SAVANNAH, Ga. » Watching Paula Deen’s cooking show was a weekend ritual for Marilynne Wilson, who says she’s furious at the Food Network for dumping the comfort-food queen after she acknowledged using racial slurs in the past.
"I was shocked. I thought she’d get a fair trial," Wilson, a nurse from Jacksonville, Fla., said Saturday after stopping to buy souvenirs at the gift shop Deen owns next to her Savannah restaurant. "I think the Food Network jumped the gun."
A day after announcing that it’s dropping Deen from its roster of celebrity cooks, the cable network was served heaping portions of Southern fried outrage by her fans.
Angry messages piled up Saturday on the network’s Facebook page, with many Deen fans threating to change the channel for good. "So good-bye Food Network," one viewer wrote. "I hope you fold like an accordion!!!"
The decision to drop Deen, whose daytime shows have been a Food Network fixture since 2002, came two days after disclosure of a recent court deposition in which Deen was asked under oath if she had ever used the N-word. "Yes, of course," 66-year-old Deen said, though she added, "It’s been a very long time."
Deen and her brother are being sued by a former manager of their restaurant who says she was harassed and worked in an environment rife with innuendo and racial slurs.
Wilson’s friend Debbie Brown said the Food Network is "basically convicting" Deen. "They should have waited until it goes to court," she said.
Deen issued a videotaped apology Friday in asking fans and critics alike for forgiveness. It had been posted online for about an hour when the Food Network released a terse statement that it "will not renew Paula Deen’s contract when it expires at the end of this month." The network refused to comment further.
A representative for Deen did not immediately return a phone call and email message Saturday.
Meanwhile, Deen’s critics were making themselves heard online. On Friday night, #PaulaDeenTVShows became a top trending topic on Twitter, with postings that satirized familiar titles. Earlier in the week, they tweeted satirical names for recipes using #PaulasBestDishes.
Deen’s legal deposition was conducted last month as part of the 2012 lawsuit filed by Lisa Jackson, who worked at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House. The lawsuit drew scant attention from news outlets until Deen was questioned under oath and her remarks became available to the public in a transcript.
The controversy didn’t keep customers from The Lady & Sons Saturday, the restaurant owned by Deen and her sons in Savannah’s downtown historic district.
"If you look at her restaurant here, I don’t think it’s going to hurt her too much," said Felipe Alexander, an Atlanta trucking company owner, as he waited on the sidewalk for his lunchtime reservation. He also said he didn’t blame the Food Network for cutting Deen loose.
"If the network didn’t want to be associated with somebody who used that word, it has the right to do that," Alexander said.
The fallout may not end with Food Network. At least two other companies that do business with Deen say they’re keeping a close eye on the controversy. Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corporation, which has Deen’s restaurants in some of its casinos, said Friday that it "will continue to monitor the situation." Publisher Ballantine, which has a new Deen book scheduled to roll out this fall, used similar words.
The heat over Deen’s remarks hasn’t been quite as intense in Savannah, where her success over the past decade has helped raise the coastal Georgia city’s profile as a tourist magnet.
The head of Visit Savannah, the city’s tourism bureau, weighed in on Deen’s plight Saturday on Twitter.