The Medium Rules Episode 4: Finding an Audience with the Creators of Netflix Series Somebody Feed Phil
Podcast Episode 4 Now Live!
The new episode of The Medium Rules is now live on iTunes and on YouTube. Host Alan Baldachin sits down with John Bedolis and Rich Rosenthal of the hit Netflix show Somebody Feed Phil, starring Phil Rosenthal, to discuss the show’s origin story, the show’s migration from PBS to Netflix and finding audience in the world of OTT. This is a great episode, we hope you will listen, watch, subscribe and rate!
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Alan BALDACHIN: From the HBA Podcast studio in New York City, welcome to The Medium Rules. I’m Alan Baldachin.
Joining me today in the HBA Podcast studio are Rich Rosenthal and John Bedolis of the hit Netflix show, Somebody Feed Phil. The show stars Phil Rosenthal, best known as the creator of the long-running and extremely popular network sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond.
This show, Somebody Feed Phil, features Phil onscreen as host and narrator as he travels the great cities of the world seeking authentic culinary experiences and authentic moments of human interaction.
Phil has been dubbed “the boorish Bourdain,” and he brings a very specific sensibility to the show, which is part New York City Jewish outer borough (Phil grew up in Queens), part LA (where Phil lives now with his wife and family) and part Parts Unknown (the Bourdain show) as well as part an ode to human understanding through cooking and eating.
Rich, who is Phil’s brother, is an executive producer, and John is an executive producer and director. Somebody Feed Phil debuted on PBS under the name I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, moved to Netflix after its first season and underwent a name change to Somebody Feed Phil.
In this, its third season and second season on Netflix, the show has found a groove. Somebody Feed Phil is gorgeously shot and produced. It is lively, warm, funny, and entertaining, and it has incredible depth. In a nutshell, Somebody Feed Phil in my opinion delivers the best that the medium of television currently has to offer.
On this podcast, Rich, John, and I will talk about the origin story and evolution of the show and their experiences and observations moving from public network television to the world of Netflix and OTT and talk about finding their audience. I think you’ll enjoy this great conversation.
So with that, let’s get started. John and Rich, welcome to The Medium Rules, and thank you both for being here.
John BEDOLIS: Thanks for having us.
Rich ROSENTHAL: Thanks.
BALDACHIN: Let’s get some basics out of the way. Who came up with the idea for Somebody Feed Phil, at the time I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, and how did it go from an idea to a fully-formed PBS primetime hour of television?
Rich, why don’t I let you take it?
ROSENTHAL: I think Philip has told this story quite a few times, but he was doing Raymond at the time, and during one of the hiatus seasons he asked Ray what he was doing for vacation over hiatus. Ray said, “I’m just going down to Jersey Shore.” Phil said, “Do you ever go overseas? You ever go to Italy?” (which is his ancestry). He said, “No, I’m not really interested in other cultures.” That was the thing, although Phil does it with Ray’s voice.
Phil thought we should really do that show. We should really do that show where Ray goes to Italy.
BALDACHIN: Sort of fish out of water.
ROSENTHAL: Exactly, and not that interested, and comes back really excited about travel and everything that Italy has to offer – which is really what Phil is about. They did the show, and sure enough, that happened to Ray.
BALDACHIN: That was the spark.
ROSENTHAL: That’s where Phil really got the germ of the idea to show people other cultures, other foods, and get them as excited as he is. So that’s how it started.
He’ll say it took – and it probably did – took 10 years for him to actually sell the idea to someone who would buy it. He had a couple of fits and starts. He had done a show for AmEx; he kind of learned what not to do on that one.
Then we ended up selling it to WGBH. I would say it was somewhat fully formed, but you always find each episode in the edit – in other words, what the arc of each show is. I would say that’s where the germ came from.
BALDACHIN: Not to skip ahead, but it’s interesting you say that because the shows now definitely have a consistency, a little bit, in terms of – we’ll talk about that a little bit later, but you have set pieces to some extent.
ROSENTHAL: Right. We always have good research on the restaurants to go to, the best chefs to go to. So we always come in with that, but we always leave room for serendipity. This is what’s so great about the production and John and the DPs that we work with. They understand the show.
The show is yes, we meet people along the way. We meet the chefs and we meet sidekicks and we go to great places to eat and we always have great food, but you never know when you’re going to meet someone at the next table or someone comes up to him or something happens, and that’s kind of where the magic happens.
