David Axelrod hopes to translate the dynamics of good conversation to the visuals required for good TV.
The former Obama adviser, who now works as director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics as well as a CNN contributor, started doing a podcast in 2015, and was excited by the notion of getting interesting people to simply sit and talk about their lives and beliefs, no matter their political leanings. “The idea was that if you had conversations with people about their lives and their journeys and how they arrived in their positions in life and in their positions on issues, you can take some of the acidity out of politics,” Axelrod explained during a brief interview.
CNN will see whether the concept translates to the world of cable news. On Saturday at 9 p.m., the Time Warner-owned cable-news outlet will air a second broadcast of “The Axe Files,” during which Axelrod will interview California Governor Jerry Brown. A previous broadcast had Axelrod sit down and talk with Senator John McCain. It’s one of a small handful of different programming concepts the network has experimented with in recent weeks.
Astute viewers will have noticed the occasional appearance of “The Messy Truth,” the Van Jones-hosted hour that has surfaced in CNN’s primetime lineup. The network has also provided a selection of town-hall meetings with various government officials. Axelrod’s show is separate from his twice-weekly podcast, in which CNN is also involved.
For Axelrod, the compelling element of his “Files” is the opportunity for interesting guests to talk at length about subjects that drive them – no matter their political leaning. “At a time when Donald Trump is leaning in one direction, California is going in another, “ Axelrod explained. Governor Brown is “making a pretty strong stand for the directions he’s taken, with an emphasis on issues like climate change, a progressive approach to immigration and health reform; and asking a little more of the wealthy to help support the state of California And it’s working.”
Producers want the tone of Axelrod’s podcast to work with the TV audience. “We are really trying to do something that is simple and straightforward,” said Rebecca Kutler, executive producer of the show, who added: “We are really trying to keep it similar to the podcast, keeping it as a long form conversation, one guest for a full hour. What David is able to do so well is talk about the guest’s story.”
Axelrod, a former Chicago Tribune reporter, has had podcast conversations with everyone from Karl Rove to Chelsea Handler, and is eager for his programs to have a “storytelling” tone to them. “These are people who have good stories, interesting life stories and who are passionate about what they do.”
He hopes CNN will give him the opportunity to do a monthly “Axe Files” broadcast, but “we will see where it goes.” In the meantime, there’s a lot more talking to do.