The contrast between the first two episodes is vintage Bourdain.
"To me, a perfect sequence would be, you'd see one episode and like it and you turn it on the next week in the same time period and are just utterly confused and not even sure that you're watching the same show," he said.
Last year's trip to Japan was an eye-opener, when Bourdain attended a bizarre show with robots and scantily clad women, visited with a death metal band and dined with a woman involved in the city's sadomasochistic community. CNN's willingness to go along for the ride earned the network his loyalty.
"They've been enormously supportive, completely supportive from the second we arrived," he said. "They knew what they were getting. They said they wanted to help in any way possible and that's exactly what they've done. We've handed them some very difficult material. They may have blinked a couple of times but in the end they have always moved forward."
In a crowded television world, a strong character with a unique point of view is often what's needed to break through. Besides the ratings, Entelis measures the success of "Parts Unknown" by the number of pitches she gets from people who say they want to be the Anthony Bourdain of their own series.
"Parts Unknown" averages more than 800,000 viewers an episode, affirming and accelerating a trend at CNN toward nonfiction series separate from ongoing news coverage. Two current examples include "Chicagoland," a look at politics and life in that city with Robert Redford as executive producer, and Morgan Spurlock's "Inside Man," where he takes a close look at facets of American life.
Bourdain is reluctant to analyze why his series has succeeded.
"If you think about who the audience is and what their expectations might be, I think that's the road to badness and mediocrity," he said. "You go out there and show the best story you can as best you can. If it's interesting to you, hopefully it's interesting to others. If you don't make television like that, it's pandering."
David Bauder can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder