Wednesday afternoon, the lives of several Jezebel employees—my own included—came to a screeching halt when Managing Editor Kate Dries informed us that Martha Stewart was making shrimp cocktail on Facebook Live. It was unsurprising that Dries, one of Stewart’s biggest fans, would be excited about such an event, but the fact that so many of us were riveted—and I mean that, we were truly riveted—by the entire half hour broadcast was not something I could have expected.
Though I’ve been amused by some of the wackier Facebook Live streams over the past few weeks (I’ve even taken part in several; as a disclosure, Facebook has launched a program that pays publishers—including Gawker Media—to produce videos for its Facebook Live tool), it wasn’t until Stewart’s compelling instructional video in which she shared a deceptively simple recipe for a classic summer appetizer that I became convinced of the platform’s potential for housing truly worthwhile content. This was not a stunt: this was the kind of social interaction television networks have been trying to perfect since the dawn of the hashtag.
We’ve seen some hints of this mastery through Martha’s blog, but her expertise in the kitchen—and the garden—is unparalleled by more relatable TV cooks like Rachael Ray and The Pioneer Woman, and her no-nonsense rapport with viewers (many of whom left comments to which she responded) is effortless in a way that suggests a lifetime of training. That combination of technical know-how and an almost intimidating ability to answer questions from Facebook users on the fly appears to be the magic formula for this particular medium—at least when it comes to instructional videos. Would a famous cook from the YouTube generation—like Hannah Hart of My Drunk Kitchen or Rosanna Pansino of Nerdy Nummies—be able to handle a barrage of questions as quickly and thoughtfully? I doubt it.
Stewart not only taught her viewers (a few thousand simultaneously as I watched) how to make boiled shrimp and cocktail sauce, she answered all their questions about how many to buy for a party (think 5-6 a person) and horseradish (which she called “an obscene-looking root”). When she needed a cooking utensil that wasn’t there (oh, the risks of live video), she calmly asked for one. And when her cameraperson nervously told her the feed had gone down (it hadn’t), she waited patiently—if with slight and understandable irritation—for them to realize everything was back to speed. The woman is a pro.
It should be no surprise that it took someone with a lifetime of on-camera experience to show us how charming Facebook’s newest initiative could truly be—whether she’s making an appetizer or giving us a tour of her farm in Bedford, New York or tulip arranging. And though the platform’s success will not necessarily mark some kind of cultural return to a pre-on demand world of digesting video content, it suggests that if done right, truly live TV (let’s just call this TV) can be a rewarding shared experience. Even if it’s just 30 minutes of watching a rich ex-con devein a big ass shrimp.
Images via screengrab.