I was asked by Dori Berinstein if I'd like to do a talk show for the then new channel, Oxygen. I'd always loved chatting and the idea appealed to me, though I was wary of staying away from more conventional formats which I didn't think would suit me. So we came up with Eavesdropping with Alan Cumming.
The idea is that the audience would basically be voyeurs. I would meet up with someone, usually someone I already knew, and we would wander around together, get in a car and drive to a restaurant, and then eat. Pretty simple and not exactly ground-breaking but it actually made for some really interesting material.
On most talk shows, you are performing. I always say that when I come out and sit on the sofa I feel as though I am playing a version of myself: Alan Cumming, the chatty celebrity. I genuinely do enjoy most TV talk shows (the lack of ability for them to editorialize as well as the opportunity to counter any nonsense on the spot has a lot to do with it), but there is a format which you must adhere to: regurgitate the anecdotes you have been briefed to do per the pre-interview you have had with the show's producer. So there is a pressure to be funny and witty and brief - attributes that are usually incidental to why you are actually on the show on the first place! . Some hosts, of course, are confident and skilled enough to be spontaneous and to have a genuine conversation, but mostly it is a series of pre-arranged funny stories.
So the great thing about the Eavesdropping format, despite the fact that we were aware of being tailed by three camera teams and we had to stop occasionally for technical reasons, was that there was no pressure to be funny or to tell anecdotes. It was quite rambly, and when it worked best, a genuine conversation between two friends.
For me the best bits are in the car. There we used two tiny cameras at either side of the front windshield (they're called lipstick cams) and although there was a cameraman out of sight in the back seat behind us, it really was the most self-conscious you could possibly get whilst being interviewed on a TV show! I think this section in the first show with Gwyneth Paltrow proves my point.
I also get Gwyneth to come off her macro-biotic diet and have french fries. Beat that, David Letterman.