It was only four years ago that CNN took what, at the time, seemed like a major gamble by expanding its programming beyond news to incorporate original, nonfiction series–the first of which, under CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker’s ward, was Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
Whatever naysaying and criticism the network received for the move has long been dwarfed by the massive success of Parts Unknown. Going into its ninth season, Anthony Bourdain’s docuseries travelogue has racked up five Primetime Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and consistently pulls in high ratings for the network.
And now the show has inspired an expansive digital enterprise that, as Bourdain puts it, will take Parts Unknown “deeper and farther and wider and smarter.”
Explore Parts Unknown is a partnership among CNN, digital journal Roads & Kingdom, and production company Zero Point Zero to broaden the context of places Bourdain has traveled in past seasons, using original long-form journalism, photography, and videos. The site’s features will include a six-episode digital-only series; a time-stamped interactive element mapping the “perfect 12 hours” of a given destination; hotel bar dispatches from Bourdain; and recipes linked to episodes of Parts Unknown.
Essentially, Explore Parts Unknown is an obsessively detailed travel guide to eat and explore on Bourdain’s level.
“We only cover so much in my show–it’s a very first-person, very personal essay in a place that often only covers one aspect of a location,” Bourdain says. “Wouldn’t it be great to have Roads & Kingdoms writers fleshing out or providing links, additional content, and related stories?”
Bourdain, who’s an investing partner and editor-at-large of Roads & Kingdoms, saw an opportunity to merge Parts Unknown with the media company’s existing resources to create a digital platform that would be able to widen the scope of his own show. The level of production alone behind Explore Parts Unknown puts it in a position beyond ancillary content on CNN’s page for Parts Unknown.
“It’s not a fan site. It’s not a show page. This is meant to be a full-scale business in the same way that CNN and Turner created an independent digital business in Great Big Story,” says Ed O’Keefe, CNN’s digital senior vice president of premium content. “Tony is one of the best storytellers you’ll ever meet. That’s why the show is so phenomenal–he’s really fascinating to watch. And so what we wanted to do here was use the series as the jumping-off point to dive in.”
From Bourdain’s perspective, Explore Parts Unknown isn’t necessarily about expanding his brand’s digital presence. On the contrary, he bristles at the idea of having a “brand.” What’s important to him is being able to challenge his creativity while simultaneously stoking his audience’s curiosity for travel and food.
“I recognize that there are a lot of other really good storytellers out there with different perspectives and experiences than my own and that are a perfect companion to my work. I’m a guy who wants more. If I’m curious about a subject, I want to know as much as I can about it, and I can’t and don’t do that in my show. It’s a big world, and I see [Explore Parts Unknown] as an opportunity,” Bourdain says. “I stood in front of a griddle or stove for 30 years of my adult life–a lot of that time working for people I didn’t particularly like, making food that didn’t particularly interest me, and serving it to people I didn’t care much about. To have a satisfied mind to create things, it makes me feel good.”