And then also, we like to put him in situations that he may not be that comfortable in. He likes to be comfortable. Like in Vietnam, we have him in a pond at 4:00 in the morning, looking for lotus roots. That was something that was greatly deliberated. I remember he was like, “How am I going to go in there? Am I going to have a boat?”
BEDOLIS: He doesn’t like to get wet.
ROSENTHAL: He doesn’t like to get wet. He doesn’t like to be uncomfortable in any way, shape, or form. When we do the show, we do the show at the best time of year. That’s because the truth is, we like to show off any city we go to in the best possible light, but also he doesn’t want to be too hot or too cold.
BALDACHIN: That’s so funny.
ROSENTHAL: So any time we can get him in a situation that he’s a little uncomfortable in, it doesn’t always work, but we shoot enough, John shoots enough so we can always leave it out if it’s not great.
BALDACHIN: Spoiler alert on the Dublin episode on the current season. The scene where he goes for the polar swim is unbelievable. He comes out purple, but he’s had this unbelievably fun experience. It just comes out of the TV set at you.
ROSENTHAL: Yeah. And I have to say, that was completely his idea. I remember we were shooting at a restaurant in Dublin. It wasn’t going – I think that’s probably why, because it was a great place in Dublin, the food was delicious, but it wasn’t a great scene. I remember him saying, “You know what we should do? We should go back and I should go swim.”
People always think – there’s nothing we ever do contrived. In other words, that was not planned. We had gone and visited those guys, the Happy Pear guys in Greystones. Phil did not want to get into the water that morning. We offered it up, and sometimes it’s a little too much out of his comfort zone.
But I remember him at the restaurant saying, “We should…” So we just did. We took the entire – I’m sure we completely freaked out our segment producer, but we just left. It was like 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. Went to see him, and God bless him, he did it. It was great.
BEDOLIS: That’s one of the things about the show. Phil has such incredible instincts and writes as he goes, and we help him. It’s the shaping of a story on the fly. He realizes, “oh, this is what’s going to be great.”
BALDACHIN: We digress a little bit, which is fine.
BEDOLIS: We’re not good, but we’re slow. [laughs]
BALDACHIN: That’s fine. I made the comment to John last night, Rich – and John was like, “don’t say that on the podcast,” but I’m a big fan of the Before movies by Linklater. I feel like the show has that picturesque quality of random encounters that lead to these little moments of insight. Like that movie, or like Slacker.
That’s an incredible magic to achieve in a documentary where of course you know what it’s going to be. It’s supposed to be real life. But to have the little moments of human interaction along the way is…
ROSENTHAL: Yeah, and that’s something you never know until you’re there. Like I said, we can do a bunch of research and find the best chef, try to get in with the best chefs and try to find the most interesting sidekicks – and we interview them on Skype beforehand, so we know hopefully there will be some chemistry there.
But the stuff that really jumps out is the stuff we find when we’re there, we’re talking with the locals. People will come over, or he’ll just start up a conversation with someone like this woman in Cape Town that we found in some – not a deli, but –
BEDOLIS: A prepared food store.
ROSENTHAL: It was a prepared food store, and she turned out to be – that was the greatest part of the show, if not one of the best interactions we’ve ever had on the show.
BALDACHIN: From a creative perspective, talk a little bit about the challenges of working and doing a show with PBS.
BEDOLIS: Hm. Well…
BALDACHIN: You’re like “where to begin?” Maybe a little unfair to PBS, but just institutionally, in that box.
BEDOLIS: I think one thing for a place like PBS is that funding is always an issue. We wanted more than anything to do the show, and the resources were a little bit limited. We really had to find a way to get it done with what we had. I don’t want to make it sound like there was nothing, because there was a normal –
BALDACHIN: It’s all relative, too.
BEDOLIS: Yeah. That’s one thing. The other thing was at that time, we were finding the show. The difference between PBS and Netflix is that we’d already done a season of it by the time we got to Netflix. When we were at PBS, we, along with their executive team, were trying to figure out exactly what it was and what we could do with the parameters we had.
ROSENTHAL: Especially in post, I think they were much more concerned about it having a theme and a real strong arc. Some shows could have that, but some shows didn’t.
There’s always something that Philip finds wherever he goes. Like we were talking about before, if he’s in New York, he knows what New York is going to be. It’s going to be his New York. When he’s in Italy, he knows Italy really well. That’s the one place he’s traveled quite a bit.
