Sometimes it's all about immersive experiences that allow you to escape. We took a moment with Producer/Director/Creator Daniel E Catullo III to talk about his new series Landmarks Live in Concert on PBS which is Great Performances x Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown x Sonic Highways which will release two episodes this month with additional destinations and artists starting in June. We talked about how he came up with this show, his background and how he got Red Hot Chili Peppers' drummer, Chad Smith as a host!
ATHLEISURE MAG: We are so excited to talk with you about the show and had a great time at the launch at the Dream Hotel Downtown! We love telling stories, music and travel - so the fact that this new show has all of this is really phenomenal!
DANIEL E CATULLO III: Thank you so much for recognizing what we are doing. I'm just so damn passionate about what we are doing and it has been a long road and I am really happy that you see that!
AM: Tell us about your background and what led you to creating this show. Your roll is massive as the creator, director and producer - what do you do and how did this get to PBS?
DEC III: I have been in the industry for about 25 years. Believe it or not, I started out as a roadie years ago after college. I was in the music business for years and all through the 90's I traveled with hundreds of bands from Guns and Roses to Live to Extreme. In the late 90's I met a nice couple Michael and Glenis Gross. Glenis became my partner and Michael (her husband) produced Ghostbusters, Kindergarden Cop and Twins and all of these really big films.
Glenis and I became partners and she brought me in on the industry on a business level. The first thing that we did was to buy a concert theater together called the Ventura Theater and I was a promoter for a couple of years. It was a tough business, because back then they were starting to do all of the roll ups - Live Nation was just beginning and it was funny because when we sold the theater, I told Glenis, "Ok I corrupted you into music - take me into film now," which was kind of a joke - but we were actually going to start a film company that focused on low budget features. This is around 1999/2000, I told her that I knew all of these bands and that I believed that this DVD thing was doing to take off. Remember that in 2000 DVDs weren't really there and people still had VHS. So we came up with an idea to do music DVDs that was quite a risk. I went to Universal and all of the major record labels and said I want to do these music DVDs for all of your artists, I will fund it but I want to own the copyright. They all said I was freaking crazy, but I could do what I wanted because if I was gong to fund it, then I could have it. So we got the sign off on the label and we started to do bands. We started off with a lot of rock bands - Godsmack, Marilyn Mason and The Cult. The next thing I know, music DVDs go from selling at 1500 units to 200K units to 500K. In 2003 I did Rush in Rio and it sold like 2M copies.
The risk took off! All through the 2000's I was doing live concert DVDs. I was pretty fortunate as I have done over 200 live DVD concert specials. I have really enjoyed the mix of people as I have done everyone from Rage Against the Machine to Mariah Carey to Etta James - it's really all over the map. I did Dave Matthews Band in Central Park and when I was doing that whole thing, I always had an idea to do a TV series because one of the things that fascinated me about music on TV, is that when our parents grew up, music programming was really family programming.
Families would gather around the TV set to either watch American Bandstand or Ed Sullivan Show and they watched it for the music artists. It was something that everyone had in common and somehow there has been this disconnect. This has been happening over the past 30-40 years as new genres have started to come in. It's very seldom that parents share the same musical taste as their kids. I'm just like, how do we bridge this gap and create something that is kind of like this appealing thing to everyone. I started thinking of ideas for shows and sort of took a break from music around 2011 and started doing documentaries and got pretty heavily involved in the doc business. I started understanding a whole other level of filmmaking and worked with some of the world's biggest documentary filmmakers. The first one I produced was called The Square and it went on to getting an Academy Award nomination and won a few Emmy's, Sundance and went on to Toronto and the second one I was involved with as a producer won Sundance again.
