I was Anthony Bourdain's 'censor' at CNN

I was Anthony Bourdain's "censor" at CNN.No, we don't really have "censors," per se, at CNN -- we hav...

Posted: Sep 25, 2018 9:30 AM
Updated: Sep 25, 2018 9:30 AM

I was Anthony Bourdain's "censor" at CNN.

No, we don't really have "censors," per se, at CNN -- we have Standards and Practices. I was the lucky one in our department to review "Parts Unknown" for things like graphic language or pictures, political bent or historical tweaking.

Anthony Bourdain

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I never met him. I never even spoke to him. I didn't have to. He spoke to me, and everyone else, through his work.

As a former documentarian, I especially appreciated the sheer beauty of his programs, and the talents of his team. I was blown away by the photography, the direction, the editing and, of course, the writing.

As many have remarked, Bourdain had a very distinctive voice. As a writer for "60 Minutes," I did preliminary scripts for the likes of Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer. I tried to hear their voices in my head as I wrote those initial tracks. I don't think I could have done that for Anthony Bourdain. His voice was too personal ... so visceral. I didn't know how he felt about what he was experiencing. Only he could tell us.

Tony -- and I think of him that way rather than by his formal name -- spoke plainly. Writers like him don't write to impress, they don't try to write poetry, and they don't even think about the impact their words will have. They write to share their experience as they are experiencing it -- not as a travelogue, but more trying to put you there with them. They can tell us what they see and hear and smell and taste and in a way that is organic.

For someone used to dealing with what news standards should be for our network, trying to find the "bar" for "Parts Unknown" was its own journey.

It's well known that Tony was profane. This was something new for CNN. We had hired him wanting him and everything that went along with it. But even though CNN is cable, it is also a brand. It's the most widely respected news network in the world, our viewers tell us, and we really don't want profane vernacular coming out of our anchors' mouths.

But we hired Tony to be Tony. Dilemma. So someone came up with the arbitrary "two shits per show." F-words were verboten and muted, although of course you could see what was being said. Tony joked about the "two shits" rule on late night TV and said he was negotiating for three for the next season.

I have to say, I eventually gave up on the "shits." But those weren't the biggest problem.

Tony loved talking about genitals. Mostly his. "Be careful after eating spicy foods to wash your hands before relieving yourself" was his favorite. Various bugs and reptiles climbing up his pants and endangering the jewels was another. Then there was the show where people were leaping in ponds and having to spend the rest of the day with "moist nuts."

Whenever the opportunity presented itself, Tony made sure you knew how his body functions were impacted. On a trip to the French Alps with his good buddy and fellow chef Eric Ripert, where both of them ate copious amounts of cheese fondue, Tony warned Eric that he would be having large, concrete-like bowel movements.

I learned that "crap" and "shit" were different. Who knew?

For one of the last episodes, about the Lower East Side of New York, I paid no attention to the "shits" uttered by Tony and his various guests. The multiple f-words, uttered equally by Tony and his dinner companions, would be muted.

But in this episode, Tony's guests were, hard to believe, more profane than he was. They told tales of 60's NYC and the very gritty art and music scene. A lunch companion, guest/singer/performer Lydia Lunch, spoke plainly about what it took to make it in the 60's -- hand jobs under the table to get her band to Europe. And that's one of her milder utterances. And millennials think they invented shock value. Let's just say "let it all hang out" wasn't a metaphor.

The producers at Zero Point Zero and I had many discussions over the dispatching of animals. I've since read what Tony wrote about that, and I wished I'd read it before. He was on the record as saying after he killed his first pig with a spear, which he felt obligated to do, having ordered the execution of many, many animals as a chef, he felt it was hypocritical not to show where our food comes from.

Again, cable is not necessarily cable news. I am an animal lover and admittedly in denial about continuing to eat meat while I can't stand the thought, let alone the sight, of killing animals. I didn't feel our audience was ready for Tony's level of reality. I challenged his executive producer with the question, "Would Tony want to bring a cow out to his dinner guests to see its butchering?" We compromised, but not much.

Of course, Tony was very, very funny. We had to seek a middle ground in many areas, especially politics. In one episode, Tony described a particularly disgusting-sounding food he tried somewhere in Africa as being so good he would "eat it out of Chris Christie's jock on a hot summer day." Besides the fact that, at the time, Christie was a sitting governor and a presidential candidate, there was the TMI factor. Then the "fat joke" factor. I have the fortunate alternative of kicking these decisions to the next level. It passed, under the "let Tony be Tony" rule.

Tony seemed to love all things shocking, not really a surprise given his personal journey, because after all, what was really shocking to him? In an episode on Tokyo, he reveled in following a couple who "taught" bondage. There were many extended scenes of "fun with ropes" that rubbed my bosses the wrong way -- if you'll forgive the pun -- but Tony loved it.

