Inside the Actors Studio

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Taken before a taping of Inside the Actors Stu...
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I made it quite a habit to criticise televison. Mostly german television, which in my opinion does a great job at ignoring the audience most of the time. They cripple movies so they fit the ads, they replicate certain formats like crazy because they’re cheap and to some people at least create a fake impression of mild entertainment. And, for the most part, they import shows from abroad, shows that might actually be great but are put into the most invaluable timeslots. It takes some effort to find the gems on german television and they don’t always get the attention they deserve. Well, today I’d like to recommend a truly good program. And it’s not from Germany. g

I recently watched a number of episodes of “Inside the Actors Studio“, a remarkable television show that runs on its 16th season in the US right now and has been broadcasted in 125 countries. Funny enough although it used to be shown in Germany (on EinsFestival, an exclusive digital channel where the show is named “Ungeschminkt”) and it took about 9 years to make its way here, it’s not scheduled at the moment and I’ve never seen it on german tv which – once more – illustrates the state of the german tv cosmos. UPDATE: Just learned that it ran in german free tv as well but it’s not on at the moment.

So, what is it about? Well, during the course of every show one actor or actress, director, musician or comedian is interviewed by James Lipton about their lives and their art in chronological order beginning with birth and covering all mayor events that shaped the person and artist including their most outstanding works. In some cases groups of people visited the show for example the Cast of the Simpsons, the Cast of Family Guy or the members of Bon Jovi. The show typically lasts one hour – cut from a several hour interview – with some episodes being 90 minutes or even 2 hours long.

I understand the Actors Studio Drama school offers Master’s degree programs for actors, playwriters and directors and the interviews conducted by James Lipton, who is also the Dean Emiritus of the school, are considered classes for the students who are therefore the main live audience.
At the end of each interview there is a Q & A session with the students but before that Lipton asks the interviewee a recurring questionaire that was used for many years by Bernard Pivot on French television and is derived from the Proust questionaire. Those questions are:

  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What turns you on?
  4. What turns you off?
  5. What sound or noise do you love?
  6. What sound or noise do you hate?
  7. What is your favorite curse word?
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  9. What profession would you not like to participate in?
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

It is the simplicity of this concept and the purity of the presentation that makes this show extraordinary to me. But it’s hard to explain so I’d like to recommend just giving it a look. A number of episodes are scattered over YouTube in 10 minute clips so you might just have a look here and pick a show that features one of your favourite actors (over 200 guests have already been there). If you consider that too much work let me link you to the great interview with comedian Dave Chapelle (1st of 9 parts) from 2008 and furthermore to the 200th episode in which James Lipton himself is interviewed by Dave Chapelle and some of the greatest moments on the show are collaged together. There are also DVDs of some of the shows but – and I don’t usually recommend this – many more can be found as torrents.

James Lipton himself is a vital part of the phenomenon of the show as he is a respectful host and manages to have the person on the chair next to him open up as most talk shows – and/or host – don’t allow for. He’s famous (maybe even infamous) for thoroughly researching his guest’s life and preparing a huge deck of blue note cards on which quite often he collects the most private or obscure facts, repeatedly to the guest’s astonishment. He also wrote a book on the history of “Inside the Actors Studio” named “Inside Inside“.

So next time when you’re unhappy with the television program I hope you enjoy a few moments from “Inside the Actors Studio”.

Maybe next time, I’ll pick some of our national gems currently available. We’ll see.

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