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Interview show back, but less 'Texas'

Dale Roe
Evan Smith, now of the Texas Tribune, interviews author Jonathan Alter.

Austin PBS affiliate KLRU kicks off the successor to "Texas Monthly Talks" on Thursday, Oct. 21.

"Overheard with Evan Smith" will seem quite familiar to fans of the old show. For starters, there's Smith, interviewing national notables as they visit and travel through Austin.

The new show will follow the same format with Smith interviewing his guests one-on-one (although the set will be new and designed for ease of travel), and the popular question-and-answer sessions with the audience will remain.

The "packaging" — introductions and credits — will be tightened up to allow more room for interviews.

When Smith left his position as editor of Texas Monthly in July 2009 to become CEO of the Texas Tribune, he and the powers that be at KLRU knew that the show's name was on borrowed time. They cut a deal to keep using it for a while, but began hatching plans for an eventual moniker transplant.

The new name might help KLRU in its efforts to persuade more PBS stations nationwide to carry the program. Although the show, which initially focused on local personalities and newsmakers, became a regular stop for national-caliber guests, affiliates in other states were reluctant to broadcast a program with "Texas" featured so prominently in the title.

Still, whenever a former "Texas Monthly Talks" guest made news — for example, when Walter Cronkite died — PBS stations nationwide would link to the content, said Maury Sullivan, KLRU senior vice president of community engagement.

"So, the goal here is to build on the success of ‘Texas Monthly Talks' — to be able to expand it — really to be able to use that content ... more broadly, not just for broadcast. And our hope is that it will be picked up nationally," Sullivan said.

Smith took advantage of the opportunity to interview tonight's guest, Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, while the author was in town for the Texas Book Festival (interviews with other Book Festival luminaries, including P.J. O'Rourke, have been taped for future broadcast). Alter will discusses his book "The Promise: President Obama, Year One."

"We have the luxury with this program of being whimsical in our choices," Smith said. "The bar that it had to meet over these eight seasons was that it had to be somebody who, if you saw this person was a guest on the program, you thought, ‘I'd watch that.' There were really no other parameters beyond that. It was a luxury that we took great advantage of."

"Overheard with Evan Smith" premieres Thursday, Oct. 21, at 7 on KLRU. Another popular KLRU program, "The Daytripper," kicks off its second season Thursday, Oct. 21, at 8:30.