But when he went to Tokyo in I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, he didn’t know. He had never been to Asia before. But he found what it was, and it was the quietude among the chaos, or the perfection among the chaos in the sushi places and in some of the other places that he found.
Sometimes you do have a strong theme and sometimes you don’t. To us, if it’s entertaining, if it moves, if it still has a nice arc to it and you’re not bored, that’s fine.
They had a much bigger problem. Some of the notes we would get is like – we’d have a nighttime scene and then it would be the next day, and they’d be like, “how do you know it’s the next day?”
BEDOLIS: “Do you want to show the sun coming up?”
BEDOLIS: It was a little too literal.
ROSENTHAL: It was a little bit literal and on the nose. The other thing is that they would have like five or six people giving notes, which for us, who were in the edit, it’s really annoying.
BALDACHIN: You’re experienced producers.
ROSENTHAL: Because you’ve got then conflicting notes because you’re not consolidating the notes. I know this is a little too much, but –
BALDACHIN: No, no, it’s exactly what I’m going after.
ROSENTHAL: If you have five people giving notes and you’re not consolidating, then you’re just looking at a mess of stuff. Almost every beat of the show is being commented on by someone, and you’re like, what notes do we take?
Very early on we said, we take the notes that seem right to us. That was it. And we were really strong about that. That’s the great thing about Philip. He’s had success, so he doesn’t have to – it’s like, “this is the show we want to do, and this is the show we’re going to do.” You can give us all the notes you want, we’re happy to take them, but –
BEDOLIS: We might not do them.
ROSENTHAL: But ultimately we may not do them.
BALDACHIN: We’ll talk about what challenges there are in Netflix, but has that friction gone away? Has that creative space been cleared?
ROSENTHAL: You still get notes. I would just say we get far fewer notes from Netflix, and some of them are very good. We do try to address every note in some way, because we always find that if there is a note, if there is something that’s bothering them, they may not be able to articulate it, but it may be something that we need to look into.
Very often it’s a line or it’s a cut or something like that, and you change it and you realize that you’ve made it better. A lot of times even when we fight, we’ll look at it, and we’ll say a lot of times, “yeah, okay, we can live with that.”
BEDOLIS: Which is a typical thing for any show.
ROSENTHAL: Of course.
BEDOLIS: The one thing I was going to say about our relationship –
BALDACHIN: It can’t be a closed, sealed –
BEDOLIS: No. Networks know their viewership and know their habits and know how your particular show is going to fit into their slate of programming.
BALDACHIN: As a network.
BEDOLIS: Yeah, so they have ideas about how they want it to be. Going back to PBS for a second and WGBH, they had ideas about making a –
BALDACHIN: Certain kind of show.
BEDOLIS: Yeah, with a format that was an accepted format for food and TV shows and maybe a little bit funny. Philip is an incredibly creative guy and has ideas about really crafting comedic scenes.
That didn’t always jive, so we had to figure out ways to make it original while still ticking off the boxes they really wanted us to tick off. Sometimes some of those remained empty. [laughter]
BALDACHIN: Like it or not. I think we’ll pick up that theme, because I think that’s really interesting and telling in terms of the contrast and the evolution of content in the two mediums.
But let’s stay a little bit linear for a moment. Rich, how did the show end up on Netflix? I know Zero Point Zero is part of that story, which is the production company.
ROSENTHAL: Zero Point Zero we actually enlisted early on.
BALDACHIN: They were from the beginning.
ROSENTHAL: From the beginning when we had I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. Obviously they had done No Reservations.
BALDACHIN: Let me pause just because people may not know.
ROSENTHAL: Sorry, yes. It is the production company that Anthony Bourdain –
BALDACHIN: Zero Point Zero Production, New York based. Full disclosure, I work with them, actually.
ROSENTHAL: Yes. So Chris and Lydia, who run ZPZ, and Anthony Bourdain had met a long time ago and had done all of his shows.
BALDACHIN: They did all the Parts Unknown shows.
ROSENTHAL: Right, and because of that we knew they had great boots on the ground everywhere internationally. From a logistics point of view, we knew that they knew great people and we knew it was a great company, and that’s why we went with them.
We did six episodes under I’ll Have What Phil’s Having for PBS. We knew it did very well. It did actually really, really well in its time slot. It won a James Beard Award for Best Food Show.
