VinePair Podcast: TV Loves Food Shows. Why Not Drinks?

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This week on the “VinePair Podcast,” Adam Teeter, Zach Geballe, and Joanna Sciarrino discuss the lack of drinks-focused shows on television. After listing what they have been drinking recently — including hard seltzer smoothies from Smooj — our hosts dive into a discussion about why so few drinks-focused shows have successfully aired.

Teeter shares his own experience creating a pilot for a drinks-based TV show with VinePair tastings director Keith Beavers — and muses on what prevents producers from taking risks on shows like it. Then, Geballe, Sciarrino, and Teeter discuss what drinks-focused shows could do differently in order to ultimately experience the kind of success that food television has enjoyed over the past decade.

If you have any thoughts on drinks-based shows, please send your ideas to [email protected]

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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.

Joanna Scarrino: I’m Joanna Sciarrino.

Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.

A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast.” Zach, you seem to have survived a heat wave, and now we are experiencing a heat wave. Are you doing OK, buddy?

Z: I am, yeah. It was an incredibly delightful 65 and cloudy this morning here in Seattle after we set an all-time high on Sunday. Then, we beat it by 5 degrees on Monday, so yay us! Hooray! It’s funny, this is a question for the both of you to ponder when it comes to extreme heat. It definitely got to a point on Sunday and Monday where I didn’t even want to drink. Normally, I want to have a drink in the afternoon and evening. On Sunday, only water sounded good to me. Fortunately, that temperature is, as of yet, not very common, but when it gets that hot, do you even think about having a drink?

A: No, I’m not in that position.

Z: OK, fair enough.

A: I would like a cold beer. I would only get something super refreshing, but I agree with you that when it does get super hot, I just want water. Also, alcohol dehydrates, which is not fun, but it’s crazy because I think a lot of people were a little bummed when they looked at the forecast. It was supposed to be really hot, but it’s going to be rainy. But I would think that’s not a bad thing.

Z: Yeah, it would be a nice relief after what you guys are going through right now.

A: It’s not fun, man. In the meantime, what have you been drinking?

Z: For me, the thing that I had most recently was a couple of Chardonnays that are both, I think, really exceptional. One is from Philippe Pacalet, a producer in Burgundy. It was the Puligny-Montrachet. My wife and I have this very fun tradition. When we were dating, Caitlin thought if we got engaged, I would get her a ring and she wouldn’t get me anything. Yes, I understand historically, but frankly, she makes a lot more money than me, so she could certainly buy me something. Well, I didn’t want a ring so we decided that if we got engaged, which we obviously did and then got married, that she would give me a case of wine. Our tradition has been to open one bottle a year on the anniversary of our engagement, which was June 28. She talked to the proprietors at the wine shop that I frequented, and they helped her pick out a case of wine, which was mostly successful. There were one or two wines in there that I probably wouldn’t have bought if it was me, but that’s cool. Then the day before, I had a Chardonnay from Ramey Wine Cellars, which is in Healdsburg in Sonoma. Both beautiful wines were beautiful expressions of a variety that I really like with some richness, but not too oily. Fruit ripeness but not over-ripeness befitting the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. It’s got a little more saltiness and a lot more earthiness and savory notes in the Burgundy. Those are the two things I had recently that I really, really enjoyed. Joanna, what about you?

J: I finally had a hard seltzer smoothie. Talk about a not particularly refreshing beverage. It was quite thick, but also effervescent and fruity and a little bit bitter.

Z: Oh, interesting.

J: Yeah, it is a very interesting thing. In one case, there was coconut cream in it, so that was an interesting thing I got to try recently. Also, I had my first High Noon.

A: Wow, so you just went all-in on seltzers this weekend?

J: Yeah. I’m really into trying new RTDs recently, just checking them out. The High Noon was really good. I enjoyed it. I’m not big on hard seltzer myself, but the High Noon, for whatever reason, was more flavorful and better for me.

