“There is no space left on Australian television, really, where there is a conversation in public,” Andrew Denton explains.
“There are great pockets of it: Julia Zemiro, Anh Do, Jane Hutcheon, Marc Fennell, Sunday Night, 60 Minutes -they all have moments where there are great conversations. But this is a show dedicated specifically to that.”
The legendary TV host returns to TV next week on Seven with the simply-titled Interview.
It’s been 6 years since he had a series on television. During that time there was a health battle, a campaign to change laws around euthanasia and some media consultancy, including for Stan.
But a pitch to Kerry Stokes -whom he interviewed on air in 1994- led to quick deal Interview. Joined by ex-Enough Rope producer and former ABC Head of Entertainment Jon Casimir, the show hopes to make the most of what it sees as a gap in the market: conversation in front of a Live audience.
“There’s Q&A but that’s a different thing. The Project do it to a limited extent, but it’s not really an audience show -they have an audience to add colour, I guess, to what they’re doing,” Denton tells TV Tonight.
“Sunday Night, 60 Minutes, the breakfast shows -none of them are in front of a Live audience. Studio 10 is a small audience but we have 250 people.
“Even though (Interview) is not a Tonight show, it’s got some of that chemistry to it. It’s (As) Live, in front of a big audience, and that elicits all sorts of different things.”
“It’s two people having a conversation”
Enough Rope still draws high praise from almost anybody who remembers it. Denton’s flair for conversation drew the very best from his largely-famous guests. But the weekly portion of the show in which he wandered into the audience for chats is equally memorable. Seven is hoping to recapture some of that gold.
“It’s not going to differ massively. The bones of the show is exactly the same: it’s two people having a conversation,” he continues.
“Every now and then it will be on location because that’s the only way we can get to somebody. But mostly it will be in the studio because there’s a different atmosphere. With an audience there’s a whole different electricity between myself and the guest.
“Like Enough Rope there isn’t a set format. Sometimes a show might be just one guest. It might be somebody you know really well, or somebody you’ve never heard of -or somebody we’ve found who even we haven’t met.
“We are going to leave ourselves that freedom again and Seven are giving us that freedom.
“But we hope there is a trust: there’s a reason we’re talking to this person, stay with us you will find out the reason why.”
“What we offer that is different…. is the electricity of the Live moment.”
Denton notes a key change in the interceding years are the ‘noise’ of social media. Interview vows to seek the ‘light’ in a landscape full of shouting and not to chase a headline (although it will welcome it should it emerge). Podcasting is another recent forum dedicated to interviews, but Denton maintains TV still offers a unique view.
“Podcasting is kind of the invisible change in the atmosphere. Having made a podcast series myself, in the time I’ve been away, there’s no media I’ve ever made that has had a more powerful impact than that, and it’s because of the intensely intimate nature of a podcast. You as the audience, select it. And as the broadcaster I’m talking directly to you. It’s one-on-one narrow-casting,” he explains.
“But what we offer that is different to that space is the electricity of the Live moment. A conversation is always different in a group than it is, one on one. Both offer wonderful things.”
Two ‘pilot episodes’ have been filmed so far, with a third to come before the premiere. Guests are being kept under wraps (Ross Noble was mentioned) until the first episode is locked down.
“Michael Parkinson said, ‘You have so much time to talk to people.’”
After the short-lived Randling, living up to the legacy (his new production company is named Legacy Media) of Enough Rope will be no mean feat, especially given there are now commercial breaks. But Denton and Casimir have ensured they still have time to draw out an engaging chat with a fascinating guest.
“Enough Rope had a lot of nice compliments but we had a really simple weapon everyone could see. I remember discussing it with Michael Parkinson. He said, ‘You have so much time to talk to people.’ And that’s the biggest secret. It’s not that I’m necessarily the ‘best interviewer in the land’ -which is a title I always rejected. On any given day there are any number of people doing the best interview in the country.
“But we had time to talk, and time to broadcast.”
Lastly I ask if listening is the key to a good interview?
“Yes it’s the number one. But not just listening. Silence,” he reveals.
“If there’s more time and a proposition is put to someone and they have to grapple with it then that’s interesting too…. You’re learning as much in the way they struggle to answer. All that stuff is interesting.”
Interview airs 9pm Tuesday on Seven.