After more than 70 years on television, Dan Rather continues to evolve with the times.
Take Season 9 of The Big Interview, where the legendary newsman conducts candid conversations with celebrity guests remotely. These upcoming six episodes, filmed via Zoom and in-person camera teams, shine a spotlight on musical families, including, on the season premiere, Hillary Scott of the country chart-topping Lady A, and her husband and drummer Chris Tyrell.
TV Insider puts Rather in the hot seat to talk about the experience of taking the AXS TV series virtual, and more.
What made you decide to tie Season 9 to musical families?
Dan Rather: The way I understand it is things happened rather organically, led by the executive producer of the program Madeleine Rowe. We thought, “What can we do that was different? What would work?” It’s one of the more interesting years because people are at home and can relate to that family dynamic.
Did you find interviewing by Zoom more challenging than in-person?
It is more challenging. I’d much prefer to do it in person. This way requires even more preparation, which is key to any good interview, along with listening. It’s also more challenging to interview two or more people rather than one person. When you’re directly there, you can see everything from the look in their eyes to their body language and the ways they shift in their chairs. I will say I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well these virtual interviews have turned out. That’s a tribute to the people I work with, which is our News and Guts team.
You have an eclectic mix of artists touching on various musical genres. Any episode, in particular, stand out?
John Fogerty [Creedence Clearwater Revival founder] and his children [the April 28 episode]. We had done Forgerty before some years ago. It had a very warm dynamic that was unexpected. It had such a strong family element. We also normally have two locations and, in this case, we had three. It was a big group. There was something especially real all the way around, which made it a highlight.
Any guests who really surprised you?
I was not all that familiar with Adam “Ad-Rock” Rock Horwitz [Beastie Boys] and his wife Kathleen Hanna [of Bikini Kill]. Here is a couple where each one of them had an influential career. Kathleen has an incredible legacy as a feminist pop icon. Adam, his reputation, and his legacy speak for themselves. I was interested to see how this power couple interacted. Sometimes you pick up a vibe where somewhere deep down they’re still competitive with one another and I didn’t get that here. They have tremendous support for one another. It was very heartwarming to see.
You listen to rap music and another episode that sticks out to me is Lil Jon and his son Young Slade, who’s a DJ. How was getting to know them?
I certainly knew who Lil Jon was. I knew really nothing about his son and I wanted to make sure I also paid attention to him. I didn’t want him to be this potted plant sitting off to the side. He’s talented and smart and eloquent. I was touched, which at my age as a hardened reporter isn’t easy. Lil Jon was talking about when he first realized Slade did indeed have the gift of music at an early age; he recalled Slade kicking in his mother’s womb any time Lil Jon would be in his studio making music. What a mental picture that is.
If there’s a Season 10, anyone on your interview wishlist?
Eminem. Number one, he has been very successful for a very long time. Number two, he doesn’t do very many interviews. He’s very hard to get. Third, he’s an intriguing character with a really good story to tell.
Who have you been listening to, to get you through this hard year?
Music has helped me get through the pandemic. I’m a big Willie Nelson fan. I’m a fifth- or sixth-generation Texan, and what Texan do you know that doesn’t like Willie Nelson. Minutes before this interview, I was listening to an old Willie Nelson song called “Me and Paul.” It’s not one of his better-known songs, but I can recommend it to you. Willie’s music means a great deal to me. I do like march music. If I’m feeling low or need to get my mojo going, it’s something like Stars and Stripes Forever. I like rock ‘n’ roll, The [Rolling] Stones. But when I’m looking for something to raise my spirits, country music is front and center. Nobody does it like Willie Nelson.
Season 9 of The Big Interview with Dan Rather premieres, 8/7c, April 14, AXS TV