A: Amazing, so I finally had my first hard seltzer smoothie, too.

J: Oh really?!

A: Yeah, I had it on Saturday and it was called Smooj.

J: I had Smooj, too!

A: I had the exact one you had. I could only drink like three sips of it. It was weird. It was really tasty, and yet I couldn’t drink more of it. It tasted like a hard seltzer Piña Colada. It was so weird. Is this what the kids are into nowadays? Maybe this is not my thing, but it was an experience, to say the least. Then, I had some other really fun beverages, since it was my birthday.

Z: Oh, that’s right.

A: Yeah, it’s OK that you forgot.

Z: We wished you a happy birthday last time, man!

A: I know.

Z: Are you one of these “I-have-a-whole-birthday-month” people?

A: No, no, no. Anyways, we had some really nice cocktails. Some people brought really good pre-made rum drinks, which were pretty delicious and we also enjoyed some Smooj. It was so weird. Then, the funniest thing is I had this magnum of wine that I’d been saving for a while. It was a magnum of Tablas Creek, actually, and I was really excited to open it. We did, and it was pretty bad.

Z: It’s so funny. I was just talking to someone about this the other day about how I think, on the podcast, we have generally encouraged people to just go ahead and open the wines unless you are really dead set on collecting and saving. You could end up with a situation where you potentially have one you’ve been looking forward to forever, and then it just doesn’t deliver. That sucks. It’s no one’s fault really, but it’s still a big bummer.

A: It’s a massive bummer. It was definitely a bummer for it not to have been as alive as I wanted it to be. Otherwise, it was a fun birthday, and delicious beverages were consumed.

Z: Have you ever been to Tablas Creek?

A: I have. It was an awesome experience.

Z: Yeah, that’s a place I’d like to go because I’ve never been.

A: It was a really awesome experience. Check out their nursery, it was super cool. It was good.

J: I have a question before we get into our topic for Zach. How is your Paper Plane riff coming along?

Z: Oh, that’s a really good question. I have not yet done what I said I would do last week because as I mentioned, my prime cocktail consumption is a weekend thing. It was too hot to think about anything, especially a relatively heavy cocktail. However, the plan actually for tonight at some point is to try one with some dry Curaçao as the ingredient that maybe will bring balance back to the cocktail.

A: Look at you!

Z: Well, I got a lot of home bar ingredients, so I’ve got to find something to use them for. As I’ve become like you guys, more inclined towards a Margarita that doesn’t have a lot of orange liqueur in it, I gotta figure out something to do with that with a dry Curaçao. Maybe this will be a good outlet for it because I certainly would drink a lot of this cocktail if I can dial it all the way in, but we’ll see.

A: Cool. Zach, want to kick off our topic for this week?

Z: I do. Plus, we got to get ready because you’re going to be MIA in a couple of weeks.

A: I think you’re really excited that I have a vacation coming up. Sorry, not really a vacation, but a work trip.

Z: I’m just excited for you because your work trips always are fruitful for the company.

A: And also, GTFO!

Z: Anyhow, the topic that I want to talk about today started with a thought about “Top Chef,” because one of the contestants who’s near the end of the competition, this go-round, is from Seattle and someone I know a little bit. I’m not a big “Top Chef” fan. I think I watched a couple of the early seasons, but I am not really a fan of cooking competition shows. I was a huge “Iron Chef” fan when I was a kid because I was a weird kid. As an adult, they haven’t been as interesting to me or I just haven’t had the time for them. Yet, it made me think about shows, whether it’s competition-oriented potentially with cocktails, or even something wine- or beer-focused. Why have drinks struggled so much to crack into television? There are not only channels devoted to food, but even outside of that, there are so many shows that have food at the center — whether it’s travel, competitions, or just how-tos. Yet, there’s almost none of that in the drink space. I have some theories, but Joanna, you have a lot of experience on the food side and have seen certainly how the success of these shows has driven celebrity and interest in food. Why do you think it is that drinks have not been able to get into this world?

