How It All Started

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.

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