James Lipton Was Ahead of His Time

Kyle Koster
New York City Ballet's 2017 Fall Fashion Gala
New York City Ballet's 2017 Fall Fashion Gala / Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
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James Lipton has died at the age of 93. The New York Times adroitly states he plumbed the dramatic arts during a 23-year run as host of Inside the Actors Studio. He was multitalented and ever-curious. The biggest names in show business came to his intentionally-spartan studio and sat as equals. Substance was celebrated over celebrity, and the human behind the marquee name was always the favored guest.

Lipton was part teacher, part host, and fully in control of the little world he created, which merged art and life into one.

He was also a visionary ahead of his time, creating content that would become intensely in-demand as the decades passed, demand oftentimes created by those who cribbed heavily off his playbook. Inside the Actors Studio was an incubator for creatives who took the intriguing aspects of the long-form interview show and applied it to the audio form.

Lipton was, in many ways, a trailblazer for the modern podcast. More specifically, the upper-crust podcasts that lean heavily into the model he helped establish. He wasn't afraid to go long. Guests would sit for hours and hours to produce the best edit. He was immensely prepared, willing to go deep on the details, and wasn't afraid of being too niche.

Most importantly, the process was as important as the finished product. Perhaps more important. Lipton wanted to know the why, the how, the when, the what, and the who. He famously asked the same 10 questions. At the same time, he was well-researched and capable of going any direction at any moment.

Though vastly different in tenor and tone than Howard Stern, the two laid the groundwork for the impossibly-prepared, intimate celebrity interview. Each stripped away the veneer of public posturing and touched a nerve. Each understood that real nourishment lies beneath the candy shell.

Lipton boldly understood that he could put on such a specific, nuanced show and have it resonate with people all over the country. His ability to predict what people would be interested in was just as formidable as his grasp of what they were interested in.

He knew he wasn't interviewing actors, he was interviewing people. People who dedicate their lives to telling the stories of other people. He understood the unappreciated universality behind the perceived glitz and glamor.

DNA of his groundbreaking show is all over, in places you wouldn't immediately suspect. It seems fitting today to remember that and celebrate the details, the process, and the questions.

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