Wahlburgers: Serving Up A Slice Of Reality
BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor
Rasha Drachkovitch knew he had the makings of a savory dish, but the recipe proved more rewarding than he anticipated. The producer behind successful reality series including “Lock Up” and “Pit Bulls and Paroles” read an article highlighting Donnie Wahlberg’s involvement in the opening of a Massachusetts restaurant managed by his brother Paul. Drachkovitch saw an opportunity to create a new kind of celeb-reality show: focusing on talent at the height of their fields collaborating on a new family business venture.
Drachkovitch brought his idea to Mark Wahlberg, whose initial reaction was skepticism. Wahlberg wanted to avoid immersing himself and his family members in an exploitative debacle. Drachkovitch invested time in persuading Mark that the content of the show would be respectful and his privacy would be protected. The objective of the show would be to present viewers with a “peek behind the curtain” at the mechanics of creating a business while maintaining strong family bonds. As Wahlberg warmed to the idea, he encouraged Drachkovitch to visit Boston and meet the family.
“Knowing a star’s bio is one thing; once I got to spend time with the family it became so much more and resulted in a really wonderful experience,” said Drachkovitch. “Sitting with Alma (Wahlbergs’mother) and looking through their family scrapbook, I got the sense of a mother struggling to feed her nine kids. They grew up in a tough part of Boston and experienced some trouble in their youth. How did the family survive? Beyond that, how did they succeed? The restaurant is a journey down memory lane. They’ve embraced their past and have each other’s backs.”
Nestled in a refurbished seaport in Hingham, MA, is Almanova, the Wahlberg’s high-end Italian restaurant. Its name is structured by melding mother Alma’s name with the Italian numeric for the family’s nine siblings. Here, Drachkovitch witnessed Paul’s dedication to the food his restaurant serves. With the opening of the inaugural Wahlburgers, a burger joint nestled kitty-corner to Almanova, Drachkovitch discovered Paul’s attention to craft remained intact. “He’s a nose-to-the-grindstone, one burger at a time kind of guy.”
Before cameras could roll, Drachovitch and his team had to coordinate shooting schedules around Donnie’s New Kids on the Block touring schedule and shooting schedule for “Blue Bloods” along with Mark’s busy film schedule (Mark shot six movies through the course of the first season’s production.) Once there was enough footage to cut together for a reel, Drachkovitch shopped the project and found a network that supported his vision.
“It was a good relationship with A&E from the beginning. Upon viewing the sizzle reel, they zeroed in on Alma and Paul and less on the A-list, red carpet activities. They really pushed us to explore the relationships,” said Drachkovitch. “They had cracked the family code with ‘Duck Dynasty,’ and halfway through production I learned (Duck Dynasty) was the lead in. It was exciting but I had to wonder, ‘Will that audience find the same connection?’”
Two years after his initial idea, “Wahlburgers” is holding strong in the ratings and finding a solid audience. Drachovitch has particularly enjoyed watching the responses to elements in the show that get posted on social media. Audience members had strong reactions to an episode where Donnie brings his new girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, home to meet his mother for the first time.
“The message boards were lighting up. Fans were saying, ‘That’s my Donnie! Don’t mess with my Donnie!’ When Alma called Donnie ‘Baby Donnie’ that became the third highest trending term that night,” said Drachovitch. “It’s a sweet spot, taking normal, everyday things, like shopping for a birthday present, and putting them against a high profile family. Everyone can relate to the challenges they are going through – the Wahlberg’s just happen to be a famous family.”
Drachkovitch has enjoyed the experience of producing the series in Massachusetts. The show benefits from the state’s production tax incentive and majority of the crew has been sourced from the excellent local crew base. With the aid of the production community, they were able to successfully set up shop within a month. As the Wahlburger business grows, new dining locations will spread not only in MA (a prime location is set to open by Fenway park in the near future) but throughout the US and the world. Five Wahlburgers are set to open through Philadelphia and airport hubs will see their burgers coming soon. Next season will see the Wahlberg clan and their closest friends traveling to China for the scheduled opening of a Beijing Wahlburgers. While the elder Wahlbergs are set on a world domination plan, Drachkovitch has a soft spot for the meticulous Paul, who will relinquish some quality control as the chain spreads outside their home state. What excited Drachkovitch the most about the production’s future is presenting an entertaining and heart-felt family series fans will grow increasingly attached to with each passing episode.
“TV is a fast business – this show took two years to get up and get running. I took time and care working it out; there were lots of moving parts with big stars and a big network, “ said Drachkovitch. “Overall, to be able to put on the air something I feel really confident about and to have people feel moved is a truly wonderful thing.”
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