The Bad-Boy Bon Vivant
Nearly 50 at the time, Tony Bourdain came into the spotlight as the edgy, bad boy of the cooking universe due in large part to the publication of his book Kitchen Confidential, a raunchy, frank exposé of the New York restaurant business, his heroin addiction and more. Opinionated and collaborative, articulate and principled, he crossed into television as the host of a successful series on the Food Network called A Cook’s Tour.
After two seasons there, he was approached by Travel Channel to co-create a series that, building on his success and reputation, would establish the new exploration-and-immersion approach of the network. In a break from previous Travel Channel programming, the new series would veer off the beaten path, with a focal point of engaging real people and sampling local, everyday food.
Repositioning a brand creates multiple challenges, a number of which are audience based: managing perceptions and expectations, maximizing reach of new messaging while minimizing existing viewer attrition, and establishing trust in the solidity of the new brand direction.
This first series was critical to the future of the network in that it would set the tone for the entire repositioning. In the realignment from more “luxury” to more “street,” Travel Channel had to appeal to a newer, younger audience without losing their existing core of older, more refined viewers. The title had to walk a fine line: raw and gritty, but not alienating or offensive.
Additionally, because the series was intended to anchor the network during the changeover and beyond, the title had to strongly deliver on the series’ promise from the start; there wasn't an option to "water down" the title to just "get over the hump."
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
The word reservations is applicable to both travel and dining, appropriate for programming about food on a travel network
When paired with the name (and likeness) of Anthony Bourdain, that meaning skews toward food; not having booked in advance — having no reservations — strongly telegraphs exploration and immersion:
• Capturing the spirit of open-ended travel, of letting the experience unfold, of winging it
• Suggesting smaller, more casual, and/or less well-known or popular eateries that don't take reservations — contrasted with the expected “tourist” locales where reservations would be a must
The expression to have no reservations means to hold nothing back, to go all in, completely and fully, with no doubt, reluctance, skepticism, or hesitation
Speaks to the no-holds-barred tone of the show, and to the direct, frank, candid personality of the host; communicates both engagement in the moment and unrestricted, street-level destinations — perfect alignment with the new Travel Channel positioning
Makes room for the raw and gritty without being a turnoff to the more refined viewership; edgy without going too close (or over) the edge
The series was a phenomenal success. It delivered on its promise and potential, and successfully kickstarted the network’s repositioning.
A good title must name the show with the long term in mind. Unlike a film or a book where the content is defined and finite at its release, a series has a temporal consideration; content will evolve over time, as will the times themselves. Titles that are clever, or that try too hard to get attention at the start, can easily feel dated or irrelevant as time goes on.
The title No Reservations captured the essence — for the series, the host, and the network — both at the time, and through time.