Nearly nine weeks have passed since CNN broke the news on the morning of June 8 that Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in France while filming his hit series Parts Unknown. But his presence at the network hasn’t diminished.
There are still pictures and posters of the dynamic, globe-trotting chef throughout the cable news network’s headquarters overlooking Columbus Circle in Manhattan.
One has a heart scribbled on it, a testament to how Bourdain was a beloved figure in the company. Another looms large on the wall of the office of Amy Entelis, the executive vice president of talent and content at CNN who oversees the network’s original series and films, and launched Parts Unknown in 2013.
“We sometimes feel like it didn’t really happen,” Entelis said of Bourdain’s death.
“Sometimes a thought runs through your head thinking that maybe it’s a dream.”
Bourdain’s sudden demise not only leaves a significant emotional hole among the troops at CNN – it presents a programming challenge.
It means the end of Parts Unknown, the signature programme for CNN Original Series. It helped make Entelis’ division a significant contributor to the WarnerMedia network’s ratings success and record profitability in recent years.
The good news in the short term for Bourdain’s legion of fans is that CNN has enough material to create a final season of Parts Unknown, which will premiere this fall.
Only one episode – a trip to Kenya with W. Kamau Bell, the host of CNN’s United Shades Of America – was completed before Bourdain’s death. It will be the last to have Bourdain’s written narration, which gives the series its personal tone.
Four others set in Manhattan’s Lower East Side – in addition to the Big Bend area of Texas along the border of Mexico, the Asturias region of Spain and Indonesia – will be completed by the directors who filmed them for Bourdain’s Zero Point Zero production company, Entelis said.
They will use audio of Bourdain gathered while shooting on location. Follow-up interviews are also being shot to help tie elements of the programmes together.
The penultimate episode will have cast and crew talking about the making of the series, utilising outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage.
The last hour will be devoted to “how Tony affected the world,” Entelis said, drawing on fan reactions to his programme and sidekicks and friends who appeared on the series.
There are no plans to draw on the show’s archives beyond the final two episodes.
“We don’t want to start putting things together that weren’t meant to be,” Entelis said.
Entelis believes CNN can weather the eventual loss of Parts Unknown, and she credits Bourdain for that.
“He was our stake in the ground for CNN’s original programming,” she said. “You’ll find his influence in a lot of what we’ve done.”
Entelis said she has sped up her division’s programme development to fill the gap that will be left when Parts Unknown ends.
New personality-driven shows in the pipeline include Chasing Life, which features Dr Sanjay Gupta surveying health and well-being in societies around the world; and The Redemption Project, in which commentator Van Jones has perpetrators of crimes come face-to-face with their victims or their families.
For summer 2019, CNN has ordered Decades Of Movies from producers Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman and Mark Herzog. The series will cover the societal influence of American films in each decade.
Other series in the pipeline include the return of American Dynasties with a look at the Bush family, and Tricky Dick, a four-part look at the life of former President Nixon.
Entelis isn’t looking to replace Bourdain. But she is keeping an eye out for a new programme or personality who can thoughtfully examine global social and political issues with a strong point of view as he did.
She said she will know it when she sees it.
“What Tony did was inimitable,” Entelis said. “What we want to do is find a show that captures what Tony is all about. It might be a very different show and looks nothing like Parts Unknown.” – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service