When Chris Wallace’s talk show returns today on HBO Max, there won’t be many changes from its previous incarnation: sitting on a spartan set with a black background, interviewing celebrities, politicians, authors and other names in bold. He even sings, a little bit, with Shania Twain.
The biggest change is that it’s not on CNN+. In March, Who talks to Chris Wallace? was one of the flagship shows on the ill-fated subscription streaming service, only to disappear when CNN’s new parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, went out of business.
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Each Friday, three interviews will air on HBO Max, with highlights featured on CNN on Sundays at 7 pm ET, an unusual arrangement in the world of streaming.
In an interview with Deadline along with his executive producer, Javier De Diego, Wallace acknowledged that “it was a bumpy road to get from here to there, but we feel very lucky.” He said that HBO Max, with its 75 million subscribers, is actually proving to be beneficial in booking guests, unlike CNN+, which “at the time you had to explain to people what it was all about.”
In addition to Twain, the initial guest list includes Alex Rodriguez, Henry Winkler, James Patterson, Tyler Perry and, in his first interview since retirement, former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
Wallace said the show hasn’t strayed from its intent: longer, flowing interviews of about 30 minutes in length. Once a fixture on television with the likes of Larry King and Charlie Rose, this interview format has all but disappeared from television, with podcasts filling the void.
About his fox news sunday program, a 10- or 12-minute interview would be considered long by television standards, Wallace said, and “you spend as much time thinking about what you’re not going to get to as you are about what you are. So you really can’t mess around. You have to… make news and basically, to use a sports analogy, throw fastballs, one after another. And this is not that. This is a conversation, and an extended conversation, of about 30 minutes, some a little longer, some a little shorter.”
Wallace’s departure last December after a long tenure at Fox News came as a surprise and, in the build-up to the launch of CNN+, was seen as one of then-CNN Chairman Jeff Zucker’s greatest achievements in getting established personalities. for the new streaming service. Wallace said that when he spoke with Zucker in November of last year, “he said, ‘What do you want to do here?’ And my introduction was Charlie Rose meets Larry King, and one of the reasons I said that is I thought it would be fun to do it in the first place. Second, he was also aware of the fact that there was a great void and something that existed no longer exists. I have to say that Jeff jumped right away.”
The first incarnation of Who talks to Chris Wallace? it featured interviews with the likes of William McRaven, Jen Psaki, and Billy Crystal, and some of the sit-ins, like Bob Iger’s, made headlines.
But all that stopped with the April 21 announcement that CNN+’s days were numbered. Wallace said CNN’s incoming CEO, Chris Licht, took him out to breakfast two days earlier and briefed him on the plans.
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“I was shocked and obviously disturbed because we’d spent three months putting this together, putting together a great team, building, I think, a really interesting show … building a bank, and all of a sudden the rug was pulled from us,” Wallace said.
He said he already knew Licht, from when he was an executive producer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and CNN’s new boss assured him “very quickly” that he “liked my job and wanted to continue doing business.”
In May, the announcement was made that the show would air live on HBO Max and CNN.
“We were able to get the team back together,” De Diego said, with the same bookers and producers returning. Others at CNN+ moved on to other jobs, Wallace noted, but “we didn’t lose a single person. In fact, we added several as we’re into this new incarnation.”
De Diego, who has been with CNN for 15 years, said that “the exciting part of this is the fact that we are on two different platforms and we can pioneer, if you will, this new experiment. He said that they were able to record interviews with about 15 guests during the months of July and August, assigning them for the new time slot, while they already have some names on the schedule for the second season.
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Other CNN+ projects have found new homes on HBO Max, including the documentary series. latest movie starswhile CNN recently announced that a show with Alison Roman would debut this fall.
Wallace said Licht and HBO’s Casey Bloys have been “tremendously supportive.” He also said that he was satisfied that Who talks to Chris Wallace? would get the “hero” position at the top of the HBO Max home page, right where house of the dragon I was.
He said he didn’t necessarily see the show as a competition for guests like network morning shows, and while Who talks to Chris Wallace? will feature celebrities as they promote their latest projects, the show’s format will allow for deeper conversations.
Twain, for example, discussed his experience with Lyme disease and loss of voice, as well as his marital difficulties. Rodriguez talks about his suspension from baseball for using performance-enhancing drugs.
It’s also a bit of a departure from what viewers have been used to from Wallace, who has moderated presidential debates and, as host of fox news sunday, was known for his no-nonsense line of questioning and following up on lawmakers from both parties. This time, he’s in different territory, as was evident in the interview with A-Rod.
Wallace at one point asked him to tackle a more sensational subject: Jennifer Lopez. “Honestly, does it bother you that a few days after they broke up, she saw Ben Affleck again and ended up marrying him, not you?”
“First of all, I’m glad I’m never a presidential candidate, because you would beat me up,” Rodriguez replied, before simply wishing Lopez and her children “the best.”
Wallace insisted that interviewing a celebrity is not that different from a political figure. He interviewed entertainment figures like Morgan Freeman and Kim Basinger when he was on ABC News and was featured in the news magazine. star time, as well as co-hosting NBC This day in the 1980s
“Asking a tough question is always a little tough, but we don’t have subpoena powers, they’ve agreed to come,” Wallace said. “…While I want it to be a good conversation, on the other hand, if there’s something that’s out there, like A-Rod and Jennifer Lopez, that I know the audience wants to hear what their response is, even if it turns out to be something like a lack of response, I’m going to ask him.”
He added, “The point of the show is to have a conversation and make people feel like it’s a safe place, but a safe place doesn’t mean we’re going to ignore something that’s in the news.”
Still, even though celebrities may have their own teams of handlers and advisers, “I’ve found there’s a level of candor, there’s a level of realism, that I haven’t generally experienced covering interviewers and politicians.”
The only person Wallace brought in from Fox News was his investigator, Lori Crim, with the demands of preparing for the interview perhaps even greater due to the extended time.
“Because I have the luxury of time, it can be 30 or 40 minutes, I don’t have to stick to a very disciplined plan,” he said. “If we’re having a conversation and they say something interesting, I can follow up.”
De Diego said they have a designated producer to handle the CNN show, as they “will get together and decide” the order of the guests for Sunday’s show, as well as the best parts of the interview to highlight.
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Wallace continues to appear on CNN, providing analysis during events such as the Committee hearings on January 6 and the upcoming Midterm Election Night coverage.
Licht is making a number of changes throughout CNN’s schedule, but Wallace rejects the suggestion that he would return to do another Sunday morning show.
“Oh, God, no,” he said, adding that he has already spent 18 years doing a Sunday show and on the political issue. “And at this point in my career, I wanted to try something different. And I always had this idea in mind, even before CNN hired me to do it, was to do this kind of extended interview: conversation, less formal, no holds barred, across the spectrum of my interests.”
He added: “I’m on HBO Max, I’m on CNN in prime time. My entire appetite for television is satisfied.”