Walking through New York City, fielding questions about her new TV show, Songwriters Under the Covers, Victoria Shaw stops in her tracks. “I’m passing by Lincoln Center’s WNET studios. I’m literally being broadcasted in the window,” she says of the PBS station. “It’s surreal.”
Shaw, who divides her time between New York City and Nashville, has recorded four albums and has penned such hits as Garth Brooks’ “The River” and John Michael Montgomery’s “I Love the Way You Love Me.” As a producer, her credits include Lady Antebellum’s debut album. Launching a show featuring songwriters sharing stories behind their biggest hits is a natural move for Shaw, who tapped friends like Desmond Child, Brett James, Jeffrey Steele, Gary Burr, Georgia Middleman, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Marcus Hummon for the first seven episodes of the one hour series, which airs on PBS stations and streams on All Arts TV.
“All Arts is the platform that really signed me, and they broadcast on PBS stations,” Shaw says. “It’s available on Roku, Apple and it’s on All Arts TV app. The cool thing about having this access on the All Arts TV platform is that people can really binge on it.”
Here, Shaw talks about the origins of her latest venture.
Has hosting a television show always been a career goal?
Through the years whenever I’ve been hosting my songwriter series — especially the one that I’ve been doing at Birdland in New York for the last 15 years — I’ve had a lot of people [say], “You are such a good hostess. You should be on TV. Let’s have a meeting.” I’ve taken a lot of meetings for the last 10 years and the end of the story is that the songwriting show concept was way too hard to explain to sell. They would try and nothing would happen. I gave up thinking that would happen because I’ve seen it NOT happen so many times.
How did you get the deal to do Songwriters Under the Covers?
I literally met a man in the lobby of my building [in New York]. I overheard him talking about some music people that I knew. We struck up a conversation and I told him, “I’m playing at Birdland tonight. You should come.” He came to a show I did at Birdland and then a show I did at the Opry [City] Stage in New York that summer.
Last fall, he said, “Let me take you to breakfast. I want to talk to you about something.” So he took me to breakfast and said, “I think you are a great host. These shows are phenomenal, and I think there is a TV show here.” I said to him, “Well that’s so nice of you, but I’m telling you it will never fly,” so I tried to talk him out of it.
How did he respond to your lack of confidence?
He looked at me like I was crazy and he goes, “OK, but you’ve never had me pitch it.” So I just said, “OK, feel free to pitch away, but please don’t feel bad when you come back and tell me that you couldn’t sell the concept.” And 45 days later from that breakfast, we had a green light for a series from All Arts TV, not even like a pilot. We got a series. It was amazing.
His name is Brad Fuss from Brighton Entertainment and he has a long history of doing live music television shows. That’s his passion and he’s very good at it. We’ve been fantastic partners ever since. We have a really good synergy. He got me so much so that on the first day of taping, he didn’t give me direction other than, “Just go do what you do Vic,” because he didn’t want to make me any more nervous than I already was. There are no cue cards. I just kind of make up my own introductions. He said, “I just wanted you to be natural,” and I really appreciate that.
Have you learned something about one of your friends or one of their songs that you didn’t know before doing this series?
I didn’t realize that Jeff Steele wrote “My Town” [a 2002 hit for Montgomery Gentry] influenced by what happened on 9/11. He saw how New York came together like a small town. I didn’t know that was the origin of the song. I’ll never think of that song in the same way again. I love that. He said he wrote it in Colorado, but they [he and co-writer Reed Nielsen] talked about how resilient New York had been and how they all came together. I’m learning stuff and enjoying it just like the audience is.
Will there be a season two? And who would be your dream guest?
We just had a meeting yesterday and they are really excited about season two. Right after the beginning of the year we’ll do all new episodes. [All Arts Senior Producer] Kristy Geslain and [VP/GM of WLIW21/ All Arts] Diane Masciale believe in me and they really let me be me. I know how lucky I am to have this opportunity.
I definitely have a lot of people in mind for season two. If Dolly Parton’s around and you have any influence on her, tell her to come, because she is one of my favorite writers in the whole world. Next season I’m going to be showcasing some brand new talent as well. I’m looking forward to incorporating that because it’s something that I feel strongly about. I’ve been at the beginnings of so many incredibly gifted young artists — starting with Lady A, obviously — so I can’t wait to introduce audiences to people like that too. I can’t wait to introduce people to all these talented young people I’m working with including Cooper Alan. We just released his first single on our own and six weeks in, it’s almost to 400,000 streams.
Will the show continue to tape at Birdland?
I’d like to take this show on the road when I’m not taping it. I think it would work so well with Performing Art Centers. It would be really fun for me to be able to take it with me on the road and do that as well, but I also never want to forget songwriting time and developing new artists like I am with Cooper Alan. I would like to be able to tour this a bit, but also not forget my writing, producing and artist development back in Nashville. Right now it’s a perfect combination for all my outlets.