But then we didn’t know if it was going to get picked up or not, and we wanted to keep moving. We wanted to move ahead. We’ve got crew that we really like; we’ve got post-production that gets the show. You don’t want to lose those people to other things. We wanted to keep moving, and they were just not pulling the trigger.
This was a pretty dragged out process, but eventually we decided to take it to other places. Netflix had already, I think, licensed the show for Netflix. So they had already had it on Netflix.
ROSENTHAL: Which by the way, I think that [was when it] grew exponentially. People seeing the show once it went to Netflix, obviously.
BALDACHIN: Before they actually did a deal for new episodes.
ROSENTHAL: Yes. We had I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, six episodes there.
BEDOLIS: And there was Exporting Raymond even before that.
ROSENTHAL: There was also Exporting Raymond, which is my brother’s documentary about him going to Russia to try to make Everybody Loves Raymond in Russia.
BALDACHIN: Starring Vladimir Putin as Raymond.
ROSENTHAL: Exactly. [laughs]
BEDOLIS: But actually, that’s where some of the conventions that are still in the show now had their beginnings, like the Skype call with Max and Helen.
BALDACHIN: The parents. Which is great. I love that, by the way. I was a fan.
ROSENTHAL: Yeah. That was where Philip said, “Okay, if we do this show, that’s going to be going on every episode.” So we do that every episode. It’s more or less a recap.
Actually, it used to be thought of as like it’ll be, as my brother says, like a postcard back home where we tell them – but it turns into the Max and Helen show every time we do it, because they’re just insane.
BEDOLIS: And they’re automatic every single time. They’ve never let us down. They’re always hilarious.
ROSENTHAL: They’ve never disappointed.
BALDACHIN: Do they rehearse? There’s no setup, there’s no prep?
ROSENTHAL: No. Although I remember my father saying after the first couple, “What are we going to talk about? Because I want to…” I’m like, “No, you’re not going to…” Although I do think my father thinks about jokes before. I think he does.
BALDACHIN: Starting to read his own press, maybe.
ROSENTHAL: Maybe, maybe. But no, they don’t know. And they don’t know we’re calling until a couple of days before we call. I mean, they know we’re going to call. I think my mother dreads it and my father looks forward to it. But I think they both love being recognized on the street. My mom sometimes gets recognized.
BALDACHIN: That’s very sweet.
ROSENTHAL: That she loves, yeah.
BALDACHIN: Very quickly, to wrap up the how you got on Netflix story.
ROSENTHAL: It turned out that WGBH wasn’t going to – I think they were trying to get funds together or something like that to try to get the money. I think PBS was giving half. WGBH was just the affiliate that helps produce the show. They just didn’t put it together.
So we had the opportunity. Netflix wanted it. It took a while, but literally that’s how it got on.
BALDACHIN: For the deal, like literally for the studio to separate –
ROSENTHAL: Yeah, exactly.
BALDACHIN: Then why the change in title?
ROSENTHAL: WGBH didn’t let us have it.
BALDACHIN: Oh, they didn’t?
BALDACHIN: Do you guys prefer the new title?
ROSENTHAL: I think we do now.
BEDOLIS: I do now.
ROSENTHAL: I think it was very hard at first.
BEDOLIS: Titles are hard.
ROSENTHAL: Titles are really hard, and it took us a really long time.
BALDACHIN: And let’s face it, they accrue what we call brand equity. They accrue a personality. The more you let it go…
BEDOLIS: But that’s also something like Bourdain started with A Cook’s Tour and then went to No Reservations and then went to Parts Unknown as he switched networks.
ROSENTHAL: We had that weird story where Philip and I were in – I think it was Nancy Silverton’s daughter who came up with the title I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, and she called him to ask about the title. Philip and I were sitting at Katz’s Deli. We were sitting at the famous table where he said “I’ll have what she’s having.”
BALDACHIN: From When Harry Met Sally.
ROSENTHAL: Literally, we were sitting at that table when she called with the idea for the show. We were like, okay, we’ve got to do that. That’s the name.
BALDACHIN: No one acted out the fake orgasm scene?
ROSENTHAL: Although the hot dogs were very good.
BALDACHIN: Talk a little bit about how the additional budget has made certain creative decisions and differences possible and how that’s impacted how you guys make the show.
ROSENTHAL: John embezzles half of his.
BEDOLIS: Yes. [laughs] The difference is I’m much more comfortable.
BALDACHIN: Exactly. And drive a Bentley.
