What's Wrong With Inside the Actors Studio

01.24.2005 | Jonathan Leaf | Cultural Affairs | 6 Comments
Over the next few weeks, the television show “Inside The Actors Studio” will feature interviews with some of the greatest living acting talents. Among this select company will be Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Costner, Cameron Diaz and Sylvester Stallone. Each episode of the show will conclude with these “actors” instructing younger actors in the Actors Studio Masters Program about their “art”.

What are the producers thinking? Ratings, of course. And it’s a shame. After all, while the show’s host James Lipton is a wonderfully ripe target for television parodists, he’s also one of TV’s best prepared interviewers and some of the show’s past interviews must rank among the best interviews not only of actors, but of all artists, ever presented on television. Yet in the last year the show has broadcast interviews with both Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. Wasn’t one of these two enough of an offense to the viewing public to say nothing of the legion of starving but talented performers? Will future episodes include conversations with Darryl Hannah? Pamela Anderson? Is Shatner about to boldly strive onto the New School stage?

What’s especially sad about this is that the host plainly knows the difference between good and bad acting. On one episode Ethan Hawke began blabbing on about all the different celebrities who appeared in a low-budget movie he had helped produce entitled “Chelsea Hotel”. Agahst, Lipton cut Hawke short. Why was he only talking about “name” actors, Lipton wondered? Wasn’t the brilliant but less well-known stage actor Harris Yulin also in the film?

Yulin is one of the many great but less well-known actors who would be worth interviewing on the show, both to expose others to their art and so that they might reveal their methods. The show is obviously cheap to produce, requiring, as it does, no more than a studio, an audience, a crew of technicians and the host. Can’t its schedule be increased so that it interviews great stage actors? If the purpose of the show is to instruct students and viewers about the art of acting wouldn’t it be worth interviewing Paul Scofield or Rosemary Harris? Or Dana Ivey, Brian Bedford, Irene Worth, Claire Bloom and Ian Holm, along with its usual selection of movie stars? There are also many fine TV actors who aren’t huge celebrities but would be worth interviewing. What of Michael Moriarty and John Cullum? Does everyone on the show have to be a high-priced star with a big-name agent?

Nor are these matters about which to delay. How much longer will Scofield be alive and cogent? Lipton may have wanted to interview Uta Hagen and Ralph Richardson on the show before their deaths, but plainly he can’t now. Likewise, while Lipton’s interview with Neil Simon may have drawn respectable ratings, one wonders: how much longer will it be that a proper Arthur Miller interview might be had?

Moreover, the show’s problems extend beyond its choice of guests. Its editing is being dumbed down as well. Thus, an interview with Pierce Brosnan passed over his youthful experiences working with Tennessee Williams so that there was time to expatiate about his work on “Remington Steele”.

When Hollywood was ruled by its studios, it produced a lot of bad movies, but the films were professionally written and generally cast in at least superficially plausible ways. As stars have taken for themselves the power vacated by the studio, they increasingly place themselves in absurd parts for which they are wholly ill-suited while providing the means for the making of more and more ineptly written follies intended to showcase them. It is regrettable that “Inside The Actors Studio” is moving in the direction of becoming another of these poorly fashioned star vehicles.

Well said!

I understand the reasons why the show must have on commercially appealing actors- but if it must, why not have interesting ones? Jim Carrey, for instance, has shown himself capable of really intriguing work, and even his broad comedy is among the most difficult kind of acting to master. Same with Jackie Chan's physical comedy. Who cares what Cameron Diaz, of all people, has to say?
01.24.2005 | Charles Relaford
Wasn't Bravo, and thus 'Inside the Actor's Studio' bought by GE, along with CNBC, American Movie Classics, and Arts and Entertainment?

Guess the cheapening of 'Inside" is just par for the course.

01.24.2005 | Shaye Gambrell
So Jonathan Leaf doesn't like some of the guests on a TV chat show. Then why does he take the show so seriously? Could it be that he is a devoted viewer, who greatly admires many of the guests?

Of course, he doesn't mention the guests he's liked, because that would take the methane out of his flatulent indignation.

Pierce Brosnan "expatiated" on Remington Steele? In fact, he spoke briefly, but I guess Leaf likes his big words so much, he needs to trot them out, fairly or not. A typical ploy of the well-educated who don't think very well.

Should a chat show not touch on the role that made its guest famous? Of course, it can't; that would be nonsense. But nonsense is what this writer so often puts forth, with attitude and rhetoric in place of logic and facts.

And of course many of the guests on Actors Studio are fluff. There is, however, a solution to this great problem:

Don't watch those episodes.
02.2.2005 | Beau Hemia
For the artists long since abandoned by Inside the Actors Studio, look to the American Theatre Wing's Working in the Theatre seminars, on NY cable's CUNY TV and on the internet at www.americantheatrewing.org. Their radio show, Downstage Center, on XM also has quite a guest list, as can be downloaded from their website as podcasts.
12.23.2005 | Mike F.

The show Insid the Actor's Studio should be seen as clear enough for what the title stands out for. It's not always gonna be about the guests or else the show would go off the air really fast. Do you think anyone who's not into the field would know or care about Goldie Hawn or Stephen SOndheim? Of course not. They have to pick along side popularity and pop culture.

I love this show because it maintains it dignity in the art of the theater and film aside from "fluff" appearances. It's a seminar not only to the students in the audience, but to the aspiring artists around the world.

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