By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Jun 07, 2010 at 11:00 AM
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Just based on her debut performance on the latest season of "Next Food Network Star," Aria Kagan looks like a contender.

While she's a private chef in Miami now, the 30-year-old town of Erin native brought a Wisconsin sensibility to one of TV's best "reality" shows,  a competition that's as much about television as it is about cooking.

Sunday night's two-hour season opener was, in many ways, a showcase for Kagan's strengths.

"My love for local ingredients began back in Wisconsin, and the farms that surrounded my house," she told the show's judges early on. "So I try really hard to make food that's locally grown."

As good as her cooking might be, Kagan is also warm and bubbly, but relaxed on camera. It's a combination that won the first night for her, and laid the groundwork for a long run on the 10-week show. 

While "Next Food Network Star" is ostensibly about cooking shows, it's really a broader look at what works on TV and what doesn't. There are great cooks here who just can't relate to the camera.

There are personalities that work well -- until the red lights go on. An in-your-face personality may work for a stand-up comic. But it doesn't play well on camera, especially a camera in a kitchen.

Sunday night's first casualty was a food writer named Alexis Hernandez whose flamboyance never carried onto the screen, and who's cooking chops weren't very well developed.

And then there are the folks who get it -- like Kagan.

"Next Food Network Star" airs at 8 p.m. Sundays.

Getting ready for showtime: Financial broadcaster Gerri Willis made a name for herself at CNN, and now she's launching a new weekday show on Fox Business Network, which premieres at 4 this afternoon.

I talked to her this morning as she was doing some last-minute prep for the "The Willis Report."

"I was up at 4:45," she said.  "Not because I had to. I'm excited, I think this is the show I've really wanted to do."

Willis won't be doing a run-through of the day's market news, but, as she puts it, trying to put financial developments into the perspective of consumes.

"We're assuming that you have some information about your money," she said of the level of the show. Still, Willis is all about putting things into basic language.

And the show sounds like it will have a populist bent.

"My job is to make it understandable," she said. "We're gonna be advocates, we're not going to be just ticking through the headlines. Think about the stories we've had over the last two years, the kind of shenanigans with the banks, what's gone on in Congress."

Today's maiden voyage will feature a discussion of mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

"They were a key part of the meltdown, and nothing's being done about them."

Still all-Beatles, all the time: The endless Beatles broadcast continued as of this morning on 106.9 on Milwaukee's FM dial, as the former smooth jazz station has yet to launch its permanent (as if anything in radio is permanent) format.

The future of weathercasting: If this Texas weather rapper is the model for TV meteorology (I can see Scott Steele doing this), I say it's time to bring back Albert the Alley Cat.

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.