If Spike had a signature cocktail, it would be the “Bar Rescue.” The recipe: equal parts straight-talking bar expert, failing bar owners, hardworking crew and supportive network. Stir them together and you’ll get 100 episodes.
“We love the show so much because Jon Taffer is incredibly passionate about helping people,” says Sharon Levy, Spike’s exec VP of original series. “When the producers brought us a sizzle tape, there was Jon in a bar, giving us a flavor of what he did for a living. We all had the immediate response that this guy was a TV star.”
The news validated Taffer, who received the opposite reaction after running the idea by a friend in the business.
“He looked at it and said to me, ‘Jon, you will never be on television,’” Taffer recalls. “When I walked out of his office, it became a vendetta for me.” He approached four production companies with his idea and got four offers within days. “I chose the best company rather than the best deal. I signed with 3 Ball Entertainment, and Spike picked up the show I believe four days later.”
Few people are more surprised by the success of “Bar Rescue” than Taffer himself. “I honestly thought I’d do a pilot and go home,” he says. “I never even conceived of a season two, nonetheless a season three or four. When we started, I remember Sharon Levy saying, ‘Is there enough bar science to do 10 episodes?’”
After selling the show to Spike, 3 Ball Entertainment’s co-CEO Todd Nelson thought, “ ‘Okay. How do we do this process in five days?’ Jon and I went beat-by-beat through everything, and the format has pretty much stayed the same.”
During those five days, Taffer diagnoses the bar’s problems and retrains staff while the crew executes his makeover. “I can build bars. It’s bricks and mortar, marketing plans and promotional plans,” Taffer says. “I’ve done this stuff 800 to 1,000 times. That’s easy. The individuals and changing their mindsets is what’s tough.”
Taffer’s passion for helping people is what Levy loves most about the show, which she likens to a family drama since bars are often family-owned or have small staffs that function as a family, with workers bringing their own problems to the family dynamic.
“We’ve hit 100 episodes because every personality Jon encounters is unique,” Levy says. “Every issue is unique. Even if it feels the same — like owners squandering their profits — the reasons are wholly unique to them. Jon comes in as their psychiatrist. In a short amount of time he gets to what’s beneath the problems. That’s what makes it so relatable.”
“When he goes and talks to these guys and gets this cockiness back, he loses it. That’s why he goes off. He’s not amping himself up just to do it, he really gets pissed off,” Nelson adds.
About his often bleep-filled outbursts, Taffer says, “I have to change how they think, that’s why I’m so aggressive. I need them to own their failure and not blame it on anything other than themselves. Once they do that, then I can start to change the way they think.”
That tough love approach means some of the best episodes were the most difficult to shoot. Taffer has only walked out on one bar, upon learning the owners had a documented history of violence against employees. “I won’t perpetuate violence to employees. I told them so and walked out and did not remodel their bar. It’s a pretty unique ‘Bar Rescue’ episode.”
After 100 episodes, the crew is a well-oiled machine. As Nelson says, “We’re definitely ready to do 100 more.”