The last nine years of podcasting are filled with memorable experiences, including conducting interviews, meeting people, building relationships and much more. However, when I take a step back, there is actually one podcast that counts as its own amazing, fun and memorable experience:
The Peggy Carter Podcast.
It only lasted for two seasons of Agent Carter, but I’m so pleased that we got them both.
The Random Decision
I came up with the idea to produce an Agent Carter show while producing the Assembly of Geeks podcast. Before this moment, I never thought about spin-off podcasts or doing a show exclusively focused on one television series. However, it was hard to ignore how excited we were to discuss any news surrounding Agent Carter on our current podcast.
At one point, I thought we could dedicate a segment to our Agent Carter reactions, but I thought that would take away from the free-flowing variety of Assembly of Geeks. So, I decided to host and produce a standalone podcast. Then, I had to figure out how to piece it together.
Picking the Co-hosts
I knew I wanted to be a host on this show, and it only made sense to ask AoG co-hosts Tricia Barr and Jeff McGee if they would be interested in being part of it. However, time was an issue for them, and that meant I needed to expand my co-host search.
Fortunately, I was already talking to Lauren Galloway and Amy Hypnarowski about getting involved with Assembly of Geeks, and it turned out they were both very interested Agent Carter. It all fell into place, and we had instant chemistry.
I knew the theme needed an old school secret agent vibe, and I found the perfect opening theme track on Pond5. Then, I started to think about the intro and bumpers. At first, I considered the sound of Peggy going into the office and pulling a file (which would contain the breakdown of the day's episode), but that would be tough to convey with audio sounds.
Then I started to think in old school and 1940s radio terms. At one point, Amy joked about us dressing up in 1940s clothes and turning it into a radio production of that time.
That idea jump-started my concept - The opening theme would transition to the sound of a tuning radio. Then, an old-school radio announcer would set the stage through a dramatic read.
I was lucky to find voiceover artistRon Chavis to be the newsman. His first words were always, "This is SSR radio."
As I wrote his first script, I knew I wanted his last line to be something over-dramatic. So, he closed with a dire warning about Peggy's mission by saying, "If she fails, the consequences could be severe...both for her...and the world as we know it."
When I was writing the intro for the second episode, I struggled to come up with a line that had an equally cool and cheese-tastic ring to it. Then it hit me - the "world as we know it line" should be the close for every episode's introduction.
If it wasn't broken, why try to fix it? That closing line became very synonymous with the show.
Audio: The Peggy Carter Podcast Season Premiere Episode
Along with the fun introduction, each "break" in the podcast featured 1940s music (including tracks heard in the series) and 1940s radio commercials.
The Hayley Atwell Interview
It wasn't long into the first season that we learned that some writers from Agent Carter were listening to the show. The download stats were solid as the podcast grew into something unexpectedly great.
Yet, there wasn't a guarantee that Agent Carter would get renewed for a second season. When the renewal came, I started to think about starting our second season with a special guest.
In May of 2015, I made plans to attend a comic convention in Houston. Hayley Atwell was a guest, and she was the main reason for my attendance. Having conducted several convention interviews, I wondered if it was possible to talk to Hayley while I was there. Thanks to Lauren's social media connections with people at Marvel, she was able to find out who I should contact about this idea.
It was the Executive Director of Television Communications.
When I reached out, I learned Marvel wasn't in control of Hayley's schedule at the convention. So, any interviews would have to be controlled by their staff. However, I was told that Marvel did not have any problems with her being on the show.
I knew it was too late to organize something like that, and I asked if we could arrange something after the convention. He asked me to touch base with him when the new season went into production in the fall.
At the convention, I paid for an autograph and photo op with Hayley. While she was signing my picture, I asked if she'd heard of our Peggy Carter show.
She looked up, thought for a second and said, "Yes! In fact, I've listened to it in my trailer." She said she loved the amount of enthusiasm we had for the show.
That was an unforgettable moment.
Before I reached out to Marvel about an interview with her, I wanted to establish some rapport and demonstrate my professional approach to interviews. So, I booked an interview with Clark Gregg for the Assembly of Geeks Podcast, and we had a fantastic discussion about a variety of topics.
As production of Agent Carter was close to wrapping, I reached out and booked the interview with Hayley. I learned that she would talk to me from her trailer during a break. I would have a 15-minute window.
