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Q&A; WITH STEVE EDWARDS : Local TV Talk Shows Are No Longer Just ‘Morning Piffle’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

He can astutely discuss the effect that Martin Luther and the Reformation had on the development of Catholicism in the United States, and yet Steve Edwards’ own 15-year-old daughter says, “My dad’s the guy who does the cooking show.”

A happy-go-lucky readaholic who dropped out of a graduate program in clinical psychology for a radio job 25 years ago, Edwards has worked in a variety of television positions, but he made his name and living mostly doing light fare--including six years on KCBS-TV Channel 2’s magazine series “2 on the Town” and seven years on KABC-TV Channel 7’s “A.M. Los Angeles.”

When the latter program folded, Edwards moved to a talk-radio gig at KABC-AM (790), where he was able to employ more of his intelligence in the discussion of serious issues. But when KCAL-TV Channel 9 called last September with an offer to host another morning show alongside Cyndy Garvey--"Live in L.A.” airs weekdays at 10 a.m.--he didn’t hesitate.

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Question: After years of silly banter, makeovers and cooking segments, how have you managed to maintain your reputation as a solid, cerebral kind of guy?

Answer: It’s not a hard balance for me. That’s really who I am, and I have found that if I only do one thing or the other, I get a little antsy. The world isn’t that serious. I read both People magazine and the New Republic. While we could sit here and talk about the concept of natural law and original intent in the Constitution and how it applies to issues today that our forefathers never thought about, I also like silly moments. I can be goofy. While my intellectual passion may not come out in this show, lots of real parts of me do.

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Q: But how did you avoid getting defined solely by all the silly stuff?

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A: I don’t define myself by my work. If you have the gall to put yourself on the air, you have to let people come to whatever conclusions they are going to come to. I’m happy to be working. I’ve been very fortunate in a very difficult business to have always had something to look forward to do and pay my mortgage. And if I do a show with a lampshade on my head, I still know who I am. I don’t have to defend that.

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Q: Does it ever bother you that people mostly see your goofy side?

A: No. My friends and family all know who I am and how profound I can be and how infantile I can be. Once in a while, career advisers will say, “Your problem is you do everything.” I have produced the news, anchored the news, done one-hour interviews with presidents and I’ve done cooking segments. I’ve done game-show pilots and an hour with the head of Ku Klux Klan. I’m comfortable with both and happy that I have a job that I like to do.

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Q: So what role do these fluffy shows have?

A: I used to refer to them as our morning piffle, but the climate has changed. It used to be this was the only kind of talk show in town. Now we are the anomalies in this blizzard of daytime television talk shows. And I basically find myself refreshed that we do a lot of light stuff and deal with everything honestly. On the other hand, you have these shows that I call “Seven Inbreds on a Couch” and a host saying, “He did that to you?” That’s so phony. We don’t put on any airs. If it’s light and fluffy, we’re light and fluffy. If it’s serious, then we’re serious. There’s no hype, no pretense, and in a way our show is more real than any of those so-called reality shows.

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Q: What is the appeal of light and fluffy to the audience?

A: I want to object a little to “light and fluffy.” We’re doing an hour with L.A.P.D. Chief Willie Williams. The earthquake was very serious for us. And I can remember on “A.M. L.A.,” we had one show with Bishop Desmond Tutu in one segment and then Daryl Gates in the next. And then everyone says to me, “Oh, you do that cooking show.” The perception overrides the reality, but I don’t battle that because, really, our appeal is that we’re there every day, it’s live, we’re reacting to what’s going on, we’re having some fun. We’re like your neighbors.

And I used to be a little more cynical about it. When I first started to do things like make-overs, I thought how ridiculous, but then I realized that for some of these people, that makeover is the high point of their lives. There’s real emotion there. I used to not respect that, but now I do.

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Q: Do you have any regrets that you didn’t dedicate your career to more serious pursuits?

A: Sometimes. But as an anchorman (in Houston), I found myself quickly bored. Sitting there, reading the copy--after a year it was stultifying. It was all performance. And as a reporter, I didn’t like that you had to work 10 hours for a 1-minute-and-15-second piece. Too much effort for too little result. That’s why I love live television or radio. You make it up as you go. It goes on and then off, and whatever it is, is.

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Q: Any thoughts about your future? Doing more radio?

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A: I have the energy to do this kind of show that I haven’t had in years, so I hope that it grows and becomes more successful. I still do work at KABC radio, and we’re talking about doing some things over there. On days when things are really happening, I do miss being on the radio and talking about what’s going on. But I think what I really would like to do is an hour interview show like Charlie Rose on PBS. Because you can talk to people who are not necessarily thrillingly personable and you don’t have the pressures of commercial television. You don’t have to deal with overnights (ratings). You can have virtually no rating, and still be judged a success because of the quality of the product. What a luxury that would be.


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