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Interview: The Evolution of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’

@SamShankman

Mar 27, 2014 8:30 am

Skift Take

Parts Unknown is the only travel show that highlights how intertwined the industry is with everything from peas to protests in every corner of the world. It’s an education as much as entertainment.

— Samantha Shankman

Free Report: The State of Student Travel

Screenshot  / Parts Unknown

A shot of Anthony Bourdain from CNN's Parts Unknown. Screenshot / Parts Unknown


Anthony Bourdain’s award-winning CNN show “Parts Unknown” returns Sunday, April 13, for its third season.

Over the eight-episode run, Bourdain will explore the Punjab region that spans India and Pakistan; Las Vegas; Lyon, France; Mexico City and Oaxaca; Mississippi; Russia; Thailand; and Bahia, Brazil.

We’ve been following the show since its debut last year and tracking the impressive impact it has on some destinations, so we were naturally interested to hear what’s in store for season three.

We spoke with Sandra Zweig, executive producer at Zero Point Zero Production, about the evolution of the series, the challenges of filming in dangerous destinations, and the show’s impact in filming destinations.

Skift: How has the show evolved over the firs three seasons?

Sandra Zweig: One thing we’ve learned is that we’re really lucking in that CNN is very supportive of our going to more unusual locations.

In the first season we went to Libya, which I think people were surprised by, and they’ve allowed us to do more outside of the box of just travel and food.

Our relationship with CNN has strengthened and made it possible for us to take some more risks creatively and go to different kinds of places.

Skift: Were any of the destinations in this upcoming season particularly difficult to get into or film in?

Zweig: There were difficulties for different reasons. Russia certainly had its challenges. It’s not the most open country and we were there in February just before the Olympics started so even getting permission to get into the country was challenging. There weren’t a lot of obstacles once we got there, but getting in definitely creating some problems for us.

We also shot in Mexico City and Tony is very interested in the drug wars and the impact that’s had on Mexico in general. We took some risks there with the people that we spoke to and it’s a very compelling show.

Skift: Are there any destinations the show wants to visit but hasn’t been able to?

Zweig: Occasionally we’ve had to push the shoot dates because of visa issues and just getting into a country was very difficult. What we usually do is push it down the line a little bit and keep working on it.

We don’t give up on that many locations.

Skift: What kind of impact do you see the show having on destinations?

Zweig: There have been times when we’ve gotten feedback either from specific restaurants or from the fixers. After they’ve seen the show, they always let us know whether they liked it or not and we’ve definitely heard feedback from chefs or restaurants owners about the positive impact it’s had on their business.

Skift: The show is as much about food as it is culture and politics. How do you strike a balance between each topic?

Zweig: We talk a lot before the producers go out into the field about the different themes that they have planned and the different locations. Food is Tony’s entry point into any place and it’s a window into culture, history, and upheaval.

It’s easier to have those conversations over a meal and people are more comfortable doing that. Also, as Tony would say, people in any location are proud of their food and so that’s something they want to show off. They open up more when they see that you’re not just there to do some sort of a hard news story.

Skift: Is there anything we can look for that’s being done different in this season than the previous two?

Zweig: Creatively, our teams are always trying to create different looks for the show. You’ll see some of that in the Las Vegas show. And also we try to do things musically that are interesting.

They’re always creatively trying to outdo whatever the last show was or whatever last season was, so visually and in terms of the story-telling, there will be some interesting things.

Tony is a big one for pushing the envelope so there will be some surprises in every episode.

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