The recent blow-up between Anthony Bourdain and Travel Channel over the cabler’s use of his voice and likeness in an ad for Cadillac illustrates an issue that’s become a growing point of contention between reality TV talent and networks.
The spot aired in conjunction with Bourdain’s long-running Travel skein “No Reservations.” In a post Monday on his personal Tumblr blog, Bourdain ranted about what he saw as a violation of an understanding he had with Travel “where my name or image was never to be used to either endorse or imply use of a product without my specific agreement.”
In Bourdain’s view, “The network made a commercial, with me endorsing a product, and hadn’t even bothered to ask me. After the first airing of the commercial, I let the network know of my extreme displeasure…They ran it again anyway.”
Travel has since stopped airing the Cadillac spot.
As a result of the flap, Travel, which is owned by Scripps Networks Interactive, confirmed to Variety that Bourdain’s other series, “Anthony Bourdain: The Layover,” will conclude after its second season, which is set to bow Monday. Relationship between net and Bourdain had been positive before the debacle, even as Bourdain set up a nonexclusive deal at CNN to host “Parts Unknown,” a show similar to “No Reservations” slated to launch early next year. Travel congratulated Bourdain on his CNN ventures in May and left the door open to future projects with the traveling chef.
Cadillac incident has turned the tide of Travel’s well wishes, however. In a statement this week, cabler said it has “enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Tony and his production team, but his decision to make further remarks on this matter in the public domain is unfortunate.”
Industry sources say the situation that erupted between Bourdain and Travel is not uncommon, and that talent reps fight with networks frequently to protect a reality star’s endorsement rights. Problem crops up particularly on formatted shows in the vein of “Celebrity Apprentice,” where many segments involve cast members doing everything short of creating a commercial for a product featured in the episode.
Stature plays into bargaining, as unknown personalities have little leverage when it comes to protecting their image from overt product placement and implied endorsements.
“We always pay very significant attention to endorsement concepts as we realize that integrations, tie-ins and sponsorships are massive drivers of revenue for the networks and there is no union protection for talent here,” said an attorney who reps reality talent. “We try to clamp down on the network’s, and any third parties’, ability to use our client’s name or likeness in, and in connection with, integrations. We do this not only to manage our clients’ brands but also to have a mechanism in place to negotiate for a piece of the resulting revenue.”
Bourdain himself recognizes the shifting terrain of advertising on TV with the advent of DVRs. “Fewer and fewer people watch their favorite television programs in their scheduled time periods,” he wrote in his post, titled “Fighting Mad.” “People tend, under such circumstances, to skip — or speed through — commercials. For this reason, there’s pressure from networks to ‘integrate’ products into the body of the actual shows whenever possible.”
Insiders also point out that integration and endorsement contract clauses are rarely broached by the network. Instead, a reality star’s representation team must raise the issue in negotiations.
For Bourdain, however, lost revenue was not what drove him to vent on Twitter and Tumblr about the Cadillac spot. He was mostly concerned that it reflected badly on his credibility as host of his show. “My inclination…has always been to do NO product integration of any kind,” wrote Bourdain, emphasizing that he does not have a merchandise line even though he has been approached multiple times to launch one. “I was sensitive to the possibility that if I was seen taking money for saying nice things about a product, my comments and choices and opinions would become, understandably, suspect.”
Bourdain hinted at possible legal action against Travel. His reps did not return calls seeking comment.