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Back . . . on American Television

December 30, 1990|SUSAN KING

British broadcast journalist David Frost is back in America and PBS has him. On Wednesday, the Emmy Award-winner kicks off his new series, " . . . Talking with David Frost," with an in-depth interview with President Bush and his wife, Barbara.

" . . . Talking With David Frost" will consist of six monthly specials. Subsequent interview subjects include former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and actor-comedian Robin Williams.

Frost, in good spirits despite suffering from a bad cold, talked with Susan King about his new series via telephone from his office in London.

It's great to have you back on American television.

It's very, very exciting. It's what I want to be doing. The long form or the hour-long interview does seem to be something of an endangered species, and it's a terrific opportunity because a PBS hour is a real hour--or at least 57 1/2 minutes--which is longer than a commercial hour.

That does give you the emotional elbowroom to try and draw people out. You want to make news when you can, of course, and make sense all of the time, but the thing that fascinates me is what makes people tick.

Do you tape several hours with a subject and then edit it down to an hour?

If you can do two hours basically to produce a one-hour program that is pretty good. Of course, you can do more, but in general it's good to do a lot of your editing before you do the interview rather than afterward. Obviously, in certain circumstances, if you are dealing with someone who is shy and doesn't give interviews, you might want to let the tape roll a bit longer.

What are your interviewing techniques?

You can't know too much about anybody. Also, you want to know what they have said before, so you know when they are saying something for the first time. And obviously, you want to find a new angle or facet as well.

I think what makes an interview work is that you turn it into a conversation and a dialogue and that depends on eye contact and just sort of rapport.

Then you are asking questions that interest the person enough to make them want to give as good an answer as possible. That gets them absorbed in the conversation, so they forget the artificiality of having lights in the room or whatever it is.

You are opening the series with an interview with President and Mrs. Bush. Are politicians more reticent to talk than actors?

One of the interesting things President Bush shares with Margaret Thatcher is that they give a straight answer to a question. It is very refreshing because there are many politicians who play safe. The most fearless thing they will do is come out against road accidents or attack litter. Ask them their favorite color and they will say plaid.

One of the reasons Bush can do it is because he is so well-briefed and up to speed on anything you throw at him.

There are a plethora of talk shows on American TV and many are sensationalized. Are you dismayed as to what has happened to talk shows?

I think fads and fashions come and go . . . the sensationalized chat show is a phase that won't last very long.

I love diversity and variety, and in this new series " . . . Talking with David Frost" we are going to try and have that diversity.

" . . . Talking With David Frost" premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Channel 28, 9 p.m. on Channel 50.

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