J: Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about this. There are just so many food shows and baking shows, specifically, that I think are mesmerizing to people and have a wider entry point for people, perhaps. I think there’s also something about dishes coming together and cakes and things like that coming together, too, that is really compelling. As you said, the competition-style or the gamification of these things, I think is really compelling for people to watch. Competing against other professionals or people in the space is really interesting to watch. I think it also just happened with the rise of food media. People really got into it in the last 5-10 years.

A: Oh, at least 10.

J: Yeah, “Iron Chef” was the first one.

A: I love “Iron Chef.” As someone who used to watch the Food Network before they would go to bed in college.

J: Same!

A: Yeah, I was obsessed with it. I was always really into food media. I do think that I have a really weird first-hand amount of knowledge in this because Keith, who is VinePair’s tastings director, and I actually shot a pilot of a drink show for the Food Network.

Z: Tell us more.

A: Not many people know that. Well before VinePair, I was in the music industry, actually, and Keith owned a wine shop and a restaurant in the East Village. He and I came up with this idea for this music series called “Vivo In Vino.” I had all these record industry contacts and he had a restaurant. Sunday nights were not the most lucrative in the restaurant business in New York City. He said, “Well, what if we just shut down the restaurant on Sunday nights? You book these big bands and they play these intimate shows.” Basically, the whole idea from my point of view had come from my recognition that people in the music business really missed those small shows they played when they were baby bands. As you’re trying to make it, you would start playing in these rooms of 20 people rather than 100 people, than 150 people. Ultimately, you’d start playing 500,000-person shows and it never felt the same. A lot of bands miss that 100-people feel, so we packed 75 to 100 people into his restaurant — probably against fire code. We thought, how are we gonna pay for this? The way we figured it out was to sell tickets, but also bring on a sponsor. We’re both into wine, so what if we make this sponsor a wine brand? Then, they come in, and basically halfway through the set, we have a conversation about the wine. We’re combining teaching people about wine, demystifying wine, with awesome music. That’s how it started. Lo and behold, a person that I knew who was a producer in L.A. heard about it and said, “Have you ever thought about doing a show about alcohol?” And I said, “No, but I love food TV. I think we could do this.” The concept of “Juiced,” which is what they named it, was that we would travel around the world experiencing beverages and people’s cultures. It is similar to “No Reservations” and this is really the time when “No Reservations” was just becoming popular. It was still on the Travel Channel. I don’t know if it was called “No Reservations.” It was still called…

Z: “Parts Unknown,” right?

A: I’m sorry, it was called “No Reservations,” and then it became “Parts Unknown” when it went to CNN. It was just becoming something. At the time, she was producing at a company that was run by a pretty famous editor named Angus Wall. Basically, along with some other producers, came together to produce this show. It was a really interesting experience. What we thought we were doing was producing really engaging TV but we kept hearing from everyone that drinks don’t work on TV. And we asked, “Why? We’re coming out with really fun episodes and this is going to be such a blast” and all this shit. Then, we kept hearing that drinks don’t work on TV. Well, is there any proof of that? They said, “No, but don’t drinks don’t work on TV.” The biggest thing we heard is that one of the reasons drinks don’t work on TV is so many of them go back to the traditional way that food TV works, which is that they actually talk about dishes. What we were proposing with “Juiced” and actually what I think we’ve done pretty successfully with some of the stuff we shot for VinePair is actually more cultural. The beverage is not the center. We’re not going to sit there sniffing the wine and talking about the aromas. I know SOMM TV exists at this point, but I don’t know how many subscribers it has. There’s a lot of that there with the “Somm” movies where they’re actually giving tasting notes. The reason that producers would tell us that drinks don’t work on TV is that when you shoot the show like that, which is the way most people shoot it because *those are the excerpts you are getting, consumers are completely lost. Whereas on Rachael Ray, let’s use her as an example, or Jamie Oliver, when they’re cooking a pork chop — and this is the little example that was given to us in the middle of pitching the show — you know what a pork chop tastes like. You may not know what the spices that they are using tastes like, but you have the general idea of what a pork chop tastes like. Then, you start to imagine what a spicy pork chop could be, even if you’re never going to actually taste that dish in your life or what salmon with teriyaki sauce could be? You take the salmon and the teriyaki, and you can somewhat understand it. Also, cooking just in general is much more visual. There’s a lot of things happening. There’s fire, there’s searing. There’s all that shit that you’re doing that’s more fun to watch. There’s action, and we like action. You need to see something happening. Juiced was not that, right? We threw parties, we hung out with people and we talked about people’s backgrounds. It was much more of a “No Reservations” thing. We shot a pilot, and the whole idea behind the pilot was funny. Keith and I were throwing a fun party for our friends at a house that a buddy owned in the Hamptons. Keith and I don’t know anyone in the Hamptons, but you get the behind-the-scenes look on how they’re producing it. They found this house that had this amazing saltwater pool. We actually shipped all of our friends out of the Hamptons. They chartered busses and put them all out there.

