Elvis Costello out of tune as talk-show host

Tue Dec 2, 2008 9:52pm EST
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By Randee Dawn

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - To warp a saying -- those who can do, and those who can't, interview them. The thing is, Elvis Costello, host of "Spectacle," can do and has done since 1977. Since then he's been a punk-pop icon, has played with Elvis Presley's sidemen and dabbled in both classical and jazz, among other things.

So who thought he could just leap in and start asking the questions? Because as an interviewer, Costello is a great musician.

"Spectacle's" premise is simple: Each episode focuses on one musician, who is interviewed by Costello, duets with Costello, hears Costello play his songs and occasionally gets to play solo -- all before a live audience. The lineup for the first shows includes The Police, Norah Jones, Julian Schnabel/Lou Reed and Bill Clinton (seriously).

Alas, the program has little direction and almost no flow. Segments leap from song to interview to video clip and back with nary a segue or logical progression. The stage is too dark, and a secondary proscenium flanked by velvet drapes hems everyone in.

Meanwhile, Costello doesn't exactly set things at ease; what should be a chatty, inside-rock gabfest rarely runs free, thanks to his overuse of cue cards and stiff stage presence (that is, when he's not holding a guitar). It's tough viewing, even for fans.

In the end, not everyone can be Jools Holland, the Squeeze co-founder who since 1992 has hosted his own talk/music show in England. Costello has some journalistic history writing for Vanity Fair, so at some point he might just tell the producers to back off and toss away his cards. Meanwhile, the real spectacle is the show itself, but not for the right reasons.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

<p>Singer and songwriter Elvis Costello gestures as he discusses his new program "Spectacle: Elvis Costello with..." during the Sundance Channel's panel presentation at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills,California July 10, 2008. REUTERS/ Fred Prouser</p>