People/Biz

Andrew Zimmern’s Intuitive Content looks back on its first five years

Andrew Zimmern can tell you “chapter and verse” where he was when he decided to launch his own production company. In the Palestinian city of Jericho, on the West Bank, Zimmern was ...
July 16, 2020

Andrew Zimmern can tell you “chapter and verse” where he was when he decided to launch his own production company.

In the Palestinian city of Jericho, on the West Bank, Zimmern was filming a scene of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with a high ranking official under Yasser Arafat, the former chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, who died in 2004.

Without revealing the intimate details, the four-time James Beard award-winning TV personality and chef says the conversation soon turned “very serious, and very scary,” prompting the network to ultimately decide that the scene didn’t fit the popular culinary travelogue.

In that discussion, Zimmern realized he needed an additional outlet through which creativity can live; he needed to be able to navigate, pitch and develop relationships with network executives to ensure that such stories outside of the food lane could see the light of day.

Since its founding in 2015, Intuitive Content has leaned heavily on Zimmern’s expertise in the food, travel and culture spaces by creating “impactful human content” and brand focused entertainment. With general manager Dusti Kugler (pictured below) at the helm of all things Zimmern over the past 15 years — including oversight of digital firm Food Works and restaurant consultancy group Passport Hospitality — the factual studio’s content library has grown in the time since to include the likes of MSNBC’s What’s Eating America, Travel Channel’s The Zimmern List and Curious Cures, Discovery Channel’s Crash Test World and Bravo TV’s Beats + Bites.

dusti kugler

Unlike many major North American production companies, the full-service indie is housed outside of the typical entertainment hubs of Los Angeles, New York and Toronto, choosing instead to plant a flag in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“We have this wonderful advantage because we are in the middle of the country,” says Patrick Weiland, Intuitive’s senior vice president and a three-time Emmy Award winning producer. “There is a point of view that comes from not living in LA or New York that we think is vital to storytelling.

“LA has a lot of gravity for us – I lived there for many years, have a lot of connections, I envision us potentially expanding in some ways but we’ll see, only time will tell.”

The disadvantage, Weiland admits, is that the size of the talent pool within the local production community has not been optimal for one of the company’s biggest priorities: hiring people of color and diversity.

“That has been a challenge,” he says. “We are pushing really hard to increase diversity and that’s hard in this city because we don’t have a large production community.”

Still, Weiland touts the caliber of talent present in the region, noting that the city over the last number of years has become known as a hotbed for creatives in the advertising space.

After building a solid base of entertainment programming around captivating human narrative, food and travel, Intuitive is now diversifying its slate of travel and culinary content with the addition of true crime. It was a conscious decision, Zimmern says, made in order to expand the varieties of stories that the food-centric prodco offers to buyers.

“There are certain genres that don’t interest us and we’ve stayed away from them,” he adds. “But there’s so many genres that do interest us and we do have expertise and storytelling that fits those genres, so why not pursue them?”

Intuitive, as a result, is working on a handful of projects at the soon-to-launch Magnolia Network, a division of Discovery. The recently announced Family Dinner, for instance, will follow Zimmern as he discovers “how the cultural, regional, and historical facets of who we are inform what and how we eat.”

True crime, meanwhile, was also of immense interest to Zimmern and Intuitive. The company brought on board Patrick McMahill as VP of production and development to generate new character-driven docuseries and original formats for the North American marketplace.

McMahill’s January appointment was the outgrowth of the exec’s long history with Intuitive, having previously produced the company’s four-part investigative documentary How to Survive a Murder for digital cable and satellite TV network Reelz.

“The true crime [series] is something that Patrick [Weiland] and Patrick [McMahill] worked on really hard, and was absolutely a superb show that we’re really proud of,” says Zimmern. “Hopefully we get to do more of those because there’s an insatiable appetite for people to see shows within that genre and there are many, many ways to tell those stories.”

With a plethora of great non-fiction storytelling saturating an ever-growing market, it’s become increasingly difficult for independent outfits to make a mark. Intuitive, however, has managed to differentiate itself by leaning heavily into what’s made Zimmern so successful in the industry: attaching “A-list talent” to projects and building formats around them.

“Where we have stood out is, because we are a production company that is owned by someone who still makes their living as talent, we are an extremely good partner for talent,” explains Zimmern.

“The last few pilots that we have made, talent has come on and from the get-go been involved with a producer credit,” he adds. “At the end of the day, the shows are going to live and die in a large part due to only two factors: talent and storytelling. It’s as simple as that. We believe in the word ‘partnership.’”

The Twin Cities-based prodco has been doubling down on expanding its partnerships with talent, which already includes National Geographic photographer Robert Clarke, acclaimed chefs Jose Andres and Michael Solomov, and incorporating The Black Keys frontman Patrick Carney into What’s Eating America (below). Most recently, the company has penned deals with several high-profile names, including American brewer and beer author Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, to build programs around.

msnbc's what's eating america

Managing the next phase of growth for a rapidly expanding company is a challenging endeavor, made more difficult by various cost-benefit analyses to determine who to partner with and what types of deals would aid the business overall.

Production companies, Zimmern says, are difficult to self-fund, and in order to survive executives find themselves entering into a variety of partnerships, whether it’s taking on investments or selling off a stake of the company.

“As we grow, we’re open to all sorts of opportunities,” says Weiland. “We’re still in the phase where we have a lot of new programs in development right now, so I think this is a very big year for us.

“Mainly we’ve just been focusing on widening our development slate, getting some really high premium shows sold, working with other big talent besides just Andrew,” he adds. “Those have been our chief priorities right now.”

“The more success we have, the more shows we sell, the more we have to offer a potential partner,” Zimmern notes. “Therefore, in that way, the deal is different than if we sold based on whatever our latest hit was. Timing is everything and we’ll know when the timing is right for us.”

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is a special reports editor at realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.

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