“Le Show,” a public broadcasting and Los Angeles institution hosted by actor and comedian Harry Shearer on KCRW since 1983, was removed from KCRW’s broadcast schedule effective immediately earlier this week. You may also know Shearer as the voice of Mr. Burns and other characters on “The Simpsons” and a cast member in several Christopher Guest movies, such as “This Is Spinal Tap.”
Shearer described how he was told that “Le Show” would be leaving the L.A. airwaves.
“I got a message that the general manager wanted to discuss a ‘proposal’ with me,” Shearer said. "I understand broadcast speak to know that that wasn’t, ‘will you marry me?’
“I had a feeling that this was not, ‘would you like to have two hours?’ So I came in on Monday — I agreed to meet at a coffee shop in Santa Monica — walked in and, pretty much without too much in the way of conversational prelude, I was told the show is going off the air at KCRW.”
Shearer said that, while he wasn’t surprised by that, he was surprised when told that the decision was effective immediately and that he wouldn’t be allowed to say goodbye to the audience.
While “Le Show” is being taken off the air, KCRW is continuing to put “Le Show” on its online stream, as well as podcasting it and distributing it to radio stations in the United States and internationally, as well as on satellite radio.
“Harry Shearer and Le Show have been a part of KCRW since its inception, providing a voice of satire and comic relief while challenging the political establishment. KCRW pledges to support Harry and his incredible national and digital audience,” KCRW General Manager Jennifer Ferro said in a press release. Ferro addressed the situation in greater detail in a statement to KPCC:
These were tough decisions, and disappointing Harry was never my intention.
It's in our mission to bring new voices to our audience. We wanted to bring in new voices while at the same time serving our audience with the great programming and talented people we've been lucky enough to host at KCRW these many years. We feel like we're finally at a place — with podcasting, streaming on phones, tables and computers — where we can give more KCRW, not less.
Harry isn't stopping his great work, but to hear him in Southern California you'll need to use a device other than the radio.
I know change is difficult. But we think we've found a way to bring the good aspects of change while minimizing the bad aspects.
But Shearer doesn’t see that online support as equivalent.
“To say you’re going off broadcast air in the most automotive centered city, where people spend more time listening to the radio in their car than anyplace else, probably in the world, made no sense to me.”
He also didn’t like the possibility that certain demographics might not be able to find him. “It’s probably true that people who don’t have computers and don’t have Internet connections to listen online might well be older people or poorer people, and I don’t necessarily want them not to hear the show either.”
Shearer compared the way we was removed from the air and not allowed to say goodbye to commercial radio practices. “You’re rendered a non-person when you’re fired from a commercial radio station, and the last thing they’re going to let you do is say goodbye. They’re not even going to acknowledge you ever were there.”
What is taking the program's place? Coming into that slot is the nationally syndicated NPR program "the TED Radio Hour," based on the wildly popular TED Talk series.
In the announcement citing the station's programming changes, KCRW cited online programming as a strength. "Last year’s launch of respected digital-only shows such as Strangers and the Organist is an example of KCRW’s commitment to expand its offerings beyond the FM dial. The development of the Music Mine and other mobile apps, as well as the successful streams on iHeartRadio, Spotify, TuneIn and others is part of this commitment to put KCRW wherever the audience is."
“['Le Show'] doesn’t fit into any format, let’s be honest,” Shearer said. “It started as a satirical show about the week in media and the news.” However, leading up to the Iraq War, Shearer felt that the media wasn’t covering it the way they should, and that he could do just that.
“I thought, gee, I know this stuff, and gee, I have a microphone — I should put the two together,” Shearer said. “If not me, who?”
Shearer also used his broadcasting platform to bring greater attention to the state of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as well as what he saw as a failure of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Shearer spends much of the year living in the city.
Shearer thought that the way Katrina was covered negatively affected the political will to make changes to prevent future disaster in New Orleans, and that the situation there continues to be dangerous.
“I’m outraged about that because I have roots there, and I live there. I have dear friends there and I love the city.”
Recently, Shearer’s focused on the economic and foreclosure crises. But it’s still about all the other things Shearer’s interested in, too.
“I also have musicians on the air from time to time, and what still is a great deal of commentary and comedy and satire and music, so the information has just been added to the mix.”
He doesn’t see what he does as political.
“I’m not overtly, as they say in Britain, ‘party political’ — I don’t espouse one side or the other of the partisan argument of the day. But certainly, I think, what I do in terms of both the information that I hope to share and my take on it, I’m anywhere but the normal public radio fare.”
Shearer still loves radio. “I believe in broadcasting,” Shearer said.
Shearer said he had thought about ending the show from time to time.
“I thought 30 and out might be good, but this isn’t 30. I thought the appropriate way, if KCRW was going to do this, and they were going to do this, would be to say, ‘Well, you celebrate your 30th anniversary on December 3rd, and we’ll give you a big party, and then we’ll say goodbye.’ That… would have been plausible,” Shearer said. “But I am a contrary enough cuss that this just makes me want to do it more.”
When asked about what the show has done best, Shearer said he hasn’t spent a lot of time looking back on it, but that there’s one thing he’s done best: “Just being and having an idiosyncratic, individual voice in an increasingly unindividualized mediascape.”
While Shearer said that he thinks it’s healthy to have more competition, he thinks the smaller budgets that’s led to has hurt the quality of the media.
“The budgets that they have available to spend on any given hour, whether it’s news or entertainment, has shrunk accordingly, so you get wall-to-wall cheap crap.”
Shearer does think that the changes the media is going through still leave opportunities open.
“I do believe, as a creative person, that times of disruptive change are the best for me, and people like me,” Shearer said. “Because when the people who run the media don’t know what the rules are, that’s the time you can get something interesting done.”
Shearer tweeted Monday about his desire to stay on the air in L.A.:
Any radio station in LA want to carry Le Show?— Harry Shearer (@theharryshearer) April 15, 2013
Run into too many people in LA who tell me they listen to le show on their car radio while driving to just leave them behind....— Harry Shearer (@theharryshearer) April 16, 2013
He also wrote in a post on his website, “I’m in the process of seeking an alternative broadcast outlet in Los Angeles.”
Time will tell if there’s still room for Shearer’s unique brand of news and entertainment on L.A.’s airwaves. He’ll be plenty busy — he’s playing Richard Nixon in a short TV series on Britain’s Sky TV, and he’s flying to London Friday to talk about appearing in a play there.
“I’m having a lot of fun working in England right now,” Shearer joked.
He’s also in the middle of work on season 25 of “The Simpsons,” which he says he still gets a kick out of — though he doesn’t know how much longer the show will last.
“I am not privy to any information, but I’ve always thought it’s conceivable that everybody involved on the decision-making side might decide, ‘Hey, you know, 25, that’s a good round number, let’s quit while we’re ahead’ — whatever ahead means — but I don’t know.”
Next year will also mark the 30th anniversary of one of the legendary mockumentaries that Shearer appeared in, “This Is Spinal Tap,” and Shearer is starting to think about anniversary projects. Director Christopher Guest, who’s been behind other projects with Shearer, has a new HBO show that premieres in May, and Shearer may be involved in another Guest project in the future.
“I have no idea what Chris has on the schedule after this HBO series — but we’re always talking.”
This story has been updated.