(SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM FOR THE VIDEO)
Back in 2011 I had an idea for an unscripted creative cocktail TV show that I hoped would satisfy a number of people for a number of reasons;
- The Canadian Television Industry, because it was a low-budget concept that could potentially turn a high revenue, especially considering the room for licensing and syndication that seemed natural within the framework of the show;
- The Hugely-Successful Bar Industry – not only here in Toronto but in many metropolitan cities around the world – who were seeing plenty of projects that showcased the creativity that exists in the kitchen, but nothing that reflected the imaginations they had behind the wood, eagerly trying to introduce a clientele to options other than just the classic Old Fashioneds, Cosmopolitans, and Negronis (not that there’s anything wrong with those);
- The Alcohol Industry, which maintains a fantastically healthy marketing budget and is always looking for something new and cool to do in order to increase brand awareness, thereby setting the stage for a perfect ‘branded content’ show, which, considering the atmosphere of a bar, would allow for organic product placement that most wouldn’t recognize and that definitely wouldn’t be offensive, and;
- Myself, most importantly. A show I could feel proud of, since I had quickly become more and more interested in trying new cocktails and discovering new bars – and especially since I’ve always thought I’d make a great mixologist in another life – and that I felt further satisfied the Canadian Television Industry’s mandate of “give me the same but different”.
Everybody’s seen a creative cooking show. There are so many these days that the concepts are getting more and more niche; we have entire shows that focus on specific ingredients, for example. And yet, despite the plethora of options for this kind of show, I hadn’t seen anything that explored the vast and captivating world of cocktails. And I was confused as to why; I figured there must be people out there like me who wanted something to wash down all those food shows.
I believe the same limitless potential that exists inside the kitchen also exists behind the bar, but that many people are comfortable sticking with their tried-and-true staples. But I also believe that, with the right expertise and a little creativity, you can discover incredible new cocktails that tickle your taste-buds in ways you wouldn’t have thought before.
In The Mix aimed to take skilled bartenders, put them through creative challenges – providing them with mandatory ingredients, access to a fully-stocked back-bar with alcohol, syrups, bitters, and garnishes – and see what creative new concoctions they could come up with. At the least, I’d hoped that everyone from weekend warriors to industry idols would be inspired to follow or adapt the recipes they’d seen in the program and serve the libations at their own digs. At best, I’d imagined myself five or ten years from now, sitting at a bar in London, Shanghai, or Vegas, and ordering a cocktail that got its start on my show.
So, after a couple years of planning, I was able to source a small budget and film something in 2013, which is what you’ll see at the bottom of this post. I cold-called different Canadian craft distilleries and got a lot of product donated because they believed in the project and wanted to be a part of it. I researched for months and eventually found and contacted the best host, judges, and contestants I could find, who were happy to donate their time because they believed in the project and wanted to be a part of it. I had the generous help of truly magnificent people – to whom I will forever be grateful – who believed in the project. They gave their time, effort, and a tremendous amount of expertise to help me pull something off that I never thought I’d be able to do, and in a way that surprised even myself. There were times, even during the production, that I thought I was way out of my league in terms of what I was trying to do, but the support of everyone around me – and their belief in the project – gave me the courage and energy I needed to finish it.
I took the show to all the Canadian networks that I felt could give it the best home and, unfortunately, none of them were interested – mainly because of the alcohol component. Prior to pitching the networks, I had spoken with people at the CRTC and the CBSC (who assured me that, while alcohol consumption cannot be shown in commercials, there were no rules or regulations that prevented it from being shown on a television program), and even people at MADD (who assured me that so long as I didn’t show people drinking and driving, they had no qualms with the idea). After all, they show (fake) drinking on Cheers, real drinking on Dragon’s Den, and I’d argue that Jersey Shore promotes irresponsible drinking far more than my show does, and alcohol isn’t even the central theme of Jersey Shore (at least not officially).
Regardless, I was still met with hesitancy; Canadian networks, for primarily financial reasons, are simply less capable of taking risks on concepts like this. And, despite my partnerships with several different production companies to try and sell the show or any attempts to do so on my own, I was unable to get in touch with any appropriate parties in development at American networks that are better suited to trying riskier content from unheard-of producers.
Until now, I’d also been hesitant to release the show online – not because I’m ashamed of it, but because, since there’s nothing inherently proprietary about it, there was nothing stopping another production company with a bigger budget and better connections from adapting it and taking it for themselves. I would have been happy to release a six-episode season online, too, but I only had enough funds to make the pilot, and I can’t pay my camera crew in booze (although, if I did, they’d at least have something to drink when they get evicted after their rent cheques bounce). But there’s a part of me that now feels that, if another company steals the idea and does something successful with it, then I deserve to have it stolen – at least after how much effort I’ve put into this project up to this point. At the end of the day, as much as I’d love to be attached to it, if I had to choose, I’d rather see the show succeed than bury it to satisfy my own ego. And I’d rather the internet see it than have the time and efforts of all those fabulous people go to waste.
So, after an unsuccessful run of pitches and virtually no remaining options (at least in Canada), I’m releasing the full proof-of-concept pilot for everyone to watch. Feel free to share it with anyone who you think might like it, from industry people whose voices may help convince the networks that such a show has an audience, to network executives who may be looking for something like this, to just your friends who you think might be able to mix some of these recipes up better than you can.
To all those who helped with this, I feel I’ve let you down by not being able to get a network interested. However, as I said before, I am eternally thankful for your help in even getting the project this far. I know many of you are now involved in some amazing things and are miles above and beyond where you were when you took part in my show. Let me be clear: in no way am I attempting to claim any credit for this; rather, I think it only goes to show that I was able to find some truly remarkable talent for this project, for which I remain overwhelmingly shocked and proud.
I sincerely apologize if I’ve forgotten anyone, but to the best of my ability, I owe a huge thank you to the following:
Norm Beal @ Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery
Blake van Delft @ Amsterdam Brewing Company
Rodney Goodchild @ Okanagan Spirits
Joe Luckhurst @ Road 13 Vineyards
Lynne MacKay @ Ironworks Distillery
Ken Mill @ Myriad View Distillery
Craig Peters @ Tag Vodka/Maverick Distillery
Beth Warner @ Forty Creek Distillery
Richard Chase @ Chasers Fresh Juice
Kennedy Pires @ The Crafty Bartender
Jeff Kelly @ 3030 Dundas West
Brett & Jason Butler
Michael Jari Davidson
DMT & Editing
and last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to
Stuart Kent & Mark Pellegrino
without whom none of this would have been possible.
Created, Directed, & Produced by me, Graham Kent.