Harvey Gold sees a significant food void on television.
Sure, there are plenty of wacky, offbeat shows.
A guy eating bizarre food.
Two guys eating fiery food.
And pastry chefs trying to create the ideal cupcake.
But Gold, a longtime television producer, and many others want to see a regular program starring arguably the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world: beer.
Despite its popularity — Americans down more than 20 gallons per person each year — beer has yet to break through as a star of its own series, instead being cast in a supporting role or being featured only in specials. That’s bound to change at some point, TV producers and beer industry experts believe, because of the country’s growing love affair with craft beer.
“America’s greatest export as an industry is pop culture, and craft beer is starting to move into the popular culture,” said Gold, a member of the 1970s Akron rock band Tin Huey and a Bath Township resident.
His New York City-based production company Gold Teleproductions is developing a half-hour travel and educational program devoted to beer. He plans to pitch the show, called Wash It Down, to cable networks. (Gold also runs the website Your Beer Network, http://your beernetwork.com/).
Scott Martin Brooks, best known for the Budweiser “Whassup?” commercials, signed on to serve as the host. In addition to focusing on beer and food, the show will explore the history and stories behind breweries.
Gold selected Church Brew Works, a brewery set inside a gorgeous former Catholic church in Pittsburgh, to feature in the condensed pitch episode. He envisions each episode highlighting two breweries.
“When I see good programming, I start salivating,” Gold said about what he’s trying to accomplish with the show. “And I start getting hungry. And I start getting thirsty. We refer to it as food porn and beer porn.”
So why isn’t there a program focusing on beer now?
“That’s one question I’ve been trying to figure out for five years,” said Julia Herz, craft beer coordinator for the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo. “I’m excited to know that answer.”
Matt Cole, the award-winning brewer and co-owner of Fat Head’s Brewery & Saloon in North Olmsted, added: “I’ve wondered that myself. There’s no question that the industry is getting shortchanged on that.”
There are plenty of potential reasons, including a possible reluctance by networks and advertisers to be viewed as promoting irresponsible drinking.
Then there’s the question of whether there’s even enough interest to warrant a show that would focus on small craft breweries. Craft beer has seen phenomenal growth in sales and interest over the last few years, but it remains a tiny sliver — 5.68 percent — of the overall beer market.
The vast majority of U.S. beer drinkers are still sipping national brands such as Budweiser, Miller and Coors. Would those folks watch?
The Discovery Channel show Brew Masters featuring Dogfish Head brewer Sam Calagione was a major disappointment after debuting in late 2010 and it wasn’t renewed after six episodes. Calagione couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.
“It was maybe too scripted and wasn’t a beer show,” said Lew Bryson, a beer writer and blogger from Pennsylvania whose own television show American Beer Blogger recently was broadcast on the Bethlehem/Lehigh Valley PBS affiliate. “It was The Amazing Race for beer. I think people were tuning in and looking for more of a beer show. We’re going to fumble at it for a while.”
The Brew Masters failure will make it more difficult for television executives to greenlight another beer-focused program because networks keep an eye on each other and copy successful formulas, industry insiders said. That’s why there are multiple shows about pastries, tattoo parlors and storage lockers.
It’s not that people aren’t trying to get a beer show on television. There’s no shortage of pitches, including one that pits brewers against each other a la Iron Chef.
And it’s not that beer is not on television at all.
“We’ve covered beer in a variety of ways through our programming, including being featured on Iron Chef America, Chopped and most recently on a special for Cooking Channel called Eat This, Drink That,” said Bob Tuschman, general manager/senior vice president programming and production for the Food Network and Cooking Channel. “While we’re constantly exploring all culinary subject matters, like with any television series, it’s about finding the right format for the topic.”
The only show that regularly features craft beer is Drinking Made Easy, a program on the little-watched HDNet network. The show highlights locally made beer, wine and liquor in various communities. But it’s also part drinking game and about over-indulging. Its charm revolves around host Zane Lamprey and sidekick Steve McKenna.
Successful reality TV shows are driven by the personalities of the stars, insiders said.
“The first [successful beer] show will be entertaining first and be about beer second,” predicted Paul Leone, a producer with http://beeramerica.tv.
He’s developed a show called Beer America. It’s an eight-episode hourlong series that follows six craft brewers as they enter the Great American Beer Festival. The show is being pitched to networks.
“If somebody is bold enough, it’ll be on TV. Then everybody will have one,” Leone said. “It’s just a matter of time.”