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This year’s Spectacle

Elvis Costello has never seemed a likely host for a television talk show.

Elvis Costello has never seemed a likely host for a television talk show.

Though as an artist he’s been stubbornly impossible to pin down through his 30-plus years in the industry, on a personal level he has always seemed intense, nervy and fiercely intelligent — not necessarily the formula for a successful talk show host.

As he first began putting together his new show Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... — a Costello-hosted mixture of interviews with musicians and performances — he admits there was an adjustment period.

“Nobody’s born to be a television presenter, you have to gather some skills and confidence about it over a matter of weeks,’’ the legendary musician said over the phone from his Vancouver home.

“If you went back and looked at the first appearances of the most practised and confident of TV performers now, you’d find the same thing. You’d find them being more hesitant.

“Little by little the process kind of educates you.’’

For Spectacle, which premieres in Canada on Friday (CTV, 10 p.m. ET), Costello interviewed such heavyweights as the Police, Elton John, Tony Bennett and even former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The show features laid-back interview segments peppered with performances, which often feature Costello himself.

Costello, who was warm, friendly and sharp-witted even when reached early in the morning for an interview, says his participation is important, because it reminds the guests that he too is a performer, not strictly an interviewer.

He opens each show by performing one of his guest’s songs. In John’s case, Costello performed Bordertown, while he played a medley of Please Stay and Every Breath You Take for the Police.

Costello has been on the other side of thousands of interviews over his career, and he also had a bit of experience on television, filling in for David Letterman in 2003 when the talk show host fell ill.

Still, it was a skill that Costello honed over the course of the first season.
So how does he describe his interview technique now?

“Like a lion tamer — it’s a chair and a whip,’’ he replied.

 
 
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