Mark Bazer taking The Interview Show to WTTW

Mark Bazer. Photo by Michael Coakes.

The Interview Show is one of Chicago’s longest running live variety shows. For the last 8 years,  audiences at The Hideout on Chicago’s North Side have attended every first Friday of each month to see host Mark Bazer interview the known and unknown, from rocker Jeff Tweedy and former governor Pat Quinn to urban planner Gia Biagi and novelist Gillian Flynn.  Starting April 8, the show will be broadcast on WTTW Channel 11. Signed for an initial run of 8 shows to air weekly, the shows for season one are already in the can. The live show will continue every first Friday of the each month, and will be taped for possible future seasons, depending on the response to the television version. For host and creator Mark Bazer, this will be his second attempt at a show on WTTW. In 2014, he co-hosted a show called “My Chicago” which was not extended after its initial 6-show deal. But Bazer was co-host on that show and nothing more. The Interview Show is his baby, and he’s hoping it will translate to television audiences as it has with the loyal live audience that has attended it for the last 8 years. A native of Boston who graduated from Northwestern in 1995 and moved back to Chicago permanently in 1998, Bazer recently sat down with The Chicago Ambassador to talk about the show, how it may change and his ultimate goal for it.

Interviewed by Bob Chiarito for The Chicago Ambassador.

CA) You’ve been doing The Interview Show for 8 years now from The Hideout, and once in awhile at Union Hall in Brooklyn, New York. Now it’s going to be taped and aired on WTTW starting April 8. How did that come about?

BAZER) I did a show two years ago on WTTW called “My Chicago.” I loved doing it, and it was my introduction to WTTW. After that didn’t come back, I always had the thought in the back of my mind that “The Interview Show” could work on TV. So I pitched them on it and they liked it. We always shot the show but we filmed it as a recording of a live show. We needed to flip the equation. We still want it to be a live show, but we needed it to be filmed in a way that people would say, ‘Okay, they are making this as a TV show.”

CA) So it will be different than what people have seen on YouTube?

BAZER) Yes. The main difference is better cameras, better lighting. I have a great team of people and they have been thinking about how can we shoot it differently, placing cameras in different spots. Part of it is having better sound.

CA) You’ve been thinking about moving “The Interview Show” into a more traditional media format for at least a couple years. I read something in Chicago Magazine from 2014 where you mentioned it.

BAZER) What do you mean by ‘More traditional format?’

CA) A television format.

BAZER) Yeah. I guess I’ve always wanted to see if it could work. There is also a difference. The impetus behind the show has always been, and it’s not a novel thing, but it’s always been can you do an interview that has both substance and is entertaining? That takes more than a 3-minute interview. You have to really get in with the person and often the best stuff comes in the second half. On the live show, the interview can be 25 minutes. Now I’m not going to have a 25-minute interview on television.

CA) That was basically my next question. It will be edited, right?

BAZER) It will be edited, but I think it will be edited in a way that doesn’t lose the realness of the conversation. It’s just a different medium.

CA) The television show will be a half-hour show?

BAZER) Yes, actually a little less than a half-hour.

CA) How many guests will be on each television show?

BAZER) Two. There will be an intro, a first interview, a short comedy sketch and then the second interview. Then a short preview of next week’s show.

CA) Are you the person who decides who will be on? 

BAZER) Yes.

CA) Will that continue or will WTTW have any input?

BAZER) Yes. I mean if I put someone that they completely — We’ve never crossed that bridge. I don’t know who, unless I decided to put on my family every episode, that they would have an issue with.

CA) One of the appeals for the audience is that it is a live show. Are you worried at all that it won’t be able to make the transition to a television audience?

BAZER) I think the key will be if the TV audience, like the live audience, drinks a lot at home. So, stock your bar and we should be fine.

CA) What time slot will you be in?

BAZER) It will air on Fridays at 8:30 p.m., right after “Check, Please!” That’s a great lead-in. I’ve very excited to be going after them. It will also be re-aired during the week.

