What made “Parts Unknown” so successful was that it had a host unlike any other. Morgan Fallon, who was a DP, director, and producer on the CNN documentary series, said host Anthony Bourdain always looked outward, rather than inward like many TV hosts.
“The world wasn’t about him,” Fallon said of the late chef and host, who died by suicide in June at age 61. “[He was] constantly pushing the cameras outward, and saying that, ‘What we’re trying to achieve is out there.’ He had no real stake in creating his own celebrity, no real motivation to somehow push his brand.”
The show, which will conclude with its 12th season later this year, featured Bourdain traveling around the world and learning about the politics and society of various countries, from remote Bhutan to bustling China, using food and interviews with locals as an anchor. Bourdain often went to hole-in-the-wall eateries known only to locals, and interviewed people and their families at their homes. The show has won five Emmy Awards and earned 11 nominations, as well as a 2013 Peabody Award.
Bourdain and his team always wanted the focus to be on their environment rather on themselves. Fallon said they never wanted to overwhelm their surroundings with tons of crew or equipment. When the show went to Lagos, Nigeria, Fallon went to scout seven-eight days early, shooting on 16 mm digital. Prep usually informed 50% of the episode’s direction, but there was no concept developed at the studios back in the U.S., Fallon said. The direction of each episode unfolded organically, depending on Bourdain’s interactions and conversations.
“The not knowing is really valuable. Everything is fresh, everything is new. Things that would seem very mundane to a local is extraordinarily exciting to us. And seeing the world that way coupled nicely with Tony’s boyish enthusiasm for the world and the places that he visited,” Fallon said.
A lot of the brainstorming was informal, Fallon added. He fondly remembers going back to the hotel every night with the team after shooting and talking about ideas over beer. Those casual conversations often informed the writing and structure of the show, which he called “the lightning, Doctor Frankenstein moment.”
“Tony was a tremendous creative partner,” Fallon said. “I’ve never felt so empowered by the things someone gave me. The creative and narrative tools that he provided us with over the years were all kind of setting out into a little bit of a new world.”
With Bourdain, there was no pretense, Fallon continued. After shooting, there was no storming off the set to his trailer and demanding a latte. A lot of times, Bourdain would tell the crew to relax and keep the conversations going.
“‘Guys, put the cameras down. Let’s talk, let’s soak up this environment. Let’s eat,” Fallon said Bourdain would instruct.