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Akron Beacon Journal, Published March 31 2012

Manly Hot Topics: Producer aims to correct woeful lack of beer on TV

AKRON, Ohio – 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, an Akron-area 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 yourbeernetwork.com website.)

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.”

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 past 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?

Perhaps not.

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 green light 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 of 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.

What HeSays: Wait, there are shows about cupcakes on TV but not about beer? How did this happen? We’d take frosty over frosted any day of the week. People in charge of television, get ’r done already!