We won Sundance two years in a row and the cool thing that happened is 1. I still had an interest and was missing music and 2. I saw another side of filmmaking and that I needed to take my show idea and make it into the docuseries, while adding in lifestyle, travel etc with the music. I realized that if we hinged on the lifestyle doc side that I could make something that would appeal to my parents, myself and my kids. That's when we started screwing around with it and for the past 3 years we have done nothing but this. We took $2M of our own money and this is the only thing that we have worked on the show. We shot a couple of pilots and the first thing that we had ever done with the show, I shut down Grand Central Terminal for a few hours and brought the Scottish band CHVRCHES in and that was the initial pilot. We then took that concept and tweaked it again and did Alicia Keys (this aired Jan 20th). It was a never-ending process that brought it to what it is now and there was a lot of input from a number of people - probably well over 200 people have worked on the past 2 shows and it has been a really great process in getting our 2 shows. I think we have the magic sauce now. About a year and a half ago, we started aggressively meeting with TV networks - about 20. One of the things that I was pretty adamant on and why it took so long to get to a deal was I didn't want to sell the show, as I wanted to retain ownership of the show. I would meet with the network and they wanted to acquire the show and give me a big check - but let's face it not to sound like a dickhead but I didn't want them to fuck the show up and turn it into a variety show that would canceled after one season. I have done enough music stuff that I wanted to stay in control of it and to be the showrunner. Literally, we were turning down big offers and interestingly enough, originally our first choice was to work with PBS, but they didn't have a slot for us! They wanted me to go to American Television and get a syndication deal and I didn't want to do that so we walked away from them.
So we went back to other networks and almost signed with them and then Stephen Segaller from WNET (NY local PBS channel) - a big champion of the show, told me that the network wanted to get behind us for this show. He knew they could secure a national spot for the show as right around that time, Downton Abbey had just gotten canceled and there were a number of spots available. I was like, now PBS National is knocking down our door. I mean if you look at the history - the most successful music shows are on PBS. Great Performances, Live at Lincoln Center, Austin City Limits etc all of these shows are 40 seasons deep! The average network if you have a big show, it's on for 5 or 6 seasons. If we wanted to build something that could last forever, then PBS was the natural home and it's the most flexible from a creative standpoint. At the same time, it's in almost every home in America! We have the opportunity to bring the younger demo into the show and this network. This past week has been awesome because when they started promoting the show, the execs at PBS have seen the response to Alicia Keys and they see that millennials are having an interest in this. Even cooler, they're starting to give me a longer leash so I can do what I want to do! We're all over the map! I have everyone from will.i.am to Andrea Bocelli but that is the challenge is that I can do a show with him in it and get a 16-year-old to watch!
That's why we have Chad Smith as our host - he has a wide demo that likes him. He can be very compelling interviewer that I would enjoy watching and he is also hip and fun enough that a 16-year-old would enjoy watching him! His job is to bridge the gap and so when we are in Venice, Italy filming behind the scenes on Bocelli - we'll make sure that we have enough in there that a millennial will enjoy watching it! It really is a travel show.
AM: Was Chad always your idea in terms of the host attached to this show?
DEC III: Yeah I love Chad. I worked with him years ago and did a DVD live concert film for Chickenfoot (the rock supergroup with vocalist Sammy Hagar/ex-Van Halen, bassist Michael Anthony/ex-Van Halen, guitarist Joe Satriani and drummer Chad Smith) and he was a blast. When we were trying to figure out what to do with bonus features and everything, Chad is such a goofball - I gave him a microphone to go out with people in the street to mess with them. This was back in 2009 and I loved what he was doing and I told him that I wanted to do a show with him. Matt Pinfield who was one of the initial hosts and is one of my best friends is an EP who also developed the show. When we did the search for a host, the first call we made was to Chad. At the time, Chad had a web show called, "In Conversation With". I was like I know you want to do that, but you have to hear me out on this concept and come into my world. I knew he would be happy with it. Interestingly enough, there was a massive feeIing of concern from the network and sponsors because they thought of him with the picture from the Red Hot Chili Peppers with the sock. They wondered if he was going to be crazy and I said, "trust me, he will be great". They even had language in my contract that it wouldn't be valid until I showed them footage of Chad. Now, they are the biggest Chad Smith fans in the world.
