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New Show, Familiar Format for C-SPAN

C-SPAN founder and CEO Brian Lamb credits his high school journalism teacher Bill Fraser for teaching him how to conduct an interview.

“A good teacher will tell you early on to stop hurrying and listen,” Lamb said last week as he sat in his office just steps from the studio where C-SPAN’s popular morning call-in show “Washington Journal” is produced.

In the 25 years since his fledgling public service network found its own niche in the fast-paced world of Washington media, Fraser’s advice has stuck with Lamb. Lamb, who rarely talks about himself and hates hearing

his own name on air, admitted he has always had a passion for finding out other people’s stories. Indeed, it’s the basic one-on-one interview that has driven many of C-SPAN’s programs over the years.

So it should come as no surprise that Lamb’s latest programming venture for his network is an interview-style show appropriately titled “Q&A.” The new show will premiere at 8 p.m. Sunday, replacing the popular author-interview program “Booknotes,” which Lamb has faithfully hosted each week for the past 15 and a half years — 800 episodes in all.

But while the hour-long sit-down interview format of “Q&A” will be the same as “Booknotes,” the new show will expand beyond just authors to include politicians, doctors, social workers, media personalities and anyone else who Lamb feels has a story to tell and something to teach.

“I have observed that television has become 1,000 people, and in a nation of 295 million there are not enough different kinds of people being heard from,” Lamb said. “The goal here is to learn about somebody’s accomplishments in some way or another. It can be a newsmaking interview but that’s not the goal, there’s too much of that going on already.”

So rather than spending an estimated 20 hours each week reading and preparing for author interviews, Lamb expects to draw on his 63 years of experience and distinct interviewing style to draw out his subjects personal stories on “Q&A.”

“This is simple television, this is just information,” Lamb said. “The number one rule is that the person will end up teaching us something.”

To accommodate the new show, C-SPAN has rebuilt the old “Booknotes” studio space. A painted blue screen and sharp red rug have replaced the old, less than flashy, decor of “Booknotes.” Lamb will be the show’s primary host for now, but he said one of C-SPAN’s other hosts could easily fill in for him if the occasion arises.

Another change is that Lamb intends to occasionally film the new show on location. Rather than always bringing his subjects to Washington, Lamb said he’d like to be able to produce “Q&A” literally out of a suitcase, sending out production crews to film the one-hour program as Lamb finds interesting people he’d like to sit down with during the course of his travels.

Sunday’s first episode of “Q&A” will feature Dave Levin, the co-founder of the Knowledge Is Power Program, a very successful preparatory academy system based in New York. In the past 10 years Levin has built 38 KIPP schools across the United States, and his program will serve 20,000 students by 2007. The kickoff episode of “Q&A” was filmed on location in the music hall of the KIPP academy in New York City’s South Bronx.

“It’s a challenging format,” said Levin, reflecting on being the inaugural guest of “Q&A” last week. “I’ve never had to drink water during an interview before.”

But Levin added that Lamb “has a great interview style, he really gets you talking. … He’s really a very interesting man, he was really engaged and interested in the work that we’re doing beyond the interview process.”

Other guests already scheduled for “Q&A” include Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News; Brian Williams, the NBC “Nightly News” anchor taking over for Tom Brokaw; Edward Miller, dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Hospital; and Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“I’ve often said you can interview anybody if they are willing to give,” Lamb said, again betraying his love of searching for what it is that makes others tick. “The real fun of interviewing is when you’re hearing something for the first time and they’re teaching you something about life, and when that happens the rest is history and you don’t have to worry about it, it all comes easy.”

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