Chris Wallace’s short-lived stint as the marquee attraction at ill-fated CNN+ has a silver lining: The former “Fox News Sunday” anchor, 74, is getting a broader platform when his show, “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace,” resurfaces Friday.
After nearly two decades at Fox, Wallace declined to renew his contract last spring and jumped to CNN+, a new streaming service, for a celebrity and newsmaker interview show. But the new owners of CNN, who took control just after the service launched, shut it down within weeks. That left Wallace, the son of the legendary “60 Minutes” anchor Mike Wallace, without a professional home.
Now, “Talking” returns with a mix of three weekly interviews streaming Fridays on HBO Max that will be condensed into a one-hour package Sunday evenings on CNN (7 EDT/4 EDT). First up: Stephen Breyer, in his first interview since retiring as a Supreme Court justice this year; country music superstar Shania Twain; and actor/director Tyler Perry.
Other upcoming guests this fall include former New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, author James Patterson, singer Meghan Trainor, chef Guy Fieri and singer Michelle Zauner, aka Japanese Breakfast and the author of “Crying in H Mart.”
Wallace looks ahead to his return engagement (edited and condensed for clarity).
Question: Were you surprised at the short life of CNN+?
Chris Wallace: We had five weeks. I spent three months getting ready for it, and it’s an interesting thing in the business: I had one set of very smart people saying this was the future of news on television, and then a bunch of other very smart people came in and said, ‘No.’ What I’m mostly excited about, though, is that the program survived and frankly is on a bigger and better platform than ever. So it’s going to get a lot more viewership than the old plan was. It was a bumpy road to get here, but I’m glad we did.
What’s the move from strictly politics to a broader focus been like?
I love it. You know, I’ve spent 18 years hosting a Sunday talk show, and I very much enjoyed that. But I’ve got a lot more interests than than just politics. I love entertainment, and I love sports and I’m fascinated by business and I’m very interested in culture. So to be able to paint on a broader canvas – this week is a perfect example, with a news-making interview with Justice Breyer and an interview with Tyler Perry, who’s one of the really interesting cultural and entertainment figures in the country, and Shania Twain, who still has the single best-selling album by a female artist in history – it plays to all of my interests.
When I was doing a Sunday show, I (had) 10 or 12 minutes, which is a long time in a live show, for an interview, but I spent as much time thinking about what I wasn’t going to ask as what I was. In these interviews, which run 30 or 40 minutes, we have the opportunity to edit: You can see where the conversation goes, you can really listen when something strikes them and they go off on a tangent. Or you have an idea and you’re not afraid to ask the question, ’cause you have the time and the space to have that conversation.
Absolutely. I did enjoy your duet with Shania.
Well, actually there are a few of them. I interview Meghan Trainor and we sing “All About That Bass” together.
Maybe you’ll have a second career as a singer. Who knows?
No, I think I have a first career as an interviewer who sings barely well enough that it’s not embarrassing.
It seems like the celebrity TV interview is a lost art. Who are your inspirations?
A good thoughtful conversation with an interesting person has traditionally been a staple of television, and so I’m thrilled at the idea of filling it. In terms of people whom I admired, obviously my father, and Charlie Rose and Larry King would be three that come immediately to mind.
What’s the trickiest thing about talking to celebrities compared to politicians?
We don’t have subpoena powers. All I can do is ask the question, and people decide whether to answer it or not. Frankly, I’ve been more surprised at people’s willingness to share and to discuss rather than their unwillingness, and Shania is a perfect example: I talked to her about her losing her voice to Lyme disease. I talked to her about her husband leaving her for her best friend, and she was very candid and open and raw about those two subjects. You have to communicate good faith, that you’re not there to to play gotcha, you’re not there to try to embarrass them. You’re there to to have a sensible, thoughtful, informed conversation about all aspects of their life.
Do you miss the politics beat in any way? How much will you be involved in CNN’s coverage of the midterms and 2024 elections?
I don’t miss that as a sole beat, but I did a number of the primary nights, I was part of the coverage of all of the January 6th House committee hearings, and they want me to play a big role for the midterm elections. So it’s really the best of both worlds. I’d miss it if I didn’t have any exposure to breaking news, and particularly to politics and elections. But my day job is this show. I’m very happy that I’ve made the move I made and that I’m covering a lot more of the world.
Covering politics exclusively, it becomes so incremental. I mean, how many weeks in a row was it, “Here’s the minuscule development on the Build Back Better bill?” You feel like you’re slicing this salami thinner and thinner.
You told The New York Times last spring that working at Fox was unsustainable and uncomfortable, because of their focus on election denialism. Was that part of this move away from politics, and do you still believe that?
It wasn’t part of my move away from politics exclusively. I just frankly got tired of covering politics implicitly. There’s more to life. There’s more to my interests. And, you know, there was more to what I wanted to do at this point in my career. In terms of what I said about Fox then, I mean, that’s true. But I was ready for a new chapter and a new challenge, a new adventure. And part of that was to come to CNN, and now HBO. It worked out better than I ever imagined it would.