Harry Connick Jr. on His New Daytime Show: It's 'A Late-Night Party in the Afternoon'
Harry Connick Jr. fell in love with music while growing up in New Orleans. He has parlayed that passion into a lengthy career as a recording artist, Broadway star, film and television actor, and most recently a judge on American Idol. Now the multitalented 49-year-old is turning his attention to daytime, with his new series, Harry, which debuted on September 12. Connick, who’s retained the soft drawl of his native city, shares his thoughts about what he calls “a late-night show party in the afternoon.”
You’re a singer, a bandleader, an actor, a talent judge and now a daytime host. How would you describe yourself?
I’m an entertainer. It’s the easiest description of all the things that I like to do.
Are you ready for the grind of a daily TV show?
I don’t think it will be a grind. I’ve never thought that way about touring, or [acting in] TV dramas like Law & Order: SVU with 12- to 16-hour days, or Broadway with eight shows a week because, though taxing, the performance is the prize. Now I’m [taping] two shows a day, three days a week. The principle reason I signed up for this is that it’s the first time I’ll be able to do all the things that I love to do under one roof. I can play music, I can entertain, I can meet and talk to people, I can do comedy. It’s a dream come true!
Is Harry a variety show? A talk show?
It’s difficult to describe because there hasn’t been much of a precedent for it. I’m very careful not to use the words “variety show” only because it’s not a variety show in the true sense of the word. It’s not a sketch comedy show, it’s not SNL, it’s not Carol Burnett. But it’s also not a talk show because I have my band and we’ll be playing music all the time. We’re just a different kind of show.
What daytime shows inspired you?
I watched Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin as a kid. But they didn’t write all the music for the show, which I’m doing. I love the fun of Ellen, the spontaneity and tightrope walk of The Dean Martin Show. And Oprah was great and so difficult to do.
Will you sing every day?
It’s a very spontaneous show, which means sometimes I’ll perform and it’s been [pre-]planned and sometimes I will perform without planning to. I won’t be singing a song every show. I’m doing 180 shows a year, I don’t think anybody wants to see [me sing] that much!
How spontaneous will Harry be?
My executive producers, Justin and Eric Stangel, were the head writers for [David] Letterman for 17 years, and they are absolute masters at doing this. I’ll do my research to make a guest feel at home, but I won’t have a sheet of questions for an interview. When I did the pilot, Mindy Kaling was a guest. She started telling me a story about how she auditioned for a Broadway musical and I asked her what song she sang. [It was “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail]. I brought her to the piano and we sang it—even though we couldn’t remember the words—and the audience joined in. If Beyoncé came on, obviously there would be rehearsals. [Laughs] But the exciting part is, I won’t know what’s coming.
You’re shooting in New York. Will you showcase Broadway musicals?
Absolutely. I love Broadway! I have a lot of friends in the community and there’s some of the best talent in the world.
Who are some of your dream guests?
I’m partial to people I grew up with who were heroes of mine: Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett, TimConway, Don Rickles. But I’m just as excited about a segment called Harry’s Leading Ladies, where we celebrate a woman for any accomplishment great or small. It could be a woman who retired after 50 years of teaching second grade.
Are you going for a light and uplifting tone?
My agenda is to uplift and entertain people. It’s not journalism or putting people on the spot. We’re just going to have a good time.
Will you travel, say to New Orleans, on occasion?
Absolutely. Being able to celebrate people and their towns is something that we’re going to try to do.
Did your American Idol gig nudge you in this direction?
I had a great time on Idol, but this is an idea that my manager and I have been talking about for probably 20 years. We were just trying to find the right opportunity and the right situation, because, like anything else in my career, I only do it if it’s something I really want to do. And that’s how I feel about Harry.
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