up her brand name with a show called "Sweet Home Savannah" that allowed viewers to buy the cookware, clothing, home appliances that she used (and advertised).

"Positively Paula" was a milestone for Deen in her pursuit of reclaiming the lost fame and television time. The show was filmed in her home in Savannah, Georgia, and featured a host of celebrities like the directors Russo brothers and actor Tom Berenger, besides Deen's family members (via Positively Paula). Sure, the series had some similarities with "Paula's Party," given it featured celebrities and family. But it lacked an audience and the over-the-top dishes that Paula's Party was known for. 

Will Paula's Party ever return?

Paula Deen appeared on Fox's "MasterChef: Legends" in 2021, sharing the stage with superstar chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Aarón Sánchez, and Joe Bastianich. She was "shocked" but also "honored" to be considered, as she told Foodsided. Around the same time, rumors popped up about her making a comeback — National Enquirer quoted a source close to Deen, saying, "It's been an uphill financial battle for Paula ever since (the 2013 scandal). But she truly believes the tide has turned [...] She's burning up the phone lines to network execs to reinstate her!" (via Suggest). 

But whether or not Deen gets back to the Food Network family, fans will continue to get their binge of Deen's cooking videos on her YouTube channel, where she uploads new content almost every day. And as far as "Paula's Party" is concerned, there is always the "Vintage" section on The Paula Deen Network.