Z: Nice.

A: Keith and I were planning for the party, and we wanted to bring some of New York. Of course, when you’re working with people who are based in L.A., what they think of New York is different. They thought, “Yeah, we are going to have you and Keith hailing a taxicab and you’re going to go to the Hamptons in a cab.” I guess this is actually how they make TV, but I didn’t really realize any of these things. Anyway, we go to Astoria first after meeting at Keith’s restaurant thinking about throwing a fun party in the Hamptons. We go to Astoria, and we find Keith’s favorite souvlaki truck. The whole purpose of the episode was high/low, and that’s why they wanted the Hamptons. We get the souvlaki truck and we take it out to the Hamptons. We took the people who own the souvlaki truck wine tasting with us first at two wineries, which was really fun. It was this amazing mother and her daughter, and they’d never been to wineries before, but they loved wine. It was just such a really fun experience to take them.

Z: Now, I need to know if we can find this in the Food Network archive.

A: No, you can’t. It never aired, so I’m going to get there. We shoot all this stuff, and then we go to this party. The whole point of the party is we’re pouring this really great wine, but we’re pouring it out of carafes. No one knows what the wine is. Everyone is interacting with the wine, walking around, and then our friends from the souvlaki truck are making souvlaki for everyone. We were also in this beautiful backyard. We were all having a great time, and everyone’s just hanging out, talking, asking food and wine questions. At the end of the episode, I ask Keith, “What’s the wine?” Then, I bring out these boxes. I said, “You were drinking boxed wine!” Then, Keith jumps into the pool. It was so ridiculous. We then had the fun experience of selling the show, so you take your pilot and your sizzle and you try to sell it. We went to this big conference in D.C. where A&E and Travel Channel are. We met with the producer who had bought “No Reservations” and we wound up getting connected with this really nice guy who was at the Food Network but now I think is at Bravo. He was interested and he said, “We’ll think about airing this. By the way, we have a few shows ahead of you, one of which was called ‘Beer Chicks,’” which I didn’t know what they were thinking.

Z: I mean, “Juiced” sounded good.

A: Every time I think about why beverage has failed on TV, people have some good points, but then they also just *f*cking sh*t the bed with the worst names and the worst ideas. They probably had great personalities that would have been so engaging on television, but they just overdid it because they’re so scared that the beverage is going to fail on TV. This one was hosted by two women who I think at the time were at the iconic restaurant in Los Angeles, Father’s Office, running the beverage program. Father’s Office was well known to have great beer, but the show bombed. They aired it a few times. It never got viewership. Basically, we were told by the producer, “We’re sorry, guys. We tried it, and it didn’t work. We’re not going to take the risk anymore.” That was it. I know people have tried in the past, but we only really think of Stanley Tucci’s show that was really popular in talking about wine. Then, you do see some shows that have these crazy followings like “The Wine Show.” It’s British, and a lot of Americans actually don’t know it.

