Speakeasy, a relatively new interview series from live music broadcasting programmer Front and Center, came about somewhat serendipitously. Executive producer and industry veteran Don Maggi had already recruited Roger Waters to appear on the show, but when asked who was going to be the one asking him the questions, he was stumped. "It was so new in the process that we didn't have anybody," he tells Billboard. "So I said, 'How about Roger chooses?'" He picked journalist and CNN anchor Bill Weir, bringing to life the novel concept behind the new talk show.
"We wanted to try to deliver a platform where we can give a voice not just of music to people, but also the voice of the musician to all to their fans about things they wanted to talk about, not necessarily what someone wanted them to talk about," says Maggi.
Speakeasy's first season picked up over a million and a half viewers over its three months, airing on 80 percent of public broadcasting television stations, according to Maggi. He expects the second season will premiere in the fall or winter of 2015 or January 2016. "From the reaction we're getting from people, obviously this works," he says. "It's an underserved market. And the good thing about this format is the interest of people at this level who want to do it."
And it's a rarefied level, indeed. Dimly lit by blue lights in an intimate, ornate room in New York's McKittrick Hotel -- home to many a secret concert and the immersive theater experience Sleep No More -- guests chat for an hour about topics ranging from Nile Rodgers' epic night out at Madonna's 38th birthday party in Miami Beach to the amount of pot that Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson smokes before he and Geddy Lee jam.
"Carlos [Santana] has a long history with Harry Belafonte," adds Maggi. "Harry said he'd never interviewed anybody until he talked to Carlos. It's not just about musicians -- they can choose whoever they like from any walk of life." Lee, for example, chose author Michael Chabon; John Mellencamp picked Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner. The lineup for season two is still being solidified.
"Longform and listening to more than one or two songs from an artist is what people want, more than snippets and social media," says Maggi. "It's only just starting."