My responsibilities included looking at several cuts of each program -- rough cut, fine cut, picture lock. I actually needed to look at all the cuts because I was convinced Tony (or maybe his producers?) loved playing the game of "what else can I sneak in here that standards might miss on the second cut." Blurs needed to be checked and rechecked. Was there anything new? I'm sure I was just paranoid ... maybe.

One of my favorite challenges over the past five years was an episode on Chicago, where Tony visited a bar whose owner was also a painter. His work was primarily of political icons. One such painting was of Sarah Palin, naked, holding a shotgun, with a turkey being dispatched behind her. Uh. No. Please cover the vice presidential candidate's private parts. Made me think the show might be called "Private Parts Unknown."

Like his viewers, I fell in love with Tony. He was a brilliant writer and storyteller, and you saw his toughness and sensed his vulnerability. His team at ZPZ are the most gifted filmmakers I have seen in a long, long time. His shows were brilliantly shot, directed and edited, always. His writing was poetry, although his friends say he denied being a poet.

I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate and will miss my small part in this program. And my small connection with one of the most brilliant storytellers of our generation. I will miss his voice. I already miss his voice.

I have no claim to being more distraught over Tony's passing than any of his fans, and not in the same league as those who knew and worked with him. But like those who did know him well, I am really angry at his loss, and deeply sad. His kind won't come our way again.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 750432

Reported Deaths: 13764
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1031991782
Lake556411007
Allen41662691
St. Joseph36974564
Hamilton36561417
Elkhart29390459
Tippecanoe22886225
Vanderburgh22549400
Porter19348325
Johnson18432388
Hendricks17608317
Clark13206193
Madison13139344
Vigo12608253
LaPorte12415221
Monroe12188175
Delaware10954198
Howard10285225
Kosciusko9619119
Hancock8562145
Bartholomew8164157
Warrick7856156
Floyd7781180
Grant7232179
Wayne7160201
Boone6939103
Morgan6746141
Dubois6214118
Marshall6208116
Cass6000109
Dearborn589578
Henry5895109
Noble580787
Jackson508975
Shelby500896
Lawrence4738122
Gibson444593
Clinton441455
Harrison441073
DeKalb439485
Montgomery436390
Whitley406343
Huntington402481
Steuben399759
Miami393169
Jasper387454
Knox375890
Putnam372160
Wabash360683
Ripley346970
Adams345355
Jefferson335785
White331553
Daviess3033100
Wells295181
Decatur289992
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey273835
LaGrange273072
Scott270156
Clay266448
Washington245234
Randolph244783
Jennings235349
Spencer234431
Starke227958
Fountain220348
Sullivan214343
Owen211658
Fulton202142
Jay200932
Carroll193420
Orange188155
Perry187137
Rush175826
Vermillion174644
Franklin170335
Tipton166146
Parke149316
Pike138234
Blackford136232
Pulaski120547
Newton113736
Brown104043
Crawford102316
Benton101414
Martin91615
Warren83815
Switzerland8118
Union72810
Ohio57811
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1108146

Reported Deaths: 20122
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1286421460
Cuyahoga1157382208
Hamilton813551248
Montgomery525311041
Summit48395999
Lucas43343818
Butler38951604
Stark33318929
Lorain25658504
Warren24580303
Mahoning22355603
Lake21166387
Clermont20111253
Delaware18841135
Licking16660222
Fairfield16570204
Trumbull16537482
Medina15603271
Greene15272247
Clark14233306
Wood13287198
Portage13242214
Allen11910239
Richland11601211
Miami10843224
Wayne9130222
Columbiana9029230
Muskingum8906135
Pickaway8658122
Tuscarawas8643248
Marion8641138
Erie8056164
Ashtabula7147179
Hancock6996132
Ross6943161
Geauga6834150
Scioto6534105
Belmont6155174
Union584549
Lawrence5726102
Jefferson5675158
Huron5544122
Sandusky5439125
Darke5415129
Seneca5347126
Washington5318109
Athens523660
Auglaize501887
Mercer487385
Shelby476595
Knox4570112
Madison444065
Ashland435597
Putnam4336103
Defiance432298
Fulton432072
Crawford4036110
Brown402461
Logan387577
Preble3848104
Clinton379166
Ottawa373581
Highland359665
Williams348078
Champaign344258
Guernsey324853
Jackson318154
Perry297350
Morrow291840
Fayette285450
Hardin274965
Henry273367
Holmes2699101
Coshocton268960
Van Wert247264
Adams243156
Pike242835
Gallia240750
Wyandot234556
Hocking220162
Carroll197148
Paulding176542
Meigs148240
Monroe136344
Noble136039
Harrison114138
Morgan109624
Vinton85517
Unassigned03
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