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Jeremy Bradley- John Tesh: the man, the music. How are you?
John Tesh- I'm well, thanks.
JB- So, here I am an entertainment reporter who used to play piano and do music. I think I did it backwards, didn't I?
JT- (laughing) We're just never satisfied with what we're doing.
JB- How long ago was it that you were alongside Mary Hart on Entertainment Tonight?
JT- I was there… um, I guess I need to do the math. I was there from '86 to '96.
JB- Wow.
JT- Yeah. I know.
JB- We'll talk about your current projects in just a bit, but first I've got to ask your thoughts on the whole idea of celebrity. Is it getting out of hand? I mean, quite sad to hear the latest drama about Michael Jackson. Makes you wonder if he'll ever be able to rest in peace though, no?
JT- Well, yes, I agree. It does make me wonder, as well. It's interesting for me. I was born in '52 so I grew up on Long Island watching Huntley-Brinkley and then (Walter) Cronkite and in New York there was maybe five TV stations. Then going to college in the south and getting into the television and radio business when not everybody wanted to be in… well, nobody did. It was considered like, Are you kidding me? TV? That's sort of goofy. Not everybody on the news was a supermodel. When I was on Entertainment Tonight in '86 when I got offered that job, I had never even seen the show. I was in Europe doing sports. Oh my gosh, a show about entertainment. It was really vilified. You had to say you were a closet Entertainment Tonight watcher. You didn't mention in public that you watched that. It was really a different world.
JB- The reporting aspect -- from the time you did the show to now is totally different, isn't it?
JT- I don't want to sound like an old guy… (laughing)… but I am!
JB- (laughing)
JT- It was a little more respectful. And I think what happens is as soon as one person pushes the envelope, so to speak, on TV or radio, then the executive producers of the other competing show are like, Oh my gosh, we've got to do that. I think that's what happened was when ET was first happening it was… uh, you didn't ambush a celebrity because they would never talk to you again. You didn't see a Michael Jackson story... you wouldn't see a Michael Jackson story on the nightly news with Brian Williams or even on the Today Show. So, now it's almost become like a shooting match. Who can ambush the stars first and the stars feed on this, of course. Whether it's Paris Hilton… I'm just throwing out a name -- where they're running around enticing the reporters so it was a much, much different time.
JB- What is it then? Obviously there must be an audience for it or else these shows and magazines wouldn't exist. Are we just that sad with our own lives that we just have to watch what these other people are going through?
JT- Speaking as an old local news reporter, it's still that thing "if it bleeds, it leads." That's an actual quote from an assignment editor or producer. If it bleeds, it leads. A car crash will always be a better ratings getter than how to shrink your waistline or something or how to beat cancer. The celebrity lives have become the car crashes of the late 1900s and 2000.
JB- Here we are talking about a celebrity's life. Let's talk about yours! (laughing) But we like hearing about the good things celebrities are doing, right?
JT- It's fun to see a celebrity who… everybody from Paul Newman to others in that era who has still been a nice person but the crazy celebrities will still be the ones… I mean, Joan Rivers will still be the one that ends up getting more notice.
JB- Let's talk about what you're up to now. You're busy. You have a greatest hits CD and DVD collection out there now, yeah?
JT- Yup. I basically try to stay as focused as I can because I have a pretty bad case of A.D.D., if you look at my bio it's pretty clear. (laughing) I work on a radio show that I created years ago. And we tour. We do about 50 or 55 live concert dates a year. I have a kid at home so it's not a full a day as most people but we have a really great staff that keeps it going.
JB- So, on the greatest hits CD and DVD, what's featured on that? What can we hear?
JT- They're basically… I've never been a release-an-album-and-it-goes-to-number-1-on-radio artist. I had to find different ways of getting noticed. When I was host of Entertainment Tonight -- and you know this -- if you're one thing, certainly in America, if you're one thing that's how everybody wants you to stay. So, I'm the guy reading the celebrity birthdays every night and all of a sudden I said my real dream and my real training is in music, I'm going to quit and pursue my piano, and everybody was like, What? What are you talking about? It was hard for me in the early years to get really interested in producing "a hit." So, I went to PBS and said, Hey, here's an idea. They still had The Three Tenors and Riverdance, things like that. But help them raise money by giving tickets to our concerts and in turn they broadcast the specials. That's what's on this greatest hits DVD is a lot of the public television performances. Which, by the way, is a great way -- and everybody's trying to do it now -- is a great way to promote a record, which is just to get it on TV.
JB- How many CDs do you have out there? Have you lost count already?
JT- I actually have lost count only because other record companies have released "best of" compilations and things like that. But there's probably six or seven that I would call mainstay, cornerstone CDs for me. Two of them for me, one was Romantic Christmas which was a Christmas album with a big symphony orchestra on it and the other was all of my original tunes where it was just this monstrous 80-piece orchestra with 12,000 people every night. That was the show that allowed me to leave Entertainment Tonight to say to everybody I'm really serious about this so why don't you take a chance?
John Tesh
The musician and radio host chats with JB about celebrity and music.