Canadian Broadcaster George Stroumboulopoulos Takes His Act to CNN
"We're looking for emotional range and interesting interviews," he says. "If an interview just serves the idea of celebrity, then I think that sucks. I don’t want to do that."
As Jeff Zucker attempts to redefine CNN as a destination for breaking news and appointment television, he is trying out a number of shows fronted by personalties: Anthony Bourdain, Morgan Spurlock and on Sunday night, George Stroumboulopoulos, the Canadian TV and radio host who got his start in TV on popular Canadian music channel MuchMusic.
The interview show -- called Stroumboulopoulos -- will bow Sunday night at 10 p.m. after the season finale of Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. The show moves to its regular Friday 11 p.m. slot on June 14. CNN has commissioned 10 installments. The show will be produced by Michael Davies' Embassy Row, the production company behind Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live and AMC’s The Walking Dead companion Talking Dead. It will tape in Los Angeles, where the Toronto-based Stroumboulopoulos has had an apartment for several years. “I have sort of a life in Los Angeles,” he said, adding that he made his first pilgrimage to L.A. when he was 18 years old to immerse himself in the music scene.
“I also think Los Angeles is kind of built for people from the northeast. Because of the weather we have, we have that kind of rusty blade in our personalities. And you bring that sort of jagged edge to Los Angeles and it’s kind of fun."
CNN executives first approached Stroumboulopoulos last summer -- prior to Zucker’s tenure as president of CNN Worldwide, which was announced last November and commenced in January. Stroumboulopoulos was open to the idea, noting that he has summers off from his CBC interview program George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. The CNN show will follow a three-interview format; the debut hour will feature fellow Canadian Martin Short, hip-hop artist Wiz Khalifa and actor Keanu Reeves, who will discuss his new line of motorcycles.
Stroumboulopoulos will tape the remaining interviews for the rest of the shows next week. “Nobody in America knows me,” he said. “Guys like me aren’t on CNN normally, so it’s kind of a test for them.”
By “guys like me,” he means motorcycle-riding (yes, he took Reeves’ prototype bike out for a spin), double earring-wearing, music dudes. He said he first learned about political issues as a teenager from listening to music (The Clash, Ice-T, NWA) and he can recite lyrics from Joe Strummer’s “Johnny Appleseed,” which also was the opening theme of David Milch’s HBO drama John From Cincinnati. (“If you’re after getting the honey, then you don’t go killing all the bees,” he said, quoting Strummer.)
His goal for his CNN sojourn is to have “meaningful conversations.” And although his guests will hail mostly from Hollywood and its environs (there are exceptions including German author Eckhart Tolle), he’s not interested in the obligatory celebrity pitch session. “We’re looking for emotional range and interesting interviews,” he said. “If an interview just serves the idea of celebrity, then I think that sucks. I don’t want to do that.”
The guest list on his CBC show has been eclectic -- from Hillary Clinton to Naomi Campbell. Subsequent guests for the CNN show will include Bill Maher, Robert Kirkman, Betty White, Snoop Dogg, Sharon Stone and Lisa Kudrow.
“I don’t have a real plan when I do an interview," he said. "I have some themes that I want to hit. But I don’t have a set list of questions that I knock off. I just start the conversation and we see where it goes.”
What advice, if any, did he received from Zucker? “He just said, ‘Make it good, make it different.’ That’s it.”
CNN, he added, “seemed like a good fit for what I do. They don’t dumb anything down. It’s legit. CNN has been really supportive, bizarrely supportive. We’re just allowed to figure it out.”
If the show does well for CNN, there is always the possibility that Stroumboulopoulos’ stint could expand beyond 10 weeks in the summer. “I certainly have had the logistical conversations in my own head,” he admitted. “I do think there is a way to do both [his CBC show and appear on CNN]. But there would be a lot of travel.”