BEDOLIS: Look, Netflix is a juggernaut. It’s redefining the TV industry. We are the happy beneficiaries of their success, to a certain extent, at this point. The budget increased significantly, which allowed us to do things like add a couple more shoot days, which is really important for us for a number of reasons.
Probably the most important factor there is that it allowed us to leave room for what we were talking about before, which is the serendipity of meeting somebody we didn’t plan on or hearing about something when we’re there that we didn’t plan on, and having the time to be able to go back and do that and the time to be able to do what we did in the Dublin episode, for instance, that we were talking about earlier.
ROSENTHAL: And also to leave out scenes. You shoot for eight days, and you can’t fit everything in, so you really get to cull the best scenes that you have, the best moments that you have. That’s really a luxury for us.
Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes the chemistry is not there or something like that, and it just doesn’t work. So it’s nice to be able to leave a couple of scenes on the table.
BEDOLIS: Absolutely. The other big thing for us is the photography and building out a sense of place by shooting the little transitional scenes, which we call essays, to try to help really build out the portrait of the place where Philip is. That takes time.
So that’s part of it, and the other part is in post-production, giving us a little bit more time to craft the shows. You had mentioned you felt like the shows maybe were a little tighter. Maybe they’re a little bit more dynamic than they have been in the past, or at least it’s been an evolution.
Part of that is because Philip has the time to pay incredibly close attention to everything and to write to the footage that we’ve gotten and to build it out and make it great.
BALDACHIN: The show to me has somewhat of a touristic feel.
BALDACHIN: That’s obviously a credit to the creative team, but obviously it’s a credit to Phil’s sensibility. How involved was Phil in the transition from PBS to Netflix? Does he feel that he’s got more space to be the auteur with respect to his show?
ROSENTHAL: I think he always felt it was his sensibility. Whoever it is, whether it was PBS or Netflix, we send them a rough cut. We don’t send it unless we’re happy with it – and when I say “we,” when Philip is happy with it.
We have the advantage that I know Philip’s sensibility, so when we’re doing the edit and we’re getting it to a pretty decent shape, I pretty much know what he’s going to like. We have a couple of scenes – we always keep it a little long, but within scene and also maybe some extra scenes, “What do you think of this?” kind of thing.
But even in the edit, I’m always thinking about Philip’s sensibility. It is definitely his. It’s fortunate that Philip and I, and to a large extent John, have a similar sensibility.
BALDACHIN: You’re all rowing in the same direction.
ROSENTHAL: Especially after 18 shows, we really know what the show is about. It gets easier for us, in which case it gets easier for Philip. The first six, his involvement in the edit was many days, if not weeks. We’ve culled that down, and now –
BEDOLIS: We get it a lot closer for him.
ROSENTHAL: We get a lot closer.
BALDACHIN: In part what I think I mean, as I listen to you speak, is – is there anything to the idea that because you’re at Netflix and because there’s so many more shows, and there’s no pressure, as you indicated, in terms of a certain format and a certain show they want, that there’s just a more relaxed approach? Which is “I’m just going to do whatever I want, whatever works for this creative team.”
ROSENTHAL: I will say one thing, which is that with PBS you had to do 55 minutes. Or what was it, 52 minutes? I forget what it was.
BEDOLIS: Yeah, they have very strict formatting.
ROSENTHAL: There is something to be said for that. Let’s say our Cape Town show – I think it’s probably less than 50 minutes or something.
BEDOLIS: It’s the shortest one, yeah.
ROSENTHAL: Again, that’s a luxury, because you only want to put in the stuff that you really like.
BEDOLIS: You don’t want to have to compress it or stretch it to the time.
ROSENTHAL: New York is over an hour, just because we –
BALDACHIN: And it didn’t feel long?
ROSENTHAL: Hopefully that’s the case.
BEDOLIS: You tell us. [laughs]
BALDACHIN: No, it didn’t.
ROSENTHAL: But hopefully that’s the case. That is huge. The ability to deliver something anywhere between 45 minutes and 1 hour 5 minutes or 1 hour 10 minutes – we usually don’t like to go much over that – that is a luxury.
BEDOLIS: They also really respect Philip, I think. Getting back to the whole auteurship thing, for me it’s like a masterclass working with him, both on location and in the edit room. I feel it every day. He’s a brilliant guy and a nice guy. Are you listening, Phil?
BALDACHIN: You’re in love.
BEDOLIS: I am in love. I really do love the guy.
ROSENTHAL: It makes me a little sick.