CA) What if WTTW told you we want you to shoot it in our studio without the audience from The Hideout?

BAZER) I don’t think they’d say that. I don’t want to do that. I think a huge part of why it works is because of the environment. You can’t replicate it. I have a great team of people. There’s Ben Chandler, Neil Erker and Neal Heitz. That’s been the core. There are others who shoot and edit but the core has been there for awhile.

Emily Graslie, from the Field Museum of Natural History, being interviewed by Mark Bazer on The Interview Show.

Emily Graslie, from the Field Museum of Natural History, being interviewed by Mark Bazer on The Interview Show.

CA) Why do you think “My Chicago” failed to be a hit?

BAZER) I don’t know. I thought it was a good show. I think some of it had to do with whatever the market was at the time for shows. I don’t know, I liked it a lot.

CA) There are a lot of live variety shows around town. “The Paper Machete” now has an affiliation with WBEZ — a lot of podcasts started here are now national like “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” — is this just a natural continuation of that?

BAZER) Well, I don’t know. What’s great about Chicago right now is that there are so many live shows and every show does something different. I would have never done ‘The Interview Show’ eight years ago if it wasn’t for another live reading show called “Funny Ha-Ha”  which Claire Zulkey and John Green ran. John moved away but Claire still runs it with her husband Steve Delahoyde. I was writing a column for RedEye at the time and they put me on stage to read my column. So I realized that I liked being on stage and that I like the place in particular, The Hideout, so the show itself is the outgrowth of another live show and that’s just the way it works.

CA) I’m sure there are probably people inspired by your show.

BAZER) I hope not. [Laughs]

CA) Over the eight years, could you name your favorite guest or type of guest?

BAZER) Yeah. I love having Paul Kahan, and I’ve had him on a couple of times. He’s the chef from Blackbird and Publican, among others. What I like about him, and he’s not the only one certainly, but he’s a guy who can go on and he’s not looking to necessarily talk about food. He’s a chef and it’s his thing, and he’ll talk about food, but he is ready and willing to have a conversation. Last time he had gotten a haircut and we talked about that. There’s no way that I could have, when I was preparing the interview, I could have never said to myself ‘ok, I’m going to ask him about his haircut,’ but for whatever reason he came in and mentioned that he had gotten a haircut and then from there on it was like, ‘Let’s go with it.’ He told a funny story about it and it went on.

CA) I read that you really prepare a lot for your interviews. How much do you stick to script as far as what your questions are going to be?

BAZER) Not that much. I’m lucky that the live show is once a month. If it was a daily radio show you’d be preparing earlier that day if you’re lucky. You might be preparing ten minutes before that person comes on. I usually take a week beforehand. If it’s an author I at least read their new book. It’s a luxury. If they said I had to do 50 episodes a year I wouldn’t have that luxury, but I’d do it. I’d welcome that.

I also loved having Charlie Trotter on the show. Obviously he’s not with us anymore, but I loved having him. I prepared so much for him because, I am not really intimidated by anybody, but I was intimidated by the prospect of interviewing him just because he didn’t suffer fools gladly and I went in there thinking I had to know as much as I could possibly know about him. At one point he said ‘You know a lot about me,’ and from then on he was on my side or I was on his side.

CA) Have you ever had someone who turned out to be a dud?

BAZER) No, I can honestly say no. There are people who you have to draw out more. There are some you have to compensate more by talking more but those people are revealing something about themselves too. Not everybody is Will Ferrell on a talk show. Part of my job is to hopefully bring out that person in an accurate way and also let that person be themselves.

CA) Your wife, Gina Blazer, was formerly at Chicago Magazine and now is in advertising. How much input does she give you?

BAZER) She’s good. She gave me more input earlier I think. There’s definitely guests that she knows and I don’t. Now we have two kids so she’s busy too, so if there’s something I need to ask her I’ll ask her but I try not to bother her too much about it. She’s super into it though, she’s been at every show for the last eight years.

