Behind-the-Scenes of Vine Talk, with Executive Producer Bruce Marcus and WNET's Josh Nathan

April 4th, 2011

Bruce Marcus

Inside Thirteen recently spoke with Bruce Marcus, executive producer of Vine Talk, and Josh Nathan, WNET‘s Vice President of Business Development, to discuss how the unique show came to fruition (pardon the pun).

Hosted by Stanley Tucci, Vine Talk features wine experts Ray Isle, Stepahanie Caraway, and Emilie Perrier.  Each episode hosts wine tastings with a new and diverse panel of celebrity guests, from chefs (Lidia Bastianich, Stephen Raichlen, and many others) to actors (including Patricia Clarkson and John Lithgow), and beyond.

Vine Talk premieres Thursday, April 7 at 10:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Inside Thirteen: What was the inspiration behind Vine Talk?

Bruce Marcus: The inspiration really came about by noticing a real void of television programs related to wine that were comforting and welcoming to people.  At the same time, knowing that for years, producers have said they were going to try and deal with that and they just never did – there was always the same type of show with wine experts prancing through the fields of France.  Those are beautiful shows, I’ve produced them, but very few people watch and they certainly don’t sustain themselves over time.  This is an adult entertainment show with a focus on wine – it’s not a wine show.

I think the show can seriously have an impact on wine drinking habits in the United States, and it should.  Wine drinking is becoming more and more popular.  It has a long way to catch up with many countries in the world, and there’s no reason people should be nervous about wine, just because there is a history around it and an academic side.

IT: How are celebrity guests selected for the show?

BM: There are a number of us working together – we work very closely with Stanley Tucci’s production company, OLIVE Productions.  We get a certain number of guests that are known to Stanley, but in general we are looking for a wide range of interesting people.  They don’t have to be Hollywood celebrities.  We’ve had a good share of musicians, we’ve had a poet, writers – we just want a good group that we think will make a good mix at the tasting table.

IT: What is the process for selecting which wines will be featured?

BM: We’re doing everything we can to make it a very credible process.  First, our production staff selected the wine regions for the purpose of attracting a large audience.  Over 80% of the wine purchased in the States actually comes from U.S. vineyards, so we wanted a large percent of the shows to be out of the U.S. wine regions.  After that, we gave certain parameters to the wine associations and asked them to find 25-35 wines within their regions that fit our parameters.  For example, one of the parameters was, for the most part we needed wines that were available in stores – we did not want to go out in front of millions of viewers and have 10 bottles available across the country, because we know it’s going to drive people to want to get these.  We also wanted a good price spread.  The associations were then invited to a selection event in October where we put together independent wine panels that tasted the wines and picked their six favorites of each group of 25 or 30. Our sommeliers did participate, but it was mostly outside people – retailers, distributors, wine-knowledgeable people, and they picked the six for each show.

IT: Can you talk about working with WNET and what the experience has been like using the Tisch/WNET Studios?

BM: We are very fortunate that the timing worked out and perhaps the ideal location for us in New York City was becoming available unbeknownst to us, right at a great crossroads of American culture at Lincoln Center.  It wasn’t the exact physical makeup that we had initially envisioned, but that’s never the case, and we ended up with what we believe is a very effective use of both the upstairs and the downstairs – we like to call it our upstairs cellar, and then the studio audience is down on the first level.  We couldn’t have asked for a better public television partner.  It’s been great working with the WNET and WLIW team, and everyone has been incredibly supportive.

IT: What is your favorite wine?

BM: They keep changing, every few months!  I’m very much into wines from Chile – Chile is not featured in our first season of shows – I got outvoted!

Josh Nathan

Inside Thirteen: What first interested you in Vine Talk?

Josh Nathan: The show grabbed my attention – there’s nothing else on television like this.  It’s an opportunity to have fun and educate at the same time. I think wine is something that needs to be made accessible to people, and I think Public Television’s mission is to make complicated subjects accessible.

Having Stanley Tucci host was an interesting and positive aspect of the show design; rather than having a chef or a wine sommelier be the host of the show, instead you have someone who everybody knows, is very likeable and delightful on the air, and who has an interest in and knowledge of wine. He’s not lecturing, he’s discovering with the audience, and I thought that was just a terrific approach.

IT: To what degree has WNET been involved in the creative process for this show, if at all?

JN: We got involved as soon as Bruce brought the program to us.  He had a format and a layout for how the show was going to work, and we reviewed it, got engaged in refining that format with him and Joe Lacarro, the director.  After the pilot was shot, we got very involved in deciding how to improve the structure of the show.  Neil Shapiro (WNET’s president and CEO), Stephen Segaller (WNET’s VP of Content), and our team watched it, put notes together, and then I sat down with the Vine Talk team and one of the sommeliers, and we restructured the show based on that pilot learning experience. Bruce came up with the concept and the format, but all of our hands were in taking it to the next spot.  The folks at APT screened it as well.  It was a very positive and efficient collaboration, pre-pilot and post-pilot.

IT: What has the experience been like having the show film at the new Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center?

JN: I thought it was genius!  They originally were going to shoot in another space, and I suggested that they look at Lincoln Center and think about the upstairs and the downstairs.  I didn’t really know what their requirements were in terms of layout.  They went over and spent some time in the studio and looked at the space and they came back to me and said they wanted to use the studio because it offered a way to separate the audience from the performance, which they thought would enhance the show.  Now the studio audience can be talking and laughing and enjoying themselves while they watch the taping, without everyone having to be quiet while the show is going on.  It also gives the guests, Stanley Tucci, and Ray Isle an intimate space to work.  The way they transformed the studio was brilliant, and that’s what’s so cool about the Lincoln Center studio – it’s a gem of a space, and I think this show really shows the potential for how much you can do in that space.  It was a pleasant surprise.

IT: What is your favorite wine?

JN: I have a few – it depends on what I’m eating, and the weather.  In the summertime, it can be any number of white wines.  On a really hot summer day as part of a cocktail hour, I’ll serve a rosé.  There’s an Italian wine, Dolcetto d’Alba, a wonderful red wine from Italy, that, whenever I see it on a wine list at a restaurant, it’s always terrific.  For white wine, there’s a Picpoul grape from France that’s fantastic – great with fish, chicken, crackers and cheese.

A fun tip: host a Vine Talk party – screen the show with friends and have your own wine tastings at home!

*In New York, the series’ broadcasts on THIRTEEN and WLIW21 are sponsored by Fairway Market and Fairway Wines and Spirits.