That day, I couldn't think of anything else. I wasn't nervous about interviewing her, it just needed to go smoothly. After all, this interview took six months to book, and the call was coming from a trailer on set. It was a tight window, and rescheduling may not be possible if something went wrong.
Finally, it was time to record the interview.
Then, we got delayed.
That wasn't surprising since she was on a production set, and it meant I was going to have to wait a little longer. A couple more delays came and went, and they told me would call when they're ready.
This extra time allowed me to calm my nerves and wait for everything to fall into place. The phone rang, and it was time to make this happen.
I replied, but I was unable to clearly understand what she said next. I hated to disrupt our pleasantries, but I had to tell her about the audio issue.
I was already a bit worried about this.
Luckily, she was able to put on a headset. Once plugged in, she came through loud and clear.
She was a wonderful guest. She was totally engaged in our conversation, and we had a great 15-minute talk about Season One, the extended story of her character and the themes of Season Two.
Everything came together and worked out perfectly.
Even though I wouldn't upload the interview for another month, I decided to promote it on Twitter. It ended up being the perfect time to share it.
Hayley retweeted it, and later that day, she decided not return to Twitter. Our interview was the last thing she shared on her account before leaving social media.
It was almost fitting since everything about this podcast experience was about good decisions and timing:
I also have that unforgettable interview with the star of the show.
In July of 2014, I had an awesome opportunity and a problem.
The opportunity: An in-person interview with David Giuntoloi and Bitsie Tulloch about Grimm.
The problem: I didn't watch the show.
However, I had to assume that many of my listeners did watch it. So, I researched what happened in previous seasons, and I developed some questions. I then sent those questions to friends who were big fans of Grimm because I wanted to make sure I crafted good questions.
My friends said they were good questions and didn't have anything to add.
Then, when I sat down to talk with David, he noticed I had a set of prepared questions.
He was shocked.
He playfully expressed his surprise by telling me he didn't expect a podcast interviewer to come prepared with questions.
While I appreciated the compliment, that wasn't the best commentary about podcast interviews. Yet, it wouldn't be the only time I would have to be the exception to that rule.
When I asked Anthony Michael Hall for an interview, he agreed but wanted to keep it short. He soon realized I was prepared, and we ended up having a longer (and enjoyable) conversation.
While attending a convention, I walked into a room full of independent podcasts and media outlets who were there to interview voice actor Fred Tatasciore. I was the last person to interview him. He was so pleased with my preparation and questions that he offered to sign some posters for my listeners. These were posters he brought to the convention.
It's nice to be appreciated, but preparation should be part of everyone's process. Yet, I know it's not something generally associated with podcast interviews.
That makes me crazy! In fact, I've probably lost an opportunity to interview someone because the mention of "podcaster" was a red flag.
We can do better! Here's how you can do better.
Do some research
This may sound like common sense, and it should be automatic. However, it's one of the major reasons why so many podcast interviews suck. When I say research, I mean:
1. Ask for a biography page, read their websites and/or read news stories about them
2. If there are prior interviews with your guest, find some and watch or read them
3. If they're an author, read the book
4. Put yourself in the listener's shoes and ask yourself what you would want to know
5. Make sure you don't have too many (if any) questions that start with, "What was it like..."
Many podcasters will improvise or decide on simple questions that don't take a lot of time to develop. Keep in mind, your questions and preparation are a representation of you. While it's important to always remember that, I've interviewed quests whose expertise was way beyond mine. For example, when I had to conduct an interview on the mind's impact on back pain, I had to do a deep-dive into research in order to give me and the interview some meaningful credibility.
Research is critical. Start with these steps, and you'll be well on your way to conducting a stronger interview.
Craft better questions
While I was attending a convention a couple of years ago, I came across someone who I've interviewed in the past. He's an in-demand author, and he told me he was starting to cut back on podcast interview requests.
One reason for this - People keep asking him the same questions.
"Instead of asking me how I got started, I wish they would ask me WHY I got started."
This goes back to my point about the "What was it like" questions:
What was it like doing this
What was it like playing this role
What was it like working with ____
There are better questions, and my former guest correctly pointed out that there are better ways to ask them. It's also another for reason researching prior interviews. If the person you want to interview is an in-demand guest, you can definitely learn about the repeated questions they've been asked.
One of the biggest guests I've ever had was Hayley Atwell, who plays Peggy Carter for Marvel. There are a ton of previous interviews to watch, including podcast interviews at San Diego Comic-Con.
