Photos by Travis Anderson
How Andrew Zimmern is morphing a hit cable TV show into a diversified, branded network of businesses.
January 24, 2013
AZ Bad Boy Zimmern’s team has invested several hundred thousand dollars creating a branded children’s entertainment platform that is being pitched to potential partners as this issue of TCB goes to press. Called AZ Bad Boy, a character Zimmern created, it currently lives on an iPad presentation created by local design house Spunk Design Machine. The first component, a book, has already been written and illustrated.
“It’s a children’s franchise,” says Wiese. “We’ve been working on it two years. It consists of books, online components, merchandise, TV, perhaps film and amusement parks. We’re going to be talking to the big players—Nick, Viacom, Disney.”
In a previous career phase, Zimmern might have sold the idea to a partner for a fee or percentage of earnings. Not now. “If we don’t own it, we won’t do it,” Zimmern says.
So Food Works bankrolled the project, backed by a private investor, “to retain control,” says Larson. “If Disney wants the package, we’ve got a deal. If they want to give us $20K for the book, we’ll do it ourselves.”
“It’s very important to us how this is marketed, and we don’t want to be at the mercy of a partner,” says Wiese. Zimmern’s team also believes the project is potentially more lucrative packaged this way.
“We’re not unrealistic,” says Zimmern. “This is 2013, not 1995. There’s not as much money out there. Our goal is a partnership with a major children’s entertainment company.”
Broadcast TV Zimmern’s deal with Travel Channel has a carve-out for broadcast (non-cable) TV. Many cable food celebrities have made the transition, from Mario Batali and Gordon Ramsay to Guy Fieri and Tyler Florence. “I was [contractually] able to do network TV two years ago,” says Zimmern, “but I’m not sure they were interested in me.”
That’s changed. Zimmern says he’s turned down two major broadcast productions (which he won’t name), the more recent because his Bizarre Foods filming schedule made it impossible. Another chef got the job.
Zimmern’s advisers are certain that unshackled from a travel schedule of 35 weeks a year, Zimmern will be on broadcast TV.
Competitively speaking, these ventures have limited overlap with Zimmern’s TV food peers. The exception is broadcast TV, where Zimmern is in competition with everyone from Gordon Ramsay to Mario Batali.
“He’s playing chess,” says Food & Wine’s Cowin. “He will grow and shape-shift, but he stays in his lane. He has a very rare skill set: High and low tastes, global palate. He’s got a great sense of what’s coming and what’s good. ”
In the end, there are no regrets about the nights in the wilds of the Third World, the often unpalatable food, and the frequent exhaustion that comes with global shooting. “We’ve come to an important understanding,” says Tom Wiese. “Great ideas come from connecting the known world with the unknown world, and we’re going at that hard.” And no TV food celebrity knows the unknown world like Zimmern.
The ensuing half-decade will tell the tale. “We’re entering into a five-year period where people that don’t know about me are going to know,” says Zimmern. “The world is my oyster.”
Adam Platt is TCB’s executive editor. He was Zimmern’s editor at MplsStPaul magazine from 2001 to 2010.