Now that rock fans have become inured to all but the flashiest MTV video fodder, it’s hard to imagine them appreciating the grittiness of unadorned live music on TV. But viewer ennui is precisely what Marty Callner banked on three years ago when he conceived the idea for ABC’s In Concert ‘91, the new series that airs Fridays at midnight.
Inspiration struck Callner, who has directed videos for Aerosmith, Whitesnake, and Cher, after he found himself becoming jaded by the format’s constraints. ”I was bored with watching and making videos,” he admits. ”This show (an updated version of the late-night In Concert, which aired on ABC from 1973 to ‘75) is a backlash against the lip-synching and special effects of music video. I want kids to see just how good these bands really are when they’re actually playing.”
With its mix of arena packers (David Bowie, the Grateful Dead, Phil Collins) and alternative acts (Fishbone, Lynch Mob, Morrissey), In Concert ‘91 is programmed to be eclectically hip. But like any TV show with live elements, this one has occasional glitches. During a recent segment recorded at a New York club, L.L. Cool J stormed offstage after his mike conked out, leaving the crew waiting in vain to finish taping (fortunately, enough footage had been shot to fill a segment). In a more damaging gaffe, Cher lip-synched on an early episode, which had been hyped for its live music. In Concert has offered Cher a chance to reappear (with her band plugged in and playing) later this year.
Plans call for performances ranging from hard-core funk acts to Vegas lounge legends (the show is trying to book Frank Sinatra). ”We told Frank, ‘Hey, your (music’s) before rock & roll, but it’s still great live,”’ Callner says. ”That’s the key to this show. It’s not about showing girls, hyping bands, or providing concepts for directors’ reels. It’s about presenting compelling live music.”