BEDOLIS: But I’d like to say a couple things. One is that he really understands the physics of his own comedy. His instinct is there, and we’re all following his instinct. That goes for everybody there.
The other thing I like to say is that as a director, I feel like my number one responsibility is to set the table for him, as it were, not get in his way, be there to make sure we’ve got the coverage of him, and not miss a beautiful moment, whether it’s funny or poignant. That’s my number one goal. It really is all in service of his vision and his instinct.
The other thing, getting back to Netflix, is that I think because they’re so big and because they’re eating the world in a way, and they have so many different types of programming – it’s not like you’re at a network that’s a little bit more narrow and has a little bit more of a goal in terms of their audience to serve them exactly one way. There’s room to be a little bit more genre…
BEDOLIS: Yeah, or not. There’s a way to be in between genres. There’s a way to push a little bit more and be a little bit less defined. I think that’s a nice freedom to have.
BALDACHIN: In terms of audience, you’re going to get a wide berth, but you’re going to find the people who are going to like you are going to really like you.
ROSENTHAL: That’s right.
BALDACHIN: You can sort of build out. My impression, anecdotally, is that the show has really found its audience, and that audience is building.
ROSENTHAL: Yeah. I think anecdotally – because again, we don’t know –
BALDACHIN: Let’s talk about that. People may not know.
ROSENTHAL: Yeah, Netflix doesn’t share data with us.
BALDACHIN: It’s not just you. It’s with no show creators. Which is probably good and bad at the same time. You’d like it for business reasons, but…
ROSENTHAL: I mean, you kind of want to know. And if you think about it as far as negotiating –
BALDACHIN: Yeah, that’s why I say from a business perspective you would want to know, of course.
ROSENTHAL: You would want to know your relative value. But we do notice anecdotally – Philip and I were just in Chicago last week, and the number of people who stop seems exponential.
BALDACHIN: On the rise.
ROSENTHAL: Yes. The number of chefs who know of him, being stopped on the street, it’s different. It feels different.
BEDOLIS: The response to screenings that we’ve had. They sell out very quickly.
ROSENTHAL: Yeah. It’s different.
BALDACHIN: Just anecdotally, there was recently an event at the JCC Manhattan. I’ve been to many events there, and I’ve never seen it sold out. I’ve never seen it standing room only. It was standing room only.
ROSENTHAL: That was John and myself, standing in the back. [laughter] Yeah, it’s been great.
BALDACHIN: One of the things I love about the show is that you guys linger on scenes and moments.
ROSENTHAL: Very purposefully. Again, we don’t want to cut away. We want everything to play out. Philip did the same thing on Raymond. If you ever watch episodes of that, it’s very often you stay on the reaction after the joke.
BALDACHIN: In Raymond?
ROSENTHAL: Yeah, because it just builds the humor.
I remember even in the first episode we ever cut in Barcelona at El Quim, which is a breakfast place – I remember there was an interaction with a couple next to him, and Philip did not want to cut. We ended up cutting a little bit because it got a little – but we really try to let everything play out.
BALDACHIN: Let it breathe. That’s a very indie sensibility.
ROSENTHAL: Especially if it’s funny. That’s very against everything – most things that happen in the world.
BEDOLIS: Feel the real time and the hesitation of somebody.
ROSENTHAL: It’s very purposeful.
BALDACHIN: It really is human, and what I mean by that is – and I’m obviously a little bit of a fanboy of the show, but I think you guys have creatively raised the filming of the breakfast party, lunch party, and especially dinner party to an art form.
There are these set pieces of the meals, and often the people at the dinner party, let’s say, in Venice or in Dublin or in New York or Hong Kong, don’t really know each other that well.
Then you see the relationship – everyone’s guard goes down, everyone becomes more themselves, the wine is poured, and by the end of it, the warmth oozes out. And the camera is there for the whole thing.
ROSENTHAL: Right. That also happened first episode. That was when we did the rooftop. Philip did not want to go there. He really didn’t, because he was uncomfortable, just like he is in real life. All we’re doing is filming him traveling around the world. It’s not a character. There’s very little contrived except for “okay, we’re going to go to this rooftop dinner party where you don’t know anyone.”
So he was immediately out of his comfort zone. It was awkward. Hopefully you get that in the beginning. But that’s what it was like. He was awkward. And then eventually, like you said, the wine flows, the food is amazing, the people are lovely, and it turns into this like “holy crap.”
BALDACHIN: Amazing experience.
