Graham Norton talks a great game on BBC America

The Fresno BeeOctober 15, 2013 

Graham Norton.

BBC AMERICA

Graham Norton designed his self-titled BBC America talk show to help guests through what he calls a "dead chicken" story.

We're not talking croaked poultry anecdotes here. What Norton means is a story that doesn't go over too well with the audience.

On this show, which starts its 14th season Saturday, there is no chit chat with one guest and then someone sliding down for the next guest. A-list celebrities pile on the orange couch all at once.

"If you bring out one guest and they tell a story about a dead chicken on the set and it doesn't go well, at least with our show they are out there for a while and they can try another story," Norton says during an early morning telephone chat from London.

Norton's first few years as a talk show host featured the standard one-guest-at-a-time pattern. That style slowly changed into the current design, which is a far more relaxing way for a celebrity to talk about their new movie, TV show, album or bird experience.

The season opener will feature Benedict Cumberbatch, Harrison Ford, Jack Whitehall and James Blunt.

It may seem challenging to make sure all of the guests get equal time. But one of the things that's made Norton a top talk show host is his casual style of dealing with the guests. Even when there are several big names on his couch, he manages to make sure they all get their time to talk.

Norton says the secret to looking so casual is lots and lots of work.

"We will spend a whole day mapping out how the conversation might go. The researchers may find out that a singer has a great story about being expelled and an actor is looking at screenplay about a teacher. We like to find those links," Norton says.

The best shows are when those plans go out the window and guests begin to interact. When that happens, Norton just sits back and listens. He jokes that at the end of the day he really is nothing more than a "lazy talk show host."

Along with plotting the conversation, great care is put into selecting the right mix of guests. That wasn't a problem when the show was only seen in the United Kingdom, but now it's broadcast in 20 countries, including the United States.

"We are very aware of the international audience we have now. Some weeks, we will look at the guest list and decide it's a very domestic sofa. The thing we love the best is when someone British, like Benedict Cumberbatch, becomes a big star. We also know that 'Doctor Who' is big in the United States," Norton says.

Until Madonna stopped by for a chat, the singer always had been at the top of Norton's wish list of guests. He's had to move up people like George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence to the roster of people he would like to see on the show.

If the tables were turned and Norton had to be a guest, he would love to share the furniture with Joan Rivers and Bradley Cooper. He thinks Americans don't revere Rivers enough and Cooper is "pretty to look at."

Getting Tom Cruise on the show was another major coup for Norton, who never thought it would happen. Cruise was late to the show and Norton didn't get to meet him until they were both in front of the cameras.

"I don't normally feel starstruck, but I was shocked by how affected I was having Tom Cruise on the show. I was gobsmacked. I just kept thinking 'That's Tom Cruise,' " Norton says.

Norton's best known for his talk show, but he also worked as a comedian, was on the series "Father Ted" and was a panelist on the BBC Radio 4 show "Loose Ends."

He was born in a suburb of Dublin, but grew up in the small community of Bandon, County Cork, Ireland. He lived on a commune in San Francisco for a short time, but he went back to the UK to do stand-up comedy.

Norton credits his youth in the small community with giving him the kind of curiosity a good talk show host needs.

His theory is that people who grow up in a rural community are more nosey by nature than those who live in urban environments who tend to keep to themselves. And, when you've grown up in the country, it's easier to appreciate a good "dead chicken" story when you hear it.


SHOW INFO

"The Graham Norton Show": 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, on BBC America

 

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service