Archive for September 27th, 2007

September 27, 2007

Talking about talk.

I have discovered with experience that interview guests fall into several categories. Generally speaking I classify them as follows:


  1. The Clams – these require the painful shucking knife approach.

  2. The Duds – they talk but either their subject is boring or they are. These are the worst.

  3. The Nervous Wrecks – These are the ones who stammer and stare at me and the camera as if they just came back from a dilation at the optometrist. These often only manifest symptoms after the cameraman says “action” so I must switch into calming and smiling mode.

  4. The Ok But not Greats – That pretty well explains itself.

  5. The Gems – These are the guests who I merely have to guide and who make sparks fly.


I was reminded of the last category today when Anand Ramlogan made an appearance. He is what the programme is all about – getting the viewers blood pressure to rise. When I have a guest like him on I like to fade into the background and let them take centre stage. Anand loves the camera and talks to it knowing he is speaking to the viewer. Most of my guests speak to me and  we both engage in a conversation in partial profile…not Anand. Whenever he is on he becomes less a guest than a guest commentator. That is the way it should be when a guest is engaging and is not on to give account of his or her  actions.


I have been accused of being soft on guests but I can assure you it is an illusion. There are many ways to conduct an interview just as there are many types of interviewers. I enjoy watching an attack interview as much as anyone. Tim Sebastian of the BBC is a master of the art. He badgers his subject to the point you feel sorry for tin pot dictators who volunteered for the interview. In many cases the guests are following their own plan of action and it is necessary for the interviewer to pul them back in line but quite often badgering just forces them to clam up and enter damage control mode. This type of interview is usually part of a highly structured interview with the interviewer following a strict set of questions with no detours allowed. There is, of course, merit to this approach but to the viewer it can result in rather a staccato feel to the interview. I have done many  interviews of this type but I have developed a theory that for most people it is not necessary and, in fact, not desirable. Not to say, given my personality, that I don’t enjoy going for the jugular.


My normal approach to interviewing is what I call the organic interview. Given that television is a part of the viewers living room, I feel an interview programme should correspond to the normal life experience of viewers. Sometimes we have confrontations with others and must demand answers but other times we have conversations that flow, like a stream, with one idea naturally leading to another as the incline of the landscape demands. In such interviews the viewer gets a genuine insight into the personality and thought processes of the subject – even if the process only reveals that the subject is. in fact. cagey and evasive. To me this allows the viewer to make their own decision about the character of the person being interviewed. Also, not surprisingly, a flowing interview makes the guest more comfortable and will frequently result in them divulging more than they intended. Generally, I walk into an interview having fully studied the topic but  with only 3 to 4 broad questions actually written down and then go with the flow. The unfortunate side result of this sort of interview is that I end up scribbling notes during the interview so i can refer to points made and run with them. There are a few exceptions to this rule and at those times I switch to doberman mode – or at least moderately irate mongrel mode. Some subjects, sadly, respond to neither conversation or aggression. I recall a recent interview with a government official who did not want to answer a question I posed and despite a less than gentle “that is interesting but can you answer the question” from me…insisted on meandering all over the place. Interview subjects are there at their discretion so at a certain point one can only hope the viewer makes deductions based on the evasion.


I have been avoiding the subject for fear of actually giving my unvarnished views but I fear the time for a blog entry on politics is coming soon. As Dave Allen used to say to close his show…May your God be with you.

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