Master of class
MICHAEL PARKINSON RETURNS TO TV WITH A BRAND NEW SHOW
PARKINSON: MASTERCLASS Sunday, 10pm, ABC1
DON’T get journalist and acclaimed television interviewer Michael Parkinson started on the modern-day talk show.
The 77-year-old, who captured audiences’ attention for more than 20 years as the host of his own chat show, has become completely disengaged with the format.
In fact, its mere mention results in a ‘‘grumpy old man’’ style rant that’s almost as awkward as his famous Meg Ryan interview, where the movie star only gave monosyllabic responses.
‘‘The trouble with talk shows nowadays and a lot of interview programs is that all you see is a narrow band of people who just made a slasher movie or a vampire movie or who have written a crappy pop song or whatever,’’ he says.
‘‘Nowadays, talk shows, they’re designed for people who appear on dubious talent shows and celebrity shows. People aren’t famous anymore, they’re celebrities.
‘‘The people nowadays who are churned out by the celebrity machine aren’t worth talking to because they’ve got nothing to say.
‘‘There’s a world beyond that where people have higher intellectual achievement, higher expectancy in what they do.
‘‘I have no passion for the talk show. I’ve done the talk show.’’
And with such an apparent disdain for the format that once made him famous, it took a program of a very different vein to bring the interviewer back to the small screen after a fiveyear absence.
His new six-part series, Parkinson: Masterclass, has the author interviewing six of the world’s most accomplished artistic performers: War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, jazz musician Jamie Cullum, portrait artist Jonathan Yeo, war photographer Don McCullin, classical pianist Lang Lang, and principal dancer Carlos Acosta. Each program is designed to discover how the talent honed their skills and got to the top of their game, featuring unique performances from the guests and questions from the studio audience.
‘‘This is a way of doing what I want to do in a different format . . . of recharging my batteries too,’’ Parkinson says.
While the show is new and exciting for the interviewer, it is actually based on an idea he had almost 40 years ago during an interview with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson in the mid-’70s.
‘‘The camera broke down so we’re sitting next to him with nothing to do and I just simply said to him, ‘What’s the history of jazz piano?’,’’ Parkinson recalls.
‘‘Thirty days later he demonstrated it to me and talked to me about it and I thought, ‘What a wonderful show could be done about masterclass and somebody like that who can demonstrate how and why he does something brilliantly well’.’’
Although it may have taken almost half a lifetime to eventuate, Parkinson says he is thrilled with the series.
He speaks about his guests with passion, appreciation and great respect.
Unlike the ‘‘celebrities’’ that feature on regular talk shows, he says his guests are ‘‘stars’’.
‘‘These are famous people with achievements,’’ the Englishman says.
‘‘A celebrity for me is someone who walks from one side of a TV set to the other and says, ‘Gee, I’m famous’. Somebody who’s famous is somebody like Carlos Acosta, who fought through rampant poverty to become one of the greatest dancers in the world against all kinds of objections and obstacles.
‘‘That’s a star, that’s a famous person – they’re worth talking to.’’
But with so many brilliant artists across the globe, you’d imagine narrowing it down to only six for the television series would be incredibly difficult. Not so, though, says Parkinson.
TRUE STARS: Portrait artist Jonathan Yeo (above), and jazz pianist Jamie Cullen.