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Q & A

Listen to Him Talk

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 first came to the attention of American audiences more than 25 years ago as host of the satirical NBC series "That Was the Week That Was." His syndicated talk show "The David Frost Show" won two Emmy Awards in the early 1970s. He has interviewed such world figures as former President Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, the Shah of Iran, Prince Charles and King Hussein.

Most recently he hosted the syndicated series "The Next President," in which he interviewed candidates for the 1988 presidential election.

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

Q. 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 hourlong 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 just draw people out. The thing that always fascinates me, of course, is you want to make news when you can and make sense all of the time, but the thing that fascinates me is what makes people tick.

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

I usually think 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 I think 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.

Q. What are your interviewing techniques?

I think you can't know too much about anybody. One of the things you want to do is 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 of somebody as well.

I take the view where you can't do too much homework. That doesn't mean that the emphasis on the ad-lib moment isn't vital, but I think the more preparation you do the more liberated you are to wing it. You know whatever the guy or girl goes off into, the more you know about the subject, the easier it is to go with it. 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 you are talking to enough to want 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.

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

One of the interesting things that President Bush shares with Margaret Thatcher is that they do 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 why Bush does that is that he is so well-briefed, that he is up to speed on anything that you throw to him.

The other thing about President Bush and Barbara Bush is their sense of humor, which irrigates an interview very well. We have done three interviews. Right at the beginning of the campaign in 1987 and then on the eve of the election in November, 1988, and then his first interview as President in September, 1989. So this will be the fourth one. Often, you find when you have more than one interview, a relationship develops and you can get into the deeper subjects in a relaxed way all the quicker.

Q. 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. I think that the sensationalized chat show is a phase that won't last very long.

We have one or two newspapers here which are a bit like that, where people are meeting Adolf Hitler or find Elvis Presley working as a garage mechanic. But we haven't had a lot of that on TV.

I do two or three shows here. Every Sunday I do "Frost on Sunday." Brilliant title, isn't it? Very original. It took months to work that one out. That's with the leading newsmakers of the week.

That is an interview program because there is no audience. And then I do a lighthearted panel game show 13 weeks a year, called "Through the Keyhole." And then I do satellite specials.

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 KCET; 9 p.m. on KOCE. The program will be simulcast on National Public Radio.

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