When this assignment was first passed to me I sighed, afraid that a show with the title Interviews 50 Cents was going to be a train wreck of the infamous rapper conversing with an assortment of PR-stunted celebrities. A second, far more pleasant sigh could have been heard not long after when it became clear that the show’s moniker was just an unfortunate coincidence. In fact, what I viewed was far, far more interesting than a mediocre hip hop artist’s interviews.
The first video to play featured a man who may have, for at least a short period of time, thought he was a goose.
If no one else, Ovid, perhaps, might have enjoyed such a tale (and, as I’ve been in the midst of rereading the Metamorphoses, I thought it an auspicious beginning).
It’s not often that ordinary folk are given the opportunity to share their stories with the world, though it certainly must take someone of a particular disposition to sit down at a table with a strange man, a microphone and a sign that reads “Interviews 50¢”. However, Alex Chadwick has taken up the mantle of Charles Kuralt and hit the road to uncover stories that would otherwise remain hidden from the world and, almost inevitably, lost to time.
In Kuralt’s day his “On The Road” segments for CBS – two-minute windows on ordinary Americans’ lives – would air and then sit to collect dust. There was no viral medium for reproduction or further dissemination. There were just television clips whose signals would escape into Earth’s electromagnetic shell. Clearly things are vastly different today, which also means that the impact Kuralt always feared he would never make can now be made on a scale he probably never imagined.
Thanks to Slate and the late Ray Farkas (he was the original producer on the series), Chadwick has been given a magnificent platform from which to launch his updated variant of “On The Road.” Of course, in this version Chadwick is a passive participant, simply sitting in different American locales, open to the crowd and waiting for them to make the move. Kuralt played the more traditional “journalist” role in seeking out subjects he thought fitting for his program. Though such methodologies will never dig out the same stories, critiques of that sort should not overshadow the content.
At the moment there are 35 different interviews to watch. It’s less a short story anthology than it is a growing collection of video prose poems. The interviews are conversational, off-the-cuff and tend to lack any discernible plot.. However, they do provoke plenty of emotion and stir up curiosity at what dreams and concerns the next interview may hold.
An unfortunate aspect of the program is the lack of information on the site (though episode credits do roll), particularly regarding the regularity of updates/new interviews. Otherwise Alex Chadwick has developed something really great here. Interviews 50¢ may be on its way to become a minor institution. Check it out on Slate.