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Alec Baldwin is an actor, author, podcaster, Trump impressionist and, beginning Sunday, the host of a weekly talk show.
His eponymous 10 p.m. show will run Sunday nights on ABC with a guest list that includes Taraji P. Henson, Robert De Niro and Jeff Bridges. The goal, per Baldwin, is to translate his podcast, WNYC’s Here’s the Thing, to TV — with a considerably higher celebrity quotient, which explains forthcoming guest Kim Kardashian.
The network’s unscripted chief, Rob Mills, who has spearheaded the Baldwin passion project internally, has been describing it as “the warm bath style of interviewing,” which is to say, Baldwin will sit with his guests for an hour and see where the conversation goes. Though they’ll get topical and at times political, he intends to steer clear of, as he puts it, “anything bad.”
Whether there’s room for another talk show — particularly one that lacks bite — is an open question, but Baldwin, who appears on this week’s cover of The Hollywood Reporter, is committed to finding out.
Here are 10 things to know about The Alec Baldwin Show ahead of its debut.
1. To differentiate Baldwin’s show from the many others, there will be no monologue, no studio audience and, at least while Baldwin and his guest are talking, no pauses for commercial breaks. The goal, per executive producer Jason Schrift, is to facilitate intimate, wide-ranging conversations where the audience walks away “feeling like a fly on the wall.” To make it work, Baldwin sits with each of his guests for at least an hour (first guest Jerry Seinfeld sat for closer to 90 minutes) in a midtown space that he shares with Dr. Oz’s show, leaving producers to cut the conversations down later. One to two interviews are expected to air per episode.
2. The guest list is hugely eclectic by design. Baldwin has already pre-taped with each of his upcoming guests, a collection that ranges from Kardashian to the Prime Minister of Norway. He taped his conversation with Kardashian the weekend that her husband, Kanye West, was in town for his controversial stint on Saturday Night Live. Though it was still weeks before Kanye’s White House visit, Baldwin did ask Kardashian about her husband’s politics — and, specifically, his devotion to Trump. “She said, ‘I don’t necessarily have to believe all my husband’s opinions to support him. He’s entitled to what he [believes and] he’s very passionate.’ And I’m like, ‘Uh-huh,’” says Baldwin. “I think I opened by saying, ‘Marriage is about a cooperation. So, how are you successful at getting him to cooperate where other people have failed? I mean, Lorne Michaels and late-night producers clearly don’t have that ability.’ And she laughed.” (The pair also spoke about Kardashian’s robbery in Paris and Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn.)
3. Though Mills calls Baldwin a “genius” — at one point comparing Baldwin’s ability to connect with people to that of President Clinton — his expectations for the show are modest, at best. “We’re not betting the ranch on this. This is something that is two people in a chair, so it doesn’t have to do an American Idol-size rating,” he says. That said, the goal is long term. “Alec doesn’t want to do 10 episodes and not get to do it again. He wants to do this forever.”
4. Trump, however unlikely, remains atop the show’s wish list. If the current president were to come on, Baldwin is armed with questions. He tests out a few, beginning with: “Many people say you didn’t really think you were gonna win, but I don’t really believe that. So, what’s your impression of what the president should do for the country now, and have you been doing that? And if you had a second term, what would you do differently?” (Outside of the periodic tweet, Baldwin has yet to hear from Trump directly.)
5. Baldwin would go another route if he had President Obama — his dream guest — on the show. He says he’d like to ask him about the first time he gave an order to do a mission that killed people. Specifically, how did that feel? “I did the movie The Hunt for Red October and [the director] John McTiernan said to me, ‘You’re gonna start this movie and you’re an analyst, not an agent,’ and he said, ‘and you will kill someone during the movie. Now, from the moment you kill someone, I wanna see that you are different. I want to see you become someone different, who has wrestled with the fact that you can do that and you understand that you did it for the right reason.’ So, I want to ask him about that.”
6. The show’s format is designed to put guests at ease. Per Baldwin, it proved effective for Mike Myers, who got comfortable enough during his visit to have an honest conversation about the state of his career. Like Baldwin, Myers is now the face of an ABC game show. (In Baldwin’s case, his wife took one look at the seven-figure paycheck for six days of work on Match Game and said “hell yes” to her husband doing more.) “I made a movie with [Mike] eons ago, and I don’t know him that well,” Baldwin says. “So, the question became is he ready to have an honest conversation about his career and where it went? All of us who aren’t still No. 1 on the call sheet on some big budget movie — you know, one day you were and one day you weren’t — and you kind of understand why but how do you feel about that? And to my surprise, he was very forthcoming.”
7. Celebrated cartoonist Steve Brodner, whose work appears in The New Yorker and THR, drew the cartoon sketches that appear in the series’ opening credits. He’ll also illustrate stories told during the show, which will run as animation. He tested one from Baldwin’s chat with Seinfeld during the pilot, in which a long-sober Baldwin told a not-fit-for-ABC tale of his former cocaine days.
8. For those keeping track, this is Baldwin’s second go-round in the talk space. His first stint was at MSNBC in 2013, though he argues the short-lived show (five episodes and done) was fraught from the start. He faults, among other things, the network’s decision to pair him with a news producer when he was very clearly doing an entertainment show. This time around, Baldwin is quick to praise his “very smart” team. As for whether or not the show lasts? “Who knows,” he says, noting that his host network, ABC, “isn’t doing very well.”
9. Still, hosting his own network talk show is a dream job for Baldwin, according to pretty much everyone around Baldwin. At one point, NBC had flirted with giving him a platform on its network. In fact, that ultimately short-lived MSNBC show had been designed as a kind of trial run. Once ABC hired Baldwin to host Match Game, he floated the idea anew. His wife, Hilaria, was a big proponent. “I’ve turned to him when he’s complaining about this movie or this show or some event and I say, ‘I don’t want to see you complain because you’re suffering. I want you to do something you like,'” she says. “‘And the times I see you get all passionate and then jittery afterwards is when you’re interviewing people for your podcast. You love it. You need your own show.’”
10. ABC’s other host, Jimmy Kimmel, is a fan of Baldwin’s podcast and pinpoints why that skill set just might translate here. “The reason he’s very good at talking to people is because he has genuine curiosity — almost aggressive curiosity about people, and you can’t manufacture that,” says Kimmel. “It’s funny, I remember having a conversation with Oprah about this. We were talking about someone who I won’t name, and I said, ‘I think she’d be a really good talk show host,’ and Oprah disagreed because she didn’t think the person had the curiosity to do something like that. So, it’s the most important thing. If you’re not interested, audiences won’t be either.”
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