Chad is so cool because he is a music buff. He is just as happy to interview someone like Brad Paisley (his episode airs on Jan 27th) as he is Alicia Keys. He has something in common with all of them because he listens to and appreciates an array of music and he knows how to connect. Even though Chad is older than me, the cool thing about the Chili Peppers is that they have managed to stay relevant and to connect with the younger demo even though older people love them as well. I am so happy with our choice and wouldn't change it for a million years!
AM: Why are you doing 2 episodes in Jan and then releasing the rest in June?
DEC III: It took us 9 months to get our contract. No one thought it would take that long honestly so we just went into production early last year. It's how it ended up and for Alicia we wanted the episode to coincide with the launch of her record. Unfortunately, the way it worked, we have to do things in order so you had to do your TV deal and then do your international deals, then your digital deals and then your sponsors. Unfortunately to get them all aligned and processed it takes over a year.
When I talked with PBS, I knew there were some slots in Jan, and suggested we tease out two special one off presentations episodes to the world so they can talk about it and know what it is. There will be some people that will say "oh another music show on PBS" but this one is really different. When the official series runs in June, people will know what to expect. We wanted to show viewers and sponsors to see their reaction. We don't consider ourselves a music series, we're more travel based. My goal is to go after the millennials and it's a learning curve. Unfortunately, the way music shows have performed in the last 20-30 years, that variety category got very dull and dry.
You're judged by a genre and if you want to get interest for your show you have to show them and let them see why you're different. Honestly, we were so damned excited, we couldn't wait any longer!
AM: How did you decide on the artists?
DEC III: It's interesting. Alicia, I have worked with 50 times, so she is a friend. I wanted to do a show in New York and there is no one in the world who encompasses this city than her as she is New York. When I was developing it, I was doing other projects with her and during lunch I would talk to her about it and she would say that is dope and I told her I wanted her to do it! She was amazing as she stepped up to do it, not once but twice - actually three times. We did a show on the Circle Line,another at The Apollo and an interview with her. Then Brad Paisley came around, because I went to West Virginia Univerity and both Brad and I have a connection there because I'm an alumnus and he is from the area and we both support the University. I have an endowment at the university and I was down there for a dedication of the new football stadium that I helped build and I was like I was to do a show there so bad! I went to the President of the university and explained that I wanted to do a show there to give exposure to the university to let the world know. It was suggested that Brad should do it and they had been trying to get him to do something there for awhile. They had been trying to get him there for 10 years and I knew I was going to figure it out so I reached out to his management and no one would call me back. Weirdly enough, I was at Sean Penn's party for the Golden Globes and he has a Haiti benefit. I also have a Haiti charity as well called Global Adolescent Project. Anyway I'm at the party and who am I sitting next to? Brad Paisley and we hit it off right away and I told him about the show. He said he would have his manager call me on Mon and he did, and we put together an organic show which turned out to be the biggest party thrown at the univeristy. It was a show for 30K people, we paid for everything and it was a free show. I can't wait for that episode to air on Jan 27th!
Throughout the show, we highlight all of these amazing historic landmarks over the world. People can look at it and get why we are there as we have the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower etc, and then they will be like West Virginia University? Viewers will say how is a football stadium a landmark, but when they watch the episode, they will see that the stadium means the world to that state, because there isn't anything else there. The stadium is a landmark there and it was so cool to showcase my alma mater. Then Bocelli, I'm a music buff and so I was hanging out with Dave Bryan (keyboardist for Bon Jovi) and he lives by me in NJ and we were hanging out in an apartment in NY and he gets a call at midnight as I was about to drive back to NJ and he asked me if I wanted to hang out with Bocelli for dinner. I was like it's midnight and he explained that he just finished hs concert at the Garden and that they were heading to a restaurant. So we go to La Cirque and they shut the restaurant down and it's Bocelli and his family. I hang out with them and had such a great meal as he was charming and his wife was lovely. I said that they should be on the show and I ended up working with him twice as he did my show as well as an ice skating special that took place in Verona. They're wonderful people and any chance I get to go to Italy I jump on it. A lot of the artists are through friends or people that I have worked with before. Especially before your show airs, if you want to have a big artist, it is going to be through friends and family.
