PBS Picks Up Marcus Samuelsson Food and Culture Docu-Series From Vox Media’s Eater

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Courtesy of Vox Media

New York chef Marcus Samuelsson is coming to PBS in a documentary series about the cuisine of American immigrant communities, produced by Vox Media’s Eater in the digital-media brand’s first TV project.

“No Passport Required” (working title) will feature Samuelsson traveling to under-explored neighborhoods of U.S. cities to showcase the people, places and foods of immigrant communities. The show, slated for six one-hour episodes, will bow in 2018 on PBS’s member stations and online platforms.

Samuelsson (pictured above), owner of the Red Rooster Harlem restaurant in New York, is himself an immigrant: He was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden before moving to the U.S. “I’ve always been passionate about cooking, and I can relate to this topic,” he said. “It’s about cooking and food — but also about the other sub-contexts when we break bread.”

As a joint project of Eater and PBS, Samuelsson said the project was appealing because it will reach different audiences on both TV and online. “We live in both spaces, and that’s where the audiences are,” he said.

The show will be produced by Vox Entertainment, Vox Media’s Los Angeles-based development, production and distribution division. Behind-the-scenes digital content will be distributed on Eater and PBS.org, Eater will promote the full-length episodes on PBS platforms. In addition, PBS and Eater plan to launch a series of events across the U.S. that bring the featured cuisines to audiences in each city, through local outreach by PBS member stations and Eater’s local city platforms.

The show is right in PBS’s sweet spot, said Beth Hoppe, the pubcaster’s chief programming exec and GM, general audience programming. “There are all these layers about cultural identity, ancestry and diversity – for me, it’s a great combination.”

In teaming up with the millennial-skewing Eater site, PBS isn’t exactly hoping the Eater fans will tune in on TV. Rather, Hoppe sees the show as extending PBS’s programming fare into digital communities as well as in local city communities through the planned food-festival events produced with Eater. “We’re going to hit them wherever they are,” she said.

PBS is eyeing next summer or possibly fall to air “No Passport Required,” according to Hoppe. The broadcaster has had some success with food in primetime, with shows like “The Great British Baking Show.” But Hoppe isn’t looking to stage a big push into the food category: “What we do in primetime can’t be the chop-and-chat show.”

The communities that “No Passport Required” is planning to visit include Washington D.C.’s Little Ethiopia, Fremont, Calif.’s Little Kabul with its large Afghan population, and Louisiana’s Vietnamese shrimpers.

Both PBS and Vox Media are seeking corporate sponsorships for “No Passport Required,” and Vox Media will look to sell digital advertising for the companion content it plans to distribute online.

For NBCUniversal-backed Vox Media, the PBS deal is part of its push to expand into longer-form content to generate new revenue streams and expand the reach of its digital-first brands, which in addition to Eater include Vox, the Verge, and SB Nation. “This is not opportunistic – we are being strategic,” said Marty Moe, president of Vox Media. “We have a full production organization.”

Michael Kelley, PBS’s SVP of programming and business affairs, established the partnership with Vox Media and is the exec overseeing details of the deal. “No Passport Required” is executive produced by Marty Moe, Chad Mumm, Amanda Kludt, Jim Bankoff and Marcus Samuelsson for Vox Entertainment. Pamela A. Aguilar and Bill Gardner are executives in charge for PBS.

The show marks the fourth long-form series from Vox Media. The company recently announced “Divided States of Women,” a franchise launched in partnership with Comcast and hosted by journalist Liz Plank, which premiered this fall on Comcast’s Watchable and other platforms. It also has sold “Foul Play,” a true-crime sports documentary series produced with Vox Media’s SB Nation, to Verizon’s Go90 that will debut later this year. “Prefab Nation,” s series from Vox Media’s Curbed currently in production for A+E Networks’ FYI Channel, focuses on the real estate trend of prefabricated homes, and is currently in production.