This fall, Susan Haskins and Michael Riedel mark 10 years of talking theatre on "Theater Talk," the Channel 13 weekly program that — despite its unprepossessing production values and insomniac-friendly airtime of 12:30 AM on Friday nights — has long ranked as New York City television's most prominent theatre talk show.
Every week the program plays host to the most significant actors, playwrights, composers, directors, producers and critics in the industry. (Full disclosure: I have appeared on the show.) Almost as entertaining as the guests are its often bickering hosts: producer Haskins and New York Post theatre columnist Riedel, a duo sometimes compared to George and Martha of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? fame.
"Only we're both Martha if you get to know me," laughs Haskins. "But I seem more like George, I know."
The partnership actually goes back more than 10 years. Haskins and Riedel met in 1991 while guests on a public access show about theatre hosted by Stephen Holt, when Riedel was still managing editor of the late weekly TheaterWeek. "As soon as I saw Michael in operation, I thought, 'Wow, that guy would make a great TV show about the theatre,'" remembers Haskins. A year later, they were putting together their own public access program, "Inside Theatre." Their shared model: "The McLaughlin Group" (hence the often rough-and-tumble spirit of the show).
The transfer to the more high-profile PBS was a bit of a fluke. "Public access switched us to two in the morning," says Haskins. "We didn't want to do that. As a last gasp, I called up [Channel] 13 and pitched the show into the program director's voice mail. She called me back that day." The show debuted on PBS in 1996 with John Kander and Fred Ebb talking about the then-new Broadway revival of Chicago.
As Riedel's reputation as an aggressive, go-for-the-jugular reporter grew, some interviews verged on the confrontational. Taboo star "Boy George came on and confronted him," recalls Haskins. "He stated his case, saying if the jackals were watching a show from the get-go, how could anything get up and running? People thought they were going to throw chairs at each other. But it was civilized."
On the tenth anniversary show, Riedel, Haskins and some regular guest critics will look back on the theatrical highlights of the past decade. It will air on Nov. 26 at 10:30 PM.
"Our prime-time special," jokes Haskins. "Ha-ha!"