Anthony Bourdain Wants 'Bigger and Better' Version of 'No Reservations' at CNN

Anthony Bourdain - H 2012
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Anthony Bourdain - H 2012

When Anthony Bourdain decided to close up shop on No Reservations, the globe-trotting Travel Channel docu-series that showcased his acerbic, no-nonsense personality, and launch a new show on CNN, skeptics raised eyebrows: would the ratings-plagued, mainstream cable news network tone down Tony, or allow him to be himself with ... no reservations?

"They love us for the right reasons, and they were clear that they would not expect me or my team to morph into something that we're not," the chef, author and media personality tells The Hollywood Reporter of CNN, which debuts a yet-to-be-titled, Bourdain-fronted program early next year. "They wanted us to just keep doing what we've been doing, keep doing what they've appreciated us for and ... help us move up and on to bigger and better."

He adds: "I mean, I'm not gonna barbeque in The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer and (talk) about the election results. I'm gonna stay within my area of presumed expertise or experience."
Bourdain, who's taking his No Reservations crew with him aboard the network, says he and his agent met with CNN executives for a number of "very, very, very encouraging" meetings -- "probably the best meetings I've ever had" -- that resulted in his official recruitment to the channel in May. 
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When CNN initially reached out, an incredulous Bourdain "made a point of sending them, just in case they hadn't seen them, some of the really wilder, more creative and unusual shows that we've done that made Travel Channel nervous."
The former chef, whose media career took off following the success of his 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential, was wooed by CNN's global reach and resources.

"Look, they have an infrastructure on the ground and, for a lot of years, there've been places we've tried to get into that we've been unable to" he says. "There are some shows that we just haven't been able to do, like going up the Congo River ... going to post-conflict Libya. These are shows that would have been very, very difficult to do with Travel, in spite of best intentions. CNN has infrastructure and a whole world of contacts and experience in all these places. So, right away, that makes CNN a very attractive organization to work with because they can help us shoot in these places in ways that few other organizations could, certainly no travel or food network could."

Another perk, he adds, is that his forthcoming program -- which will air Sunday evenings and follow a similar format to No Reservations -- will be easily broadcast around the world, whereas countries like Malaysia and Indonesia that get Reservations are often seasons behind.

"We like hearing right away from people in Hong Kong if we screwed up and didn't go to the right bar," Bourdain observes.

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As for the Travel Channel cult favorite, which earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding informational programming in 2007 for an episode in which Bourdain was stranded in Beirut during the bombings there, the series kicks off his ninth and final installment on Sept. 3. The premiere takes place in Austin during the South by Southwest festival "and, in a lot of ways, shows me making peace with hipsters," he notes. 

The final episode focuses on Brooklyn, which holds special meaning for Bourdain. "I like the idea of bringing this around full circle, of ending up in New York," says the East Coast native and Manhattan resident.

"I've had a really good run," he continues. "The Travel Channel has been remarkably good to me and (allowed) me and my team to basically go anywhere we wanted and make television exactly the way we wanted with, really, next to no interference. And it's been a charmed life. All my dreams have come true."

Besides CNN, Bourdain also joins ABC to host an untitled cooking competition alongside TV chef Nigella Lawson for which there is no air date yet.

"It's scary but I'm taking a serious shot at what is a very established competitive reality format," he teases. "Can we do it in an interesting way? You know, I have a creative role in this process so it's another strange, hopefully bold venture that I'm really looking forward to doing, actually. I love Nigella and I can't tell you who, but there's a lot of people who are gonna be involved in the show."

Filming begins soon, and according to Bourdain, the set is tricked out "like the climactic scene in a Bond film. Like an inside-the-volcano kind of set. Just seeing that put together and understanding that I'm gonna be sitting on that stage is a little intimidating."

Twitter: @ErinLCarlson