CA) I heard you talking on WGN Radio once about how hard it is to stay current with music. How hard is it for you to stay up on who is in the cutting edge as far as interview subjects?

BAZER) Big Head Todd is still really huge, so I’m fine, right? [Laughs] It’s hard but it’s good for me. I’d hope I’d do it without the show but the show is what keeps me engaged as to what’s going on. It’s very easy as you get older to be like ‘Le Bouchon is my favorite restaurant’, and it is, but it’s good for your life to know about new things. The main thing is, mainly through reading, I learn a lot. It’s like can I read the Chicago Tribune? Can I read Chicagoist? Can I read The Chicago Ambassador? What can I get my hands on to find out what’s going on?

CA) Is the common thread among your guests that they are doing something in the city or that they live here or work here?

BAZER) That’s almost by necessity, because we don’t have a budget. But if someone is in town and I like them and think they will be a good guest, I’ll ask them to come on. Hannibal Buress was on as well. He’s from Chicago but doesn’t live in Chicago anymore.

CA) You had him on years ago as well, correct?

BAZER)  Yeah.

CA) Did you talk to him about the whole Cosby thing?

BAZER) I didn’t talk to him about that. I think he would have if I wanted to but by that point it was played out. That’s the thing, there was nothing that I was going to get on that subject that he hadn’t already talked about.

CA) Is there anyone that you’d love to have on but haven’t found an angle to get to them on?

BAZER) It’s not really an angle, but there are a couple that I haven’t been able to get on. I would love to have Carlton Fisk on. I grew up in Boston and he was my favorite player growing up. Then when he went to the White Sox I came out to Chicago to visit my uncle and saw a number of Sox games. Then I moved out here after he retired, and he remained my all-time favorite player.

CA) Have you tried to get him?

BAZER) I have once. He has no reason to do it. He has nothing to promote, but I would love it. He would be my dream guest.

CA) When you started The Interview Show, what was your reasoning?

BAZER) It was ‘Can I do it?’ I thought I’d do one show but the folks at The Hideout were great. I said I wanted to do this one show and they said, ‘No, no no. Sign up for it once a month and you’re going to do it for awhile.’ I think that was a good push because I would have probably been content just doing one show but from the get-go it was ‘you’re doing this once a month.’ That’s probably the only way to build a show and build an audience. You can’t just do it every six months.

CA) Is the audience a lot of repeat people?

BAZER) Yes. I’ve met friends through it. The show has become a huge part of my life. The senior producer on the show, Ben Chandler, is one of my good friends now.

CA) Any Chicagoans who aren’t around anymore who you would have loved to have on?

BAZER) One person I would have loved to have on is Harold Ramis. I interviewed him once for a publication, but it would have been great to have him on the show. Who else…DuSable? Mrs. O’Leary. She’d be great. Get the real story, but don’t just talk about the cow. Everybody is going to talk about the cow, but if you can get Mrs. O’Leary to open up about her passions, that would be good.

CA) How important is it, because there are so many media outlets — to focus on something that no one else is focusing on — such as talking to Hanibal Burress about things other than Bill Cosby as you mentioned?

BAZER) I think the key is to just have a real conversation. Hopefully whatever you’re talking about at the end will be something that you can only see here [on The Interview Show]. I think I’m lucky being at The Hideout, being on stage. We are having an interview right now and I think it’s going well, and ostensibly I’m talking to your readers. But if I’m up on stage talking to you, I can see your readers or the viewers, they are right there. So you’re on stage and you want to perform a little.

CA) What’s your ultimate goal for The Interview Show?

BAZER) I think it’s to do it at my retirement home. Interview the best bridge player, best shuffleboard player.

 

The Interview Show will debut on WTTW April 8. For a complete television schedule, click here.

To find out more about the April 1 party and fundraiser for The Interview Show at The Hideout, click here.

 

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