Now that the press is hitting, we're getting blitzed. We're having over 70 artists that have submitted and record labels are reaching out. I have a meeting next week at Sony. I'm glad that PBS is giving me more of a leash to book younger acts especially with them seeing the results of Alicia Keys. We are doing Sting in Sweden on June 16th and we're going to start finalizing the rest of the lineup.
AM: Have you finished production on this season?
DEC III: NO, we're only 4 shows in and have 8 more to go! We go back into production the end of next month and will shoot through June. After the two that are being shown this month, we only have 2 in the can (will.i.am and Andrea Bocelli). All the other shows are being shot when we're back in production. We will do one every other week and once we get into production mode it's pretty easy. We get our team together, we spend a week in each city and you'll see that after the first two episodes, there is a lot more travel in them. A lot more interactive travel so you'll see kind of like in Anthony Bourdain that Chad is walking around, going to restaurants and seeing landmarks with the artists. We were a little handcuffed with Alicia and Brad because we couldn't get Chad to be with them as he was touring with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and it was crazy scheduling along with deadlines via PBS so, we had to shoot those episodes a little differently. In the future, Chad will be at the show, we'll see the city with them and it will be very Anthony Bourdain like. We're Great Performances X Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown X Sonic Highways.
AM: Who are some of your favorite artists that are going to be participating, but that you haven't shared with us yet?
DEC III: It's one I can't announce - we have one of the biggest bands in the world that is one of my favorites, but as we are still going through contracts I can't say, but I can say that they will be in Jamaica! That one and I am doing a huge show in Cuba, both are super great!!! We have some big ones coming up and it's surreal as I have worked with so many artists in my life. But now it's really cool as I can pick and choose who I want to work with! Sting's manager was at the party last night and she was telling me how excited he was to be at the show. We're honored to have him at the show.
We have a behind the scenes reality show being done on us which is kind of funny but we're like a traveling circus and I bring my wife and kids with me. My daughter is 12 my son is 5 and they were brought up around this and I have pictures where they sit in the TV truck with me and my daughter has met Alicia Keys a few times now. My daughter got to bring 10 of her friends with her backstage to hang out with her and my daughter has directed on her own and she is actually a better music director then I am! She has a real eye and when I brought them to Italy with me, I took her on a remote camera and I had Ben (he does Super Bowl halftime, U2 and the biggest shows in the world) and he was like she's better than he was. The kids today have a great eye and to be able to do this with my family - my wife works with us and to bring people to great places to meet the artists and to have the next 6 months to go around the world - I am so stoked! My kids get to see different cultures and as I think about it, I should give my daughter a producer credit because she's 12 and I ask her opinion all the time to see if she gets what she's seeing, if she would watch it etc because if you can't connect with the kids then you're screwed.
AM: You must be so excited from all of the feedback that you've been getting!
DEC III: Yes, if you're going to play the long game and want to have the longevity of 30-40 years, PBS was the right fit for what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. Now we're seeing the love from them and it will be the beginning of a very long relationship. They know that if they have a show that the public reacts well to, they don't care about the ratings, they will keep it going. They are about delivering quality programs. That is without a doubt - the best choice that I made and I don't regret it. Some people - investors wondered why I made that choice and I was happy to give them all the reasons why it was a sound decision.
They are phenomenal partners. I kid you not, go look at Great Performance's and they have put a social media post up about Alicia Keys every 20 mins for the past 5 days straight! It's just crazy.
PHOTO CREDIT Courtesy of PBS/Landmarks Live in Concert
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