J: Yeah, I don’t know it.

A: The host is Matthew Rhys.

Z: I think Matthew Goode is his name.

A: Matthew Rhys and Matthew Goode are the two hosts. I love Matthew Rhys because I love “The Americans.”

J: Me too.

A: This show does well because these are very handsome actors who also love wine.

Z: Wait, so you’re telling me that wasn’t the selling point for you and Keith?

A: Look, I like to think that I’m handsome, but I am not an actor. Well, Naomi says I’m handsome.

Z: That’s all that matters.

A: Yeah, and we’re not celebrities. I think that’s why that show works. Also, I think one of the reasons it doesn’t work on TV is because there are too few producers willing to try it. That is my long way of answering your question. Ultimately, it could work, but people are really scared to take the risk.

Z: That’s an interesting thought and one that I had considered. I want to bounce a couple of additional possibilities off the two of you. This comes back a little bit to what you were saying, Adam, about how everyone’s had a pork chop, and everyone can imagine what a pork chop tastes like. Sure, you might not know all the flavors, but you can at least start from somewhere. I think part of it is whether it’s wine, beer, or spirits. There aren’t as many drinks that have that same level of near-ubiquity in people’s lived experience. I think that even goes beyond something else, which is that almost everyone has tried cooking before. Even if it’s something as simple as boxed macaroni and cheese or making French toast, everyone’s at least tried it once in their life. But, a lot of people have never tried to make a cocktail. They have certainly never made beer or wine. The most they’ve possibly done is open a can or a bottle and pour it into the glass. That’s the least interesting thing to watch, so there’s not a lot in that. Even if you’re right, Adam, that producers and networks have not been willing to take many risks with drinks, I do think there is something about how it may be a little harder to connect with people through an experience that they just may not share. I think it’s easy for us as people in this field to forget that people who we think of as relatively sophisticated, never made a cocktail or the most they’ve done is put gin in a glass and add tonic water. It is a great cocktail, but not very challenging. Even making a classic cocktail to create something on the fly feels so outside of their experience that they can’t maybe put themselves in the person doing it on screen’s shoes.

A: Yeah, I think that’s true. I think it’s hard to describe everything that’s happening or what you’re tasting. You mentioned cocktails, and I do wonder if ultimately that is the show that actually could do well.

J: Just consider TikTok and the type of cocktail content on TikTok that has performed well and gotten millions of followers. I wonder if now, after the past year, a drink show could work.

Z: I’ve wondered why SpeedRack, which I know Joanna and Adam are familiar with, but for listeners, it is a cocktail competition that fuses craft cocktail bartending and speed. The competitors are all women, and they have great backstories. It’s super exciting. I’ve been to live competitions in Seattle a number of times, and it always is super engaging. I’ve always been baffled at how there hasn’t been something like that. Of course, it’s not going to be “Top Chef” potentially, but it’s got everything that I think you would want, including a very frantic, visually stimulating thing. Bartending is the one thing in here that really meets some of the same needs that a cooking show does.

A: Totally.

Z: Someone is doing a lot of things. The problem with wine and beer is a lot of times the people are just sitting there sipping and talking. I agree with producers on this point that it can never be the centerpiece of a show. A wine show has to be more of a travel show, more through the lens of wine and in terms of beer, I’m not sure. You could maybe figure out something else. It could quite possibly be about the personalities more than anything else. Again, I bartended, and people would sit there at the bar and thought I was some great bartender. They would sit there at the bar because you are either shaking, straining, or garnishing something. People are captivated because it’s a thing. It doesn’t have to be Tom Cruise in “Cocktail,” flair bartending. Although, that is what brings it back because again, coming back to TikTok, that’s obviously a big part of what you see on there, too. Yet, bartending is the thing that would make sense. I agree that this is probably where I think you’re most right, Adam. No one wants to take a chance, which is a shame because, God knows, every other TV show gets greenlit these days.

