The drink­ing show binge — they get paid for that?!

The Washington Post Sunday - - TV - tuck­ern@wash­post.com

It could be ar­gued that Zane Lam­prey has the great­est job in Amer­ica. The co­me­dian hosts “ Drink­ingMade Easy,” a half-hour, tour-bus romp through Amer­ica’s bars, brew­eries and back­yard dis­til­la­tion projects eachWed­nes­day night onHDNet. As near as can be de­ter­mined, the man’s job is to drink, hang out with bud­dies and be at work on time to­mor­row. “ Three Sheets,” the 52-episode in­ter­na­tional ver­sion of the idea (filmed a few years ago and also star­ring Lam­prey) , starts a newair­ing on Spike TV on Feb. 8 at 10:30 p.m.

Of course, Lam­prey has com­pe­ti­tion for the great­est-job ti­tle.

Ac­tor Stan­ley Tucci’s job de­scrip­tion on “Vine Talk,” a wine-tast­ing gabfest slated to de­but on PBS in April, is to chat with fa­mous friends on cam­era, sip vino in a blind tast­ing and pick a fa­vorite. It’s a hard day at the of­fice for Dar­ryl Robin­son, host of “ DrinkUp” on the Cook­ing Chan­nel, where the weekly cock­tail-mak­ing vibe is all cos­mopoli­tan so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

As­pir­ing vine­yard own­ers take on the oeno­log­i­cal craft, and one an­other, in “ The Wine­mak­ers,” a re­al­ity-show com­pe­ti­tion now film­ing its sec­ond sea­son for PBS. (The first sea­son starts re-air­ing in 224 mar­kets, in­clud­ing Washington, on Feb. 17.)

There has been the oc­ca­sional cable or PBS se­ries about the finer as­pects of wine and spir­its be­fore, but the past two years have been a tele­vised ben­der of prece­dent break­ing pro­por­tions. Shows with shots? Yes! Shows with swirling the glass to let the wine breathe? Yes! Shows with a swiz­zle stick? Sure! From the stunt drink­ing on Lam­prey’s trav­el­ogue (he “drinks a beer that can kill chick­ens” is one plot sum­mary) to Tucci’s and Robin­son’s ur­bane wit, couch pota­toes can now sit, drink and talk, while watch­ing other peo­ple sit, drink and talk.

“We were go­ing toHawaii and some guy [in the pro­duc­tion meet­ing] says, ‘We’ll need a day to ac­cli­mate,’ ” Lam­prey says by tele­phone from his home in Toluca Lake, Calif. “And I said, ‘Dude, it’sHawaii! We’re not film­ing a doc­u­men­tary on pineap­ple pro­duc­tion. It’s drink­ing!’ ”

BruceMar­cus, cre­ator and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of “Vine Talk,” takes a more sober (sorry!) ap­proach. He’s been pro­duc­ing life­style pro­gram­ming on PBS for 16 years. He says the evo­lu­tion to­ward shows fo­cused on al­co­hol, par­tic­u­larly wine, has been a slow pro­gres­sion.

“No one ever de­vel­oped a se­ries that truly in­creased the com­fort level of the viewer with wine. The shows al­ways ended up with wine ex­perts pranc­ing through the fields of France.” He laughs. “I’ve pro­duced shows like that, but very few­peo­ple watch, and there was no busi­ness model to keep it on the air.”

But for Robin­son, the 37-yearold host of “DrinkUp” and a bar­tender by trade, the sud­den pop­u­lar­ity in bar and wine shows is a nat­u­ral. Peo­ple are fas­ci­nated with the craft of cre­at­ing an ex­cel­lent wine or, for that­mat­ter, a sin­gle-bar­rel bour­bon, he points out. They want to be able to or­der well in restau­rants, or mix a nifty cock­tail for guests at home. And “ have a drink” is syn­ony­mous with “re­lax and sit for a minute.”

“It’s a $65 bil­lion in­dus­try, so the fact is that peo­ple drink,” he says. “Al­most ev­ery­one does, to some level or an­other, to the point where it’s a real state­ment for some­one not to drink. So, if there are 100 cook­ing shows be­cause ev­ery­body eats, the mar­ket seems un­der­served with four or five drink­ing shows.”

Bring­ing in the re­al­ity-show con­cept is “ The Wine­mak­ers,” which bills it­self as the coun­try’s “#1 tele­vi­sion se­ries about wine,” land­ing in 2 mil­lion house­holds.

The idea is fa­mil­iar: 12 con­tes­tants from var­ied back­grounds vie for the chance to be­come a wine­maker, with their prod­uct shipped across the nation. They face elim­i­na­tion rounds: work­ing the har­vest at a vine­yard, sell­ing the stuff at a wine-tast­ing event in Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try, cre­at­ing a la­bel and blend­ing a newwine. Each step is judged by an ex­pert panel.

Russ Ou­ton, 36, a wine seller in Austin, won Sea­son 1, which was filmed from 2006 to 2008. Win­ning the com­pe­ti­tion with a la­bel called 45RPMhelped him land a job at Siduri in Sonoma County. When reached last week, he was back in Texas briefly to fin­ish pack­ing up.

“We sold six or seven thou­sand cases,” he said. “It def­i­nitely was a spring­board.”

Pop­ping a cork is fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory for the show’sD.C.-based pro­duc­tion com­pany, Free Run Pro­duc­tions. Pro­duc­erKevin Whe­lan de­vel­oped such shows as “Wine 101” (with hostDavidHyde Pierce), “ Tales From the Vine­yard” in 2002 and “Uncorked: WineMade Sim­ple” in 2007.

“We have all the re­al­ity-show gim­micks with ‘The Wine­mak­ers’; the com­pe­ti­tion is cer­tainly there, but there’s a lot of ed­u­ca­tion go­ing on, too,” Whe­lan says.

Then there’s “Drink­ingMade Easy.”

It’s a na­tion­wide pub crawl with each stop il­lu­mi­nat­ing a city’s fa­mous (or no­to­ri­ous) bars and wa­ter­ing holes. Lam­prey and co-hosts SteveMcKenna and Marc Ryan hit 53 cities in 26 states in less than three months last sum­mer, film­ing 24 episodes. They hit Ari­zona’s old­est bar, Aunt Chi­lada’s, andNew Or­leans’s le­gendary Lafitte Black­smith Shop, knock­ing back re­gional spe­cials in each spot.

HDNet hon­choMark Cuban said in an e-mail ex­change that he’d been af­ter Lam­prey to host a show af­ter see­ing “ Three Sheets,” which started out in 2006. Cuban says the mar­ket is 21-to-54-yearold guys. He’ll use the up­com­ing sea­son to an­chor the net­work’s “Drinks and aMovie” night on Wed­nes­days.

Lam­prey says he learned early on that just sam­pling each bev­er­age on the show was the key to sur­viv­ing the tour.

“ The first pi­lot I did [for ‘ Three Sheets’] I won­dered if they wanted some­body funny, knowl­edge­able and who could drink like a fish. I did all three. I gave a per­for­mance that I can’t give again.”

MELISSA SCHILLING/HDNET

CHEERS: Zane Lam­prey of HDNet’s “Drink­ingMade Easy.”

ED­UARDO PATINO/“VINE TALK”

UNCORKED: Ray Isle, left, and Stan­ley Tucci on PBS’s “Vine Talk.”

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