The End of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown Will Leave a Void in the CNN Lineup

By A.J. Katz 

CNN is airing the 11th and final season of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown this coming fall, and it’s presenting the iconic CNN Original Series in a unique way.

According to the LA Times’ Steve Battaglio, “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. But it will be the last to have Bourdain’s written narration.”

Four other episodes will be set in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which was de-facto the stomping grounds’ for the legendary chef and storyteller who took his own life on June 8 in Strasbourg, France.

Others are set on the Texas-Mexico border, and the Asturias region of Spain and Indonesia. The episodes will be completed by the directors who filmed them for the show’s production company Zero Point Zero, Amy Entelis, evp of talent and content at CNN who oversees the network’s original series and films, told Battaglio. They’re using audio of Bourdain gathered while shooting on location. Follow-up interviews are also being shot to help tie elements of the programs together.

Battaglio writes:

The penultimate episode will have cast and crew talking about the making of the series, utilizing 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 program 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.

The end of Parts Unknown will leave a significant hole at CNN. From a human standpoint, Bourdain was beloved among CNN staffers. From a business standpoint, the program was traditionally No. 1 in its timeslot among younger news viewers. Few CNN shows dominate their respective timeslots these days, but Parts Unknown did.

The program has also attracted a younger, more upscale audience what CNN traditionally draws, and its audience isn’t as politics/Trump-obsessed as many other cable news viewers are. In fact, in the last year, 20 million people who tuned into CNN Original Series shows had not watched any news programming on the network, according to Nielsen data.

Ad rates for Parts Unknown weren’t cheap. Per Standard Media Index, in the first half of 2018, commercials on original episodes of Parts Unknown (first-runs / non-repeats) sold for an average of $8,601, the most of any CNN program. According to Battaglio, CNN relied heavily on the program during slow breaking-news periods, running it 166 times from Oct. 1, 2017, to June 14, 2018.

Parts Unknown has been nominated for 6 Emmys this year. As it heads into its 11th and final season, Parts Unknown has received Emmy 31 nominations in total, winning five times. It also won a Peabody Award in 2013, the year it launched.

Elsewhere on the Original Series front – There’s The 2000s, from producers Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman and Mark Herzog, which has performed quite well in its timeslot. The History of Comedy and the aforementioned United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell perform well. United Shades has been nominated for multiple Emmys.

CNN has many series in its pipeline. There’s Chasing Life, “which features Dr. Sanjay Gupta surveying health and well-being in societies around the world.” There’s also The Redemption Project, “in which CNN host 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 Hanks, Goetzman and Herzog.