Author, columnist and talk show host Michael Smerconish planned a tour during 2020 with the theme: “Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Talking.”
Now it’s taken on a new, digital life on view Sunday night.
It was to be a one-man show commemorating his 30th anniversary in talk radio. “I planned for it to be an autobiographical night of storytelling, intended to be funny, poignant and reflective,” he said recently. “Beyond tracing my career while incorporating elements of still photography, audio and video, I would offer serious thoughts on the negative impact of a polarized media.”
Tickets went on sale for an opening night at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Philadelphia. They sold out in five hours. “We added a second night,” Smerconish said. “It sold out in similar time. A dozen dates all across country were about to be announced”
And then the pandemic hit.
The Philadelphia launch was canceled. Tickets were refunded. The tour was postponed indefinitely.
Smerconish had done speaking tours before. In 2018, after he published his seventh book, “Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: American Life in Columns,” he launched the original “American Life in Columns, traveling to two dozen small theaters across the country, speaking to paying audiences.
“The book was a compilation of 100 of my more memorable newspaper columns drawn from the 1,047 that I published in the first 15 years post 9/11,” Smerconish said.
He had spent considerable time preparing this year’s program. “n a climate of uncertainty as to when (and whether) I would get to share it with live theater audiences, I decided to deliver and record it,” he said.
On his 30th anniversary, May 19, 2020, he presented the entire new show to an empty house at the historic Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, where he has done in-person presentations. A friend of 40 years, Chris Strand, an independent television producer/director produced the show.
“We were socially distanced and everyone wore a mask,” Smerconish said. “The finished product is really two stories in one – my own memoir, and the way we recorded it in the midst of a pandemic.”
Another angle, his relationship with Strand, is his favorite. They attended Holicong Middle School together and both had the TV bug.
Strand went to Temple for radio, TV and film. Smerconish went to Lehigh for government and journalism. “While in college, we recorded a TV short that we tried to sell to HBO. They had no interest. But here we are, four decades later, doing a TV project together for CNN – and from just down Route 202 from where we went to school.”
It took more than seven hours to record what what was needed for a two-hour show.
“When I showed a 5-minute sizzle reel to Jeff Zucker, he immediately said he would air it as a one-hour CNN special, my first,” Smerconish said. It will be aired at 10 p.m. Saturday, July 11. He regularly hosts the CNN and CNN International program Smerconish on Saturday mornings. Zucker is chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports and he has served as president of CNN Worldwide since 2013.
Smerconish is hoping that local viewers will tune in to CNN Saturday night. It will be a fascinating review of his 30 years in the talk show business.
His working journey began right here, in Bucks County.