How It All Started

James Lipton tells the story of how Inside the Actors Studio began.

My last blog celebrated Spring, so it's been a while. For a reason. After the 100-day writer's strike, which Inside the Actors Studio honored from first day to last, my team and I have been working night and day to catch up, shooting five episodes in twenty-one days, an unprecedented schedule, given the two weeks of preparation I normally devote to each guest.

No one was given short shrift. By working ahead, and devoting sixteen hours a day to the task, I was ready for Brooke Shields, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Myers, Goldie Hawn, and Dave Chappelle -- and you'll be seeing the results on Bravo. They are five exceptional guests, and they've provided us with five exceptional episodes.

Dave returned to our stage to help us celebrate our 200th episode, and I can confidently promise you that when you see this show, it won't look or sound -- or feel -- like any Inside the Actors Studio episode you've ever witnessed.

Because of the 100-day gap in our schedule last fall, we still owe you a few episodes, which we'll be shooting this summer. So ... no rest for the weary Inside the Actors Studio staff, but on the other hand, no complaints. Meeting these artists on our stage, as we have for fourteen fascinating years, and listening to the unguarded, unabridged, uncensored accounts of their lives, is a rare and precious privilege that we enjoy as much as our audience in 84,000,00 homes on Bravo and in 125 countries.

One of the most frequent remarks I hear from strangers is, "You've got a great job!" -- and I agree -- which often leads to the question, "How did it start?" which I address in my book Inside Inside:

In September, 1994, once we had assembled the full-time faculty of Studio members for our school, one category remained: those Studio members and colleagues whose lives were so circumscribed by their work schedules that they could give us, if they were willing to participate, only one evening. I set out to enlist them, sending dozens of letters, explaining and describing our school, and inviting them to come for one evening to teach our students. The response to my letter startled and heartened me. Paul Newman said yes, as did Alec Baldwin, Sally Field, Dennis Hopper, Shelley Winters, Sydney Pollack.

With a sheaf of acceptances in hand, I sent word back into the professional world from which I'd come. It was a simple message: "These are the people who are coming, and it's possible that they may say something worth preserving. The only way to preserve it is with cameras and microphones." In an existential leap of faith for which I'll be forever grateful, the Bravo cable network stepped forward. Now, suddenly, we were a master's degree program and a television series, owned, at my insistence, entirely by the Actors Studio, and licensed, like any other television series, by a network. The day after the contract negotiation was concluded, I got a call from a Bravo executive asking, "By the way, what's the series called?" "I've got someone on the other line. I'll call you back," I sputtered, and hung up. I had no one on the other line. What I had was a problem. In the burly-burly of putting together our TV staff and crew, and booking equipment--not to mention admitting our first academic class -- I hadn't paused to give "the series," as it was identified in the contract, a name.

Now, seated at my desk at the school, brow knotted, I asked myself, "What is it called?" I was still covering a sheet of foolscap with names -- Onstage! -- Lights! Camera! Action!--Backstage--when the phone rang. The network executive's voice trembled. "Listen --we've got a TV Guide deadline! If we don't tell them what it's called right now, the Bravo space'll be blank!" The words came out instantly and automatically: "Inside the Actors Studio." "Got it! I'll tell Publicity." I hung up and wondered why it was called Inside the Actors Studio. "Well," I told myself, "it's obvious: you're inviting all these people inside the Actors Studio to teach the Studio's students, and the public's being invited inside the Actors Studio to witness the interaction." It may have been obvious to me, but it hasn't been obvious to every member of our television audience. I still get viewer letters from self-appointed custodians of the Studio's torch demanding to know whether Anthony Hopkins and Martin Scorsese and Robert Redford and Vanessa Redgrave are Studio members, and, if not, what are they doing there! All I can do is sigh and say, (A) I wish they were members, and (B) I'm eternally grateful to them for interrupting their busy schedules to come inside the Actors Studio to teach our students, whose education would be the poorer for want of their instruction.

So, if you were wondering, that's how our show was born, and how it got its slightly ambiguous name -- and why, fourteen years later I am as excited each time a guest walks onstage as I was that first night in 1994 when Paul Newman did.

The Magical 250th Episode

James lets you know how you the viewer can shape the show's record-shattering episode.

The amazing journey of Inside the Actors Studio continues at an accelerating pace.

Consider:

We are entering our Nineteenth Season, shattering our own record for cable TV longevity.

We have received out fifteenth Emmy nomination, another record.

We are celebrating these milestones with yet one more record: our 250th Episode.

And just to add another layer of icing to the cake, this will be an Inside the Actors Studio episode unlike any of the preceding 249.

Why? Because this time, you, our viewers in 94,000,000 homes across America on Bravo, and in 125 countries around the world, are going to cast it.

Over the years since 1994, we've had thousands of viewer responses to the show, on the internet, in the media and even -- and often -- on the street and in every conceivable public space, where I'm approached by kind strangers with, "My favorite show was. . ." "My favorite moment was. . ." "My favorite guest was. . ."

So, when my Bravo colleagues and I gathered around a table to ask ourselves, "How do we celebrate the 250th?" we realized the answer was staring us in the face: "Let's let those good people who have shared this amazing journey with us take over and pick the best moments, episodes, and guests of the past eighteen years, and we'll reprise them on the 250th, with full on-air credit to the viewer whose proposal we've selected."

Victor Hugo said, "Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come" and clearly this is an idea whose time has come.

And the social networks of cyberspace, another idea whose time has come since we began the series, enable us to reach out to. . .you out there, wherever you are and whatever you think.

So we invite you to share your all-time favorite moment, guest or episode, and the reason for your choice, by commenting here at Bravotv.com, on Bravo’s Facebook page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #IAS250. If we choose your response, it will be read on the show, as the introduction of the moment, guest or episode you’ve proposed, signed and certified by you.

It’s as simple as that: you, our viewers are the casting directors of this historic 250th episode -- and your wishes will be our commands.

We await your responses and decisions. Then you and your friends and family can gather before the electronic hearth later this fall to watch an unprecedented cavalcade of stars, chosen -- and presented -- by YOU and your fellow viewers.

In the meantime, happy reminiscing. We’re sure this will be our best show ever because it’s now in your capable hands.