A: Totally, I completely agree. I think this is the one thing that would work. If we were to do an amazing cocktail competition show, I think it could slam because there’s a lot of stuff about it that’s really fun. Again, a lot of people do know what rum tastes like. That is going back to my original example where the producer told me almost a decade ago why food works and drinks doesn’t. I think that answers that issue. I also do think that a drinks program could work but focused much more on culture, history, etc. I think exploring parts of America through drinks and combining them with food really works. Even on these food shows, there are very few times when people actually do talk about the drinks, but I think to make it work, it has to come from a much more inclusive place, and it has to be so much less talking about beer and wine — so much less somm-y and cicerone-y. Do you know what I mean? It can’t be about the analysis in the same way. If you’re the person who’s creating the show, you would need to figure out and understand very quickly that a vineyard looks like a vineyard. Even a taproom and things like that, they all look the same, so what is it that you’re doing that’s different? Are you showing more of the town that it exists in and the people and the places? You can walk through someone’s vineyard only so many times before consumers are saying, “Oh, I already saw those other episodes where they’re also in vineyards.” In those vineyards, the grapes were obviously different, but this pretty much is the same experience you’re having at each place. I think that that’s the thing that scared producers so much about wine on television. How much do people want to watch…

J: The same thing over and over again?

A: Yeah, things the professionals get very excited about, but that consumers don’t.

Z: I think you’re 100 percent right. In addition to that, you have to strike a fine balance of wanting to tell interesting and unique stories but also pick things that people can actually go experience. For example, picking wines that people might be able to find. I’m blanking on the exact name, but I remember one of my favorite, random episodes we’ve done, and Adam, you were there, we interviewed the guy on the island in the Venetian Lagoon, and I can’t remember what the name of the winery is.

A: Yeah, it’s Venezia.

Z: Yeah, it was such a fascinating story. And it could’ve been something that would make for a great episode of TV if anyone were ever to do it, except the fact that they make 500 bottles of wine a year. I think it was a really interesting story and this great example of people’s maddening obsession with doing something, even as the sea is fighting you. There’s something majestic in that. Again, it’s a little hard. It’s one thing for our podcast to maybe talk about, but it is another thing for a television show to show this and then tell people, “If you want to get it, great. It’s $100, and you’ll never be able to find a bottle.” You run that difficult balance that I think also with food, some things are very inaccessible because you have to travel somewhere very, very specific to get them. However, the point of wine is that it is a way to travel without leaving your house, which could be a great thing for a show but then the wine has to be at least reasonably accessible to most viewers.

A: I agree. Well, I don’t think we solved the beverage problem on TV, but I think we at least uncovered it.

Z: Seriously, if someone can find the “Juiced” episode… I need this.

A: It exists on a hard drive in my apartment. You’re not posting it.

Z: Naomi, please!

A: No, but Keith will tell you all about it. It was the seed that had us starting to think about VinePair and what this could look like through culture and through beverage.

Z: Joanna, have you been on TV? I mean, actually been on a TV show?

J: I have not, no.

A: She is going to be soon. Get ready.

Z: That sounds like news we will have to reveal some other time.

A: Oh yeah. Joanna and I are going to go shoot a show together in Mexico pretty soon, but everyone will hear about that in the near future. Until then, guys, stay cool. I hope everyone has an amazing Fourth of July weekend. I know those who are listening will be after the Fourth, but for you guys, I hope you both have really lovely times and great barbecues and have delicious drinks. I’ll talk to you next week.

Z: Sounds great.

Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, then please give us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.

Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and in Seattle, Wash., by myself and Zach Geballe. He does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who is instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.

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