'Unwrapped,' One of Food Network's All-Time Great Shows, Turns 20 This Year

It's available to stream (legally) for the first time on Discovery+.

marc summers, unwrapped, snickers, halloween
Food Network

The Food Network programming of the late '90s and early 2000s, when things really started… cooking… after the post-Emeril boom, is especially remembered for a handful of memorable series: Good Eats, dubs of the original Japanese import of Iron Chef, 30 Minute Meals (and soon after $40 a Day) With Rachael Ray, East Meets West With Ming Tsai, and Unwrapped. Hosted by normie Willie Wonka Marc Summers (who had helmed Nickelodeon's inaugural seasons of Double Dare), Unwrapped shirked the how-to cooking format in favor of something that could appeal to anybody who eats instead of viewers with a vested interest in cooking. Twenty years on, it's still a fascinating window into the behind-the-scenes action of a highly secretive world.

A spiritual sibling to Discovery Channel's How It's Made, Unwrapped took its audience inside the facilities of where some of the most popular snack foods and chain restaurants developed its recipes, typically tightly held industry secrets and veiled testing processes, and stitched together everything from the assembly line's industrial-sized Rube Goldberg machinery through to the product testing and chemistry that made, say, a Dorito so addicting. It was thinly veiled sponsored content for major brands that dominated grocery store shelves and checkout lines and highway exits, something the interviews with marketing execs would hardly let you forget, but whether it was intentional or not, the show was really about highlighting the efforts of the working class. The best insight came from the employees on the floor in their everyday workspace, manning dangerous giant taffy pullers or picking out defective candy bars from fast-moving and loaded-up conveyor belts. If you came away from a segment with the impression that they weren't skilled laborers, you weren't paying attention.

Premiering June 1, 2001, the series ran for 10 years before Food Network pulled the plug, only to reboot it in 2015 with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's Cousin Carlton, Alfonso Ribeiro, taking over as host. After the show ended, episodes of Unwrapped were difficult to come by, relegated to unlicensed YouTube videos that were prone to DCMA takedowns. But for the first time, fans can rewatch season after season of this classic comfort-viewing program (along with How It's Made, for that matter) on the couch once again while cracking open canned soda.

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Leanne Butkovic (@leanbutk) is an entertainment editor at Thrillist.