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Elvis Costello's 'Spectacle' shares the inside-the-music spotlight

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A&E / Bio's "The Chris Isaak Hour" is the second new hourlong music performance and interview series to show up on cable TV in recent months, coming on the heels of the Sundance Channel's "Spectacle," hosted by the ever-provocative Elvis Costello.

"Spectacle" is really the brainchild of Elton John and his life-business partner, David Furnish, two of the show's executive producers. John also was Costello's first guest when "Spectacle" premiered last fall, and it was obvious from his impassioned remarks about fellow musicians Laura Nyro, David Ackles and Leon Russell that he was a man on a mission.

Other guests have included Lou Reed, Herbie Hancock, She & Him, Renée Fleming, Rufus Wainwright and former President Bill Clinton, on how his training as a musician informed his political career.

"David and I wanted to make a music show about music that's in-depth, not just a sound bite," John said recently. "Most of the time on TV you never get that chance, you're just going on to plug a new record. But there's nothing on television that gives people an insight into musicians anymore. There are great shows where people perform, but not where they're interviewed in any depth. So we thought, 'Wouldn't it be great?' "

Both shows target music lovers interested in broadening their horizons.

"There's no history in music anymore," John said. "As music has become more and more downloadable, something is getting lost. To me, it's always been about the tangible, starting with the 78, then the 45, then the 33 album, eight-tracks and cassettes . . . . The magic was to put the headphones on and look at the gatefold with the lyrics, read the credits to see who played on it, who the bass player was -- it was the whole journey."

As for the competitive aspect of these shows vying for much the same audience, John and Isaak are shaping up as the world's worst combatants. "The more the merrier," John said. "We really need programs like that, so people can have a reference point, something more than watching a bloody video on MTV."

Said Isaak: "I like Elvis Costello. . . . I saw the list of his guests -- he has fantastic guests. I'm a terrible judge. I think they're very different shows, [and] I think you could watch his and watch mine. To me, I love music, so I'm all for anything where you get musicians on TV and you get to hear them play music and talk about it."

-Randy Lewis

Related: Chris Isaak returns to TV

Photo: Associated Press
 
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