ROSENTHAL: It turns into this amazing experience.
BALDACHIN: Which he clearly experiences.
ROSENTHAL: And by the way, we have shot – not that many, but we’ve probably shot a couple of scenes like that that didn’t work.
BALDACHIN: I can imagine.
ROSENTHAL: As Philip always says, “Why would we show that? We want you to go to the place.” The truth is, it doesn’t happen that often. It really doesn’t happen that often.
BEDOLIS: Yeah, our ratio is kind of crazy. We leave just a few things.
ROSENTHAL: He puts himself out there. He’s really funny. He really likes meeting people. So it almost always works out.
BALDACHIN: To give you guys credit, the crew credit, the creative team credit, but the entire crew feels like there’s a family experience, and Phil brings you guys into the scenes at times. I think that gives an incredible warmth. My sense would be that the warmth and closeness of the crew in those scenes adds to everyone else having a great time.
BEDOLIS: He creates that for us. Everybody feels it, and it’s really so much fun to do. We feel the love, and it hopefully comes out.
ROSENTHAL: Everywhere. Going back to some scenes that work/don’t work, I remember the egg cream scene in Tokyo. It was deadly. That scene was a little deadly. He was with the family of a sushi chef – lovely, lovely people, but that scene was going nowhere.
BEDOLIS: There was a big communication gap because they didn’t speak the same language.
ROSENTHAL: There was a big communication gap. The food was like – he was eating pond – what was it?
ROSENTHAL: Pond loach.
BEDOLIS: Which are not particularly appetizing to Western people.
ROSENTHAL: Not to us, yeah.
BALDACHIN: You should’ve done your John Belushi Samurai Sandwich routine.
ROSENTHAL: I do remember Philip giving me the look like, “When are we going to get out of here?” I think John and I had a conversation, and John was like, “We don’t really have it yet. Let’s give it five minutes.”
Then all of a sudden, it turned into this – again, to Philip’s credit – they brought up a family tradition that they do every Sunday. Philip says, “Our family tradition is egg cream.” Philip turns to us and says, “Do you think we can…”
BEDOLIS: We’re in Tokyo. We can find it somewhere.
ROSENTHAL: We’re in Tokyo, I think we can find milk and chocolate syrup. He does this egg cream thing, and it’s fantastic. Maybe next time it doesn’t work out that way, but again, sometimes you have to push him out of his comfort zone a little, or John will just say “No, we’ve got to hang out a little longer.”
BEDOLIS: And that took the family out of their comfort zone, like Philip was taken out of his comfort zone with their pond loach. It became this reversal, and they were so cute. Most of them thought it was disgusting, except for the father, who wanted another one.
ROSENTHAL: The father just loved it.
BEDOLIS: So that’s perfect.
BALDACHIN: I was going to say how do you guys collaborate creatively, but that’s it. That’s what it sounds like. You come in, you have the same sensibility, you’ve been together for a long time now, and on the fly these things just happen, I guess.
BEDOLIS: And they become tropes for us. Obviously there’s Helen and Max, who are in every show, but the egg creams made a comeback – and I don’t want to ruin the show for anybody, but if you watch the New York episode.
ROSENTHAL: Egg creams always make a comeback.
BEDOLIS: Yeah. I would imagine that if we’re lucky enough to do more of these, that they’ll come back again.
ROSENTHAL: Again, there’s a lot of writing on the show. It’s not a written show, but obviously Philip is writing in his head when he’s talking to people. He writes again when we do interviews, which are just us bouncing questions off of him. And then he writes in the VO after the show.
Those are all opportunities to make the show better and funnier and more entertaining, so he does quite a bit of writing on the show.
BALDACHIN: How long do you think Phil wants to do this?
BALDACHIN: Okay, that’s the answer.
ROSENTHAL: He doesn’t always seem like it, but he does.
BEDOLIS: It’s really fun, and I think he really is having fun.
BALDACHIN: I’ve been privately pushing John, you’ve got to do a city in Canada. Maybe Toronto.
ROSENTHAL: Oh, definitely. We were thinking Montreal, but maybe Toronto. We’re definitely doing Chicago.
BEDOLIS: Recently, it’s funny – in terms of trying to measure how the show is doing, social media obviously is a big feedback for us. We get more and more people saying “Please come to our country, please come to our city,” and recently it’s been Canada.
BALDACHIN: Canadians love it.
BEDOLIS: A whole bunch of Canadians have been asking us to come.
