CNN’s Parts Unknown season 10 is the "strangest, wildest, most creative yet"

CNN Original Series Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown launched in April 2013 and has since earned five Emmy Awards for its penchant for informational, entertaining and visually stunning storytelling. The new season premieres this Sunday, Oct. 1 at 9 p.m. ET and kicks off with an in-depth tour of Singapore: the food, the culture and even the local economics and politics. In anticipation of the new season that Bourdain describes as the “strangest, wildest, most creative season yet,” series co-creator and co-executive producer, Chris Collins, talks to us about the evolution of the show and what to expect this season. Chris is also the co-founder of and a principal at the show’s production company, Zero Point Zero Production.

We heard you actually went to business school.

Yeah. My parents, who are lovely people, said, “we'll support you and will pay for you to go to business school. If you go to film school, you're going to pay for it yourself.” I was at least smart enough at that moment to take the financing direction and ended up at Boston University in their school of management.

Did you graduate and jump right into television production?

No, I worked at Coca Cola and later was a stockbroker in DC. Back then, DC wasn't exactly known as the film capital of the east coast. Just by chance, I met somebody at the 930 Club [DC music venue] whose short film, which was nominated for an Oscar, named David Peterson. I was “in transition” at the time which was code for “unemployed.” David was kind enough to hire me to work on the documentary he was making. It was in post-production so I worked on the edit, which meant that I basically ran errands for him. He said, “you work for me for free for a few months, and I'll introduce you to some people in New York.” And that was a chain of events that a lot of people in our industry experience.

I made my way to New York and was fortunate enough to meet folks that helped me. I've gotta’ tell you, I was one of the oldest PA's ever since I was already in my mid-30s. I was lucky enough in those early days to meet Lydia [Tenaglia], and we've been working together for almost 20 years now. It was a working relationship first, and then it became a marriage.

Let’s talk about your role on Parts Unknown.

We have an amazing team to make this show. At this stage, my role is more of support and to help drive the creative process. But you know, this is truly something Lydia, myself and Tony started 17 years ago, and it’s absolutely still our passion. It has truly been a gift to be of doing it for this long.

Can you talk about how you evolved your original concept of the show when you came to CNN?

We moved through a couple of networks before CNN, and we were always iterating and changing, as we're prone to do. But the storytelling has been most important to us from the beginning and has remained consistent. We started out very food centric, but it quickly became clear in the early days, at least to the three of us, that the table or the meal was just an entry to bigger, more interesting stories. Food is great, food is fascinating, it will always be part of what we do, but it’s an entry point to discover people and places. At the end of the day, and I think Tony will say this, too, ‘I'm still doing this, because I'm having a good time.” And that means there are still great stories we can tell that are far beyond the table.

What did the move to CNN mean to you guys?

The introduction to CNN came at a really interesting time. It was sort of quiet that CNN was starting to build out the CNN Original Series side of the business and was looking for original content. We never set out to go there and pitch those guys.

What became clear at CNN, though, was the commitment from the top down to let us go out and explore things in a different way. We are not journalists, but we always felt a sense of responsibility to take a look at places in a different way. And that’s what being on CNN has allowed us to do. And as far as we’re concerned, it feels like a companywide embracement from CNN. They gave us a sense of confidence in our storytelling, and it’s been a real partnership.

To go to Tokyo a couple years ago and tell the story, as we did, about bondage, we knew we were putting something on that could rub people the wrong way. Or, at least, give people pause to think about. But you know what? Amy Entelis (EVP, Talent & Content Development, CNN Worldwide) has been an enormous champion of the entire process. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to have the freedom and support to go out and tell stories.

How do you approach the stories on Parts Unknown?

If you were to break down Parts Unknown, there’s probably the classic sort of food-centric episode – you’re gonna go to Copenhagen and tell a story about Rene Redzepi (chef/owner of Noma in Copenhagen), about what he has meant to the culinary world, what he's doing now and what he's going to be doing in the future.

Then you have a travel-centric show. You can go to Berlin or Las Vegas, for example, and tell that story.

And then you’re going to have sort of this third approach, which is sort of a deeper dive, sort of more microscopic into a place. That’s something we did in Koreatown where we were able to partition the geography and say, “we won’t go outside this specific mile area, and we’ll tell only its story.” Which was for us, a challenge, but a really great thing to do.

It turns out that we tend to do storytelling domestically more than we do it internationally. We were always sort of hesitant about doing domestic shows. It’s probably easier to go somewhere outside the country and see something spectacular, colorful, different. That was our own jaded perception. But truth be told, some of the best work we’ve done are domestic shows. I mean, just look at our Detroit show.

The show is always gorgeous. How do you achieve that? What does it takes to create?

Our first series started 17 years ago as a sort of run and gun production with Lydia and me shooting. And we are not directors of photography. The equipment was, by today's standards, rudimentary. We joke that the new iPhone probably has 10 times the ability of our first cameras. But the structure of the crew that we used is essentially the same size as we had 17 years ago. There’s a producer, there's a director, there's two DPs, and there's Tony.

Can you give us a preview of season 10?

As I look at the season, what sticks out for me is the French Alps episode with Tony’s good friend, Eric Ripert. They look like twin sons of different mothers. There’s a freakish hair color going on there that I don’t completely understand. It’s a really entertaining show. Later in the season, we go to Pittsburgh for one of the deeper dives. What has become of Pittsburgh? We look at what they’ve gone through and where they’re going. And then there’s an exploration of a place Tony has never been: Nigeria. It is truly one of the more visually, editorially, sonically interesting episodes we’ve ever done. The story is fascinating, the shooting is fascinating, as is the way it’s constructed. You talk about passion and labor of love, these are the sort of shows that you know that there was blood, sweat and tears poured into making this episode. I think it’s definitely one for the books.

Where is your tongue hanging out to go next? You, personally.

This is going to sound really pedestrian, but I forever will go back to Hong Kong. It’s just a pure joy. I mean, I think between Hong Kong and Vietnam, just on a pure food level; that’s personally it for me. But I think at the end of the day, for the show, it’s not so much what is my tongue is hanging out for. It’s trying to find a place to tell a story as it hasn’t been told before.