BERLIN — She’s Germany’s most famous talkshow host, pitching hardball questions with a deceptively friendly smile to the world’s politicians and celebrities in a primetime, hourlong show on pubcaster ARD.
Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, Tony Blair, Salman Rushdie, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Harry Belafonte are among the many who have been grilled by Sabine Christiansen, whose show is something of a cross between Oprah Winfrey and Larry King.
Now viewers in 101 countries will be able to tune in to “Global Players With Sabine Christiansen” via a deal with CNBC.
Fluent in German, English, French and Russian, she will do 12 English-language shows over the next nine months linked to important political events, kicking off in Moscow in February on the sidelines of the Group of Eight meeting.
Christiansen, a 48-year-old former Lufthansa flight attendant who retrained as a journalist before becoming an anchor for ARD, will interview two to six guests in the hourlong show.
She says the idea for the international spinoff came in 2004 from one of her guests, Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, which owns CNBC.
“We were talking about it at the after-show party. We agreed right then to look into it, and my TV21 company started (developing) some thoughts about the concept. A few weeks later, CNBC got together with us, and it all took off from there,” Christiansen says in an interview with Variety at her Berlin office, which has a spectacular view of the Reichstag parliament building and Brandenburg Gate.
“This is a fantastic vehicle to discuss some of the major international political and economic issues and trends with top international guests. I think the era when people looked at things from a single-nation point of view was over at the end of the 20th century.”
The powerful men and women who square off on political issues each Sunday at 9:45 p.m. with Christiansen have given the charismatic blonde unrivaled influence over the last eight years.
The last three German chancellors have appeared on her show. In fact, she has set the nation’s political agenda to the point that critics complain she makes parliament superfluous.
“The funny thing about that criticism is that it first came from the former president of parliament, Wolfgang Thierse — in a TV talkshow. That says it all, really,” says Christiansen, who is said to have conservative leanings that, if true, are impossible to see in her program. “We’re not trying to be policymakers; we are bringing politics close to people.”
Christiansen carefully guards her private life, but it has neverthless served up tabloid headlines. In 2003 she divorced Theo Baltz, the TV exec with whom she launched her show, and severed their professional relationship after his affair with another TV hostess.
Since then her career has gone from strength to strength, much to the delight of the tabloids, which have taken the ratings queen to their hearts.
“Our show in Germany is very much established,” she says modestly of the skein that draws an average aud of 5 million and is often one of the 10 most-watched broadcasts each week. “There’s even quite a bit of a following across Europe in countries bordering Germany. We’re hoping to build on that success with CNBC.”