ROSENTHAL: And Brazil.
BALDACHIN: And Brazilians. That’s a somewhat random twinning of cultures, but yeah.
ROSENTHAL: I don’t know why. Although I remember talking to someone at Tastemade, and they said their second biggest market is Brazil. I have no idea why, but they’re very into food.
BALDACHIN: That’s a future podcast in the making.
ROSENTHAL: I know Netflix would love us to go back to South America, so we’ll definitely do Rio or Sao Paolo.
BALDACHIN: John, obviously on Netflix it’s not the traditional television distribution model either. Can you talk a little bit about that difference going from network to Netflix, and how that might also impact how you think about audience?
BEDOLIS: This isn’t really my area of expertise particularly, but the way that content creators make deals with someone like Netflix is very different because they’re in 190 countries.
When your show is released, I think it typically releases to all of them at the same time. It’s already been versioned, they’ve already done subtitles in many different languages and some dubbing in different languages.
What that does to the deal is there’s no ancillary markers. There’s no backend, obviously. There’s no home video. All that stuff needs to be figured in. I think typically it’s a buyout, and that’s the way it works. But that’s one of the major differences, I think, for content creators working with a place like Netflix.
BALDACHIN: That’s different, obviously. From the perspective of building your audience, do you think that’s better or worse?
BEDOLIS: That’s an interesting question. I think it’s really cool to all of a sudden be worldwide.
BALDACHIN: I would think so.
BEDOLIS: Especially for a show like ours. I think it was one of the things that Netflix found attractive about us. We are an international show, we do go everywhere, or a lot of places, so it makes a lot of sense. They are also in those markets, so there’s a cross-promotional value for them.
From a creative standpoint, it’s great to just get things out to as many people as possible and to be able to start to get feedback.
BALDACHIN: That must be a great feeling.
ROSENTHAL: It’s amazing.
BALDACHIN: To wake up the next day and you’re all over the world.
ROSENTHAL: Oh yeah. But it will also be nice when we travel next, to have people – because even when we were in Venice, people came up. It’s just nice. It’s really nice.
BEDOLIS: Yeah, feedback.
ROSENTHAL: And it actually feeds into the show and lets Philip make contact with more and more people as we travel around the world. It’s pretty amazing.
BEDOLIS: The one funny thing is, one of the demographics that the show seems to appeal to the most is older folks, because Max and Helen have a huge following. Not that it’s just older folks; everybody loves them.
But sometimes I think we get concerned that some people who want to watch the show haven’t yet learned how to use Netflix and internet-enabled television. A part of our audience needs to be educated how to access the show. [laughs] But I think that’s all changing pretty quickly.
BALDACHIN: As a creative team, are you thinking of any other shows, any other projects?
BEDOLIS: I would just say that as we travel the world, we meet certain people who are wonderful and who beg maybe a little bit more attention, and leave it at that.
ROSENTHAL: Happy people.
BALDACHIN: Give me this: narrative or doc style?
ROSENTHAL: I think similar type things, but maybe with a different bent. But keeping within happy people doing happy things.
BALDACHIN: How beautiful is it to be – who knows what works out, but to be at Netflix, where you can imagine that you would have the freedom to try something else, in a way.
ROSENTHAL: Yeah. It’s still hard to –
BALDACHIN: Sure, they’ve got to green light it.
ROSENTHAL: They still have to green light and you still have to pitch it. But the advantage of doing it there is that when they really like something, they get behind it. You get a number of episodes. You don’t have to worry about writing it and then doing a pilot and then hoping it gets into the schedule and all of that stuff.
BALDACHIN: And also you can build audience a little more – obviously you need audience, but it’s not like “Oh my God, if we do this and we don’t have this rating, we’re done. We’re so done.” There’s a long tail that you have to build.
ROSENTHAL: Yeah. I think they have the metrics in their head, how many people versus the cost of the show. I’m sure that factors into everything they do. But yeah, it’s certainly freeing.
BALDACHIN: Listen, guys, this has been fantastic. I really appreciate your coming in. We’ll be watching. Thanks very much.
ROSENTHAL: Wonderful. Thanks for having us.
BEDOLIS: Hey, thanks for having us, Alan.
BALDACHIN: Thanks, guys.
That’s a wrap on this episode of The Medium Rules with Alan Baldachin. For more information, go to our website at www.hballp.com. You can also follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and don’t forget to rate us on Apple Podcasts.