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After 25 Years, the Curtain Closes on ‘Theater Talk’

Category: Art & Culture,Theater

You’d be hard pressed to find a Broadway star who hasn’t appeared on “Theater Talk.” James Gandolfini, Joan Rivers, Cate Blanchett, Idina Menzel, Hugh Jackman and Cyndi Lauper have all stopped by the television show over the last 25 years, sharing both insider gossip and earnest musings on their craft.

But despite its passionate fan base and access to Broadway’s high-wattage talent, “Theater Talk” has come to close. Its last show aired in July.

Susan Haskins, the show’s host and executive producer and a co-creator, said the show ended after a change in leadership at CUNY TV, which broadcast the program, led to a dispute over editorial control. According to her, the studio wanted to hire a television personality to host alongside her as opposed to the journalists who typically filled out her panels.

A representative from CUNY TV did not respond to requests for comment.

“To me, it’s an art project,” Ms. Haskins said of the program in a phone interview. She added: “I don’t see a vision in going corporate or having overseers.”

“Theater Talk” began on public-access television in 1993 under the leadership of Ms. Haskins, the director and actor Stephen Ahern and the journalist Michael Riedel. The first episode, featuring the critic John Simon and the producer Elizabeth McCann, was made on a shoestring budget. The public-access studio in New York, where the first season was recorded, was like “shooting in a barn,” Ms. Haskins said, adding that the series later shared a studio with a soft-core porn program.

The show would change stations several times over its run, with stints on Thirteen/WNET and CUNY TV, as well as many other local PBS channels.

“It was always kind of a miracle that Susan got this on TV,” said Jason Zinoman, a critic for The New York Times who frequently appeared on the series. “There’s nothing else like it on television.”

Despite the modest setting, the stars always came out. Chris Rock cracked wise about his role in “The ___________ With the Hat”; Jessie Mueller and Joshua Henry sang a duet from “Carousel.” And the theater icon Elaine Stritch made five appearances, including one to celebrate her 88th birthday — during which she mischievously lambasted New York City theater culture.

“Theater Talk” won the 2017 Emmy Award for Best Interview/Discussion Show in the New York area. Its last season was distributed to more than a hundred public television stations nationwide.


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