The Bourdain Disagreement

anthony-bourdain-no-reservationsThere’s a minor disagreement in the Fox house. I think Anthony Bourdain’s show on CNN, “No Reservations,” “Parts Unknown,” is close to amazing. That is not a unanimous opinion.

Masterfully written. Nicely shot. He goes places I dream of, but know I’ll never see.

Tonight’s show is paused. He’s in Congo.

Helaine’s opinion of Bourdain is exactly opposite mine.

The show has Anthony traveling the world, marveling at local (often rudimentary) cuisine. It is the ultimate armchair travelogue. He flies in rickety third world airplanes, travels rivers in rickety boats, drives over rutted and potholed roads while eating food prepared with minimal consideration of hygiene.

There’s no doubt this is Anthony’s show. He will often address the camera directly. Lots of ‘me roll.’

Back to the writing. It’s the most important element in televised storytelling.

Guys like Bourdain and Alton Brown understand how to write prose which will be spoken. Bourdain’s script is crafted in his spoken voice. The narration is embedded deep within the fabric of the story–no less a player than the photography itself.

I’d like to think I write like that. Maybe not. I try.

The word is CNN will air more documentary type shows, like Bourdain’s, in 2014. From

“The goal for the next six months, is that we need more shows and less newscasts,” Zucker said in a recent interview about “massive changes” he’s got planned for the network, adding that he wants CNN to attract “viewers who are watching places like Discovery and History and Nat Geo and A&E.”

That’s good new and bad news. Among the bad, every hour of doc programming is an hour less of news. CNN is already news challenged too many hours of the day.

The good news is shows like Bourdain’s are worthwhile endeavors. We know so little of the world around us.

Alton Brown – Quirky Foody

Alton BrownHelaine and Stef watch the Food Network a lot. Since I like to hang with them, I am often ‘required’ to watch as well.

Obviously, Food Network has a theme – food.

However, to me, it also resembles the best radio stations of the 60s/70s/80s. The Food Network is a personality station! Most TV networks are not.

That’s not a little afterthought either. Their personalities are cultivated, individually and as a group, to make the channel more sticky to viewers. They become brand extensions. Many broadcasters/cablecasters are scared of personalities, because they can bolt.

Pause –> I absolutely have a vested interest in personality driven TV. I understand that. I have a career built on promoting that. –> Resume.

Most of the Food personalities are quite appealing, though I find a few really annoying!

Paula Deen is on as I type this. Helaine thinks she’s great. I do not. The same goes for Emeril Legasse.

The one Food Network ‘star’ I find most interesting is Alton Brown. He is a geeky guy, who seems to do more explaining than cooking. That’s OK by me. He references enough history and scientific theory for me to think he’s an intellectual.

As a Renaissance man wannabe, I value deep thought.

Alton Brown is appearing in Niagara Falls this weekend, at a casino. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but casinos have enough money to take chances and try anything to draw more traffic. The Buffalo News interviewed him, It is, as he is, one of the most quirky interviews I’ve ever read.

“Watching myself get old and fat on television is really difficult,” he says. “I don’t watch my show any more because I don’t want to watch the old ones.”

But he’s not going to go Hollywood. “I refuse to wear makeup, and I refuse to bow down and say, ‘Oh gee I need to look glamorous, and skinny,’ ” he says. “I’m just a guy, and this is how guys look.”

Yes to paragraph one. I wish to paragraph two. I wear makeup, though only to hide my ineffective shaving techniques. I don’t shade or contrast or do any of those more complex things you can do with makeup.

“As I get older and my daughter gets older I find myself having leanings that are more political, meaning I want to draw lines in the sand on certain things and say, this is right and this is wrong,” he says.

But there’s no place in “Good Eats” for that stuff, he says

“I would rather just illuminate and inform, so I’ve got to get the political part out of me,” he says. “I need to become more neutral, which is hard for me. I don’t feel very neutral these days.”

We agree on that too. I hold myself back a lot – on-the-air and here.

In the fall, I watched a behind-the-scenes episode of Alton’s show, Good Eats. I was blown away by the detail and precision necessary to produce it.

I had never stopped to think about the budget for a Food Network show. We’re not talking Hollywood feature, but it’s certainly not cable public access.

If there was one person on Food Network I could have dinner with, it would be Alton Brown.