12 February 2002 | Kathryn-3
Fun look inside the business
I've been watching this series for several years. When it's good, it's really good, and when it is bad, it is still usually interesting. The best shows, in my opinion, are those from very experienced top-dog actors and directors, but "lesser" actors usually have interesting things to say too. My favorite shows were those that featured Stanley Donen, Norman Jewison, Mike Nichols, Spike Lee, Ron Howard, Anthony Hopkins, Matt Dillon, Meryl Streep and Gary Sinise. These interviewees really let you into their working process and career history without a lot of bloated self-importance. When the interviewees don't say much: "Duh, I don't know," act too cool, or start waxing philosophical about dumb movies, then it can be pretty dull. Worse is when guests like Robin Williams agree to be on the show and then don't cooperate with the format, turning it into an opportunity to show off. It doesn't happen often, but it grates when it does. James Lipton is ideal as the very knowledgeable but groveling sycophantic host, and he seems to relish playing the part. At least he is consistent in his praise (over overpraise) of every guest equally, whether they have had a 10 year or 60 year career. He doesn't focus on flops or bad reviews, so the guests aren't defensive, and on balance, that's probably the best way to do it. It's clear that he just loves the business. My favorite part is when he reads some question from his stack of blue cards that shows he has REALLY done is his research, often stunning and amusing the interviewee. I've heard more than one person say, "Where did you get THAT?" or "Have you been speaking to my mother/therapist?" I usually turn it off when the students get up to ask their questions because often they are too fawning and embarrassing.