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June 6, 2019
Good Thursday, everyone. Today’s newsletter has a bit of a different look— a dive into the TV show “Axios on HBO,” which includes interviews with two of the key figures who produce the groundbreaking show. Don’t worry, I also cover some of the other media news and stories of interest from Wednesday.
TV’s new news star
‘Axios on HBO’ is quickly making a name for itself as an hard-hitting, compelling news show, despite the crowded landscape.
On Sunday, they scored a rare interview with senior adviser to the president Jared Kushner. Last year, they grilled President Donald Trump about his assertion that the media was the “enemy of the people” and got him to admit, “It’s my only form of fighting back. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t do that.” And wait until you see this Sunday when they go inside the Italian monastery Steve Bannon wanted to use for his gladiator school.
There’s more on the way, including an interview with Google CEO Sundar Pichai about user privacy.
Only five episodes of the show have ever aired, but already “Axios on HBO” has become a major player in TV news. Season two debuted Sunday with the Kushner interview. Three more episodes are set for this spring and four more in the fall.
On Wednesday, I spoke by phone with “Axios on HBO” directors/producers Perri Peltz and Matthew O’Neill about the show’s mission, its future and why HBO is the perfect spot for a news show.
But first, Axios and TV? Seems like an odd couple. Axios launched as a website in 2017 that boiled stories down to one short, central “why-it-matters” thought. Yet it has figured out TV in no time by using that website philosophy. Sort of.
“One of the things that drives ‘Axios on HBO’ is the reporters who are super experts, super interested in what they’re reporting on and deeply, deeply sourced and (have a) connection in a niche sort of way,” O’Neill said. “We don’t have to do the generalities and tell people what they’re about to see, what they’re seeing and what they just saw. They can just jump right into it with these informed journalists.”
The result has been a show that has grown organically to cover the intersection of business, politics, media, culture, international affairs, criminal justice and anything that O’Neill says will “help people see what is happening and how it’s going to change the future of their lives.”
“What I really think we do and try to do is deliver and produce stories,” Peltz said, “that are communicating issues in a way with a slightly different take with a different kind of insight in a way that may be … helpful to viewers.”
It needs to be different to shoulder its way into a landscape already filled with news shows. What has really helped the show has been access and the ability to land big interviews, such as Trump and Kushner.
“It’s a question that we think about: Does the world need more of this content?” Peltz asked. “We feel it does. If there has ever been a time, at least on our lifetime, when there has been more value to news and to informing people and to be playing a role in storytelling of this type, it’s now.”
Meanwhile, HBO seems to be the right spot for Axios. The journalists and filmmakers are given creative freedom. And do not underestimate the gift of not having to worry about commercials.
“(Commercial breaks) knock the audience out of it and they are distracted by a toothpaste commercial or a pharmaceutical commercial when really you just want them inside the storytelling,” O’Neill said. “(An) intense, super-charged, short piece of information that you can focus on the entire time. You come away with a new perspective and new point of view of having seen something that very likely were not aware of before.”
While the show is typically only a half-hour, the stories are not always quickly and easily produced, which is why only eight episodes — and potentially four additional shorter, breaking-news specials — will come out in 2019. It helps make each show seem special, although there could come a time when “Axios on HBO” does more episodes a year.
“I think we’ll find the sweet spot over the course of this year as to what makes the most sense and what the audience is most interested in,” O’Neill said. “What’s important is that whatever number of episodes we’re doing, it maintains that unique energy and edge that defines the show in terms of topics, access, personalities and that forward-looking idea. So we’ll see what the appetite is. We’re always willing to feed hungry people.”
Each new episode debuts Sundays at 6 p.m. Eastern/Pacific time.
A list of great journalism and intriguing media — there’s a lot today!
St. Louis Blues left wing Pat Maroon, with his cool beard, sits on the bench during Game 4 of Stanley Cup Final. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
- If you’re a hockey fan then you know playoff beards are a big thing. Superstition says you don’t shave until your team is eliminated and that means the two teams currently in the finals — Boston and St. Louis — haven’t shaved in two months. Trust me, there are some beards on men who should not be growing beards. Sophia Benoit ranks the playoff beards of the Bruins and Blues for GQ.
- Going through “Game of Thrones” withdrawals? Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark is here to help with the 12 things he learned about storytelling from watching the HBO show.
- USA Today’s Erin Richards and Matt Wynn have an eye-opening piece on just how just how poorly we pay our teachers and how some can’t even pay the rent.
- The man who helped make ProPublica possible has died.
- ProPublica’s Anjali Tsui and WNYC’s Alice Wilder with “How Payday Lenders Spent $1 Million at Trump Resort — and Cashed In.”
- One of Donald Trump’s best business deals might have been his prenup with Marla Maples. Gabriel Sherman has the details in Vanity Fair.
- More questions about media freedoms in, of all places, Australia. NBC News looks at a second police raid in as many days over government leaks.
- Writing for Deadspin, Meredith Shiner with an excellent tribute to former New York Times sports editor Le Anne Schreiber, who died last week.
- Video of a CNN reporter being harassed, probably by a police officer in plain clothes, while covering the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.
Correction: I need to correct something from Wednesday’s newsletter. I linked to a story about the state of Alabama celebrating Jefferson Davis’ birthday. I said the story was from the New Yorker, but it was actually from New York Magazine. My apologies.
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming Poynter training:
- Storytelling with Les Rose: Tips, Tricks and True Tales (webinar). Today at 2 p.m. Eastern time.
- Table Stakes: Poynter’s Local News Innovation Program. Deadline: June 24.
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