I listened to Hayley answer this type of question over and over again. She would generally say she viewed the character in a sexless way. In other words, this isn't about being a female superhero.
It's about being a hero that happens to be female. She knows a male actor would not get this question in the same context.
So, you don't have to be the interviewer who asked that question because:
1. You did your research and noticed she's been asked this 100 times.
2. Your research will show you that she doesn't like to view the character in that context.
Now, it's almost impossible to line-up a set of questions that a guest like Hayley has never been asked, but you can craft a different way to ask it. When you do that, your guest will probably have to stop, think and share a new version of their response. The same questions will trigger the same responses, and that gets old with guests.
Don't make it a tennis match
During a tennis match, you can't help but take your eyes off the game and watch the crowd. The sight of people's heads going side to side can be entertaining as well. However, in the world of interviewing - it can be quite dull.
What do I mean by a tennis match interview? The back and forth is simple and one-dimensional:
I think it's much more effective to approach an interview as a conversation. You don't even have to follow your prepared questions at times because they might answer a prepared question while discussing another topic.
You have to listen and adjust.
Plus, if you're listening carefully, they may say something that inspires a better question than the one you have in front of you.
You can also make a guest comfortable with a conversational interview by having some pleasant small talk before you start recording.
Don't be afraid to bring up that other thing
This is another advantage of doing research. You might be talking to an author about their book, but your research showed that they're very passionate about a charity. So, you ask them about that as well.
Some interviewers are so one-track minded, they talk about one topic, and they're done. If there's an opportunity to work an additional highlight into your discussion:
1. It shows you did your research
2. It's a potential opportunity to ask something they're not always asked
3. It could add another interesting layer to your discussion.
I've done this on more than one occasion, and it's always a good thing. Back in 2012, I interviewed Alicia Witt about her role in Cowgirls 'n Angels and Two Weeks Notice. She lit up with a smile when I brought up her singing career, which is a bigger part of her life now.
Remember that when you conduct an interview, you're representing you, your show and your audience. Take that seriously. Let that help you gain a reputation as a prepared and professional interviewer.
That reputation could override the negative perceptions of podcast interviews and generate more opportunities for you.
I've always said my top two childhood heroes were Luke Skywalker and Mike Donovan. Everyone knows the name Luke Skywalker, but not everyone Mike Donovan. That's a tragedy because if it weren't for him, alien lizards would've gotten away with eating people and sucking the earth dry.
When I talk to people about Marc Singer, they usually think about The Beastmaster, but he will always be Mike Donovan from the 1980s television series - V . As a kid, I pretended to be Mike Donovan while attending elementary school in Fort Worth, Texas. My best friend played Martin (the alien visitor who was on our side), and we turned the school into the mother ship.
During the day, he would approach me with news about how his people were developing new threats against the humans. At recess, we pretended to blow up pipes and return stolen water to earth. Many years after the show was cancelled, Mike Donovan continued to be a key figure in my nostalgia.
So, you can only imagine what it was like for me to meet him in person. He came to a comic convention in Plano, and it was a memorable experience. He was an incredibly nice guy, and my wife enjoyed meeting him as well.
However, this exciting moment came with some regret. I didn't want to hold up the autograph line anymore. So, I didn't tell him how much his character meant to me. I didn't tell him that I played Mike Donovan on the school playgrounds. I assumed there would be another time, but as conventions came and went, he didn't appear on the guest list.
Then I got into podcasting and launched a celebrity interview show. While developing an episode about childhood heroes, I tried to find a way to reach Marc. It wasn't easy. I came across an email address that MIGHT get to him, but I didn't really know for sure. Nonetheless, I wrote my interview request and sent it off to who knows where.
I never got a reply. I figured it ended up in some random person's inbox, and they deleted it.
Then, months later, someone called my cell phone while I was at work. It was listed as UNKNOWN, and I never answer those. Surprisingly, the "unknown" caller left a message. So, I checked it.
That night, I called Marc back. During our discussion, I finally got to tell him, one-on-one, with no lines of people behind us, what his character meant to me. And that meant a lot to him.
During the interview, he even brought it up, and I confirmed that I pretended to be Mike Donovan in school. He told me and the audience how much that means to him, and he knew I did the character proud.
As they say today - "Uh! The feels!"
At the end of the interview, Marc read the liner I wrote for the show. It was a nice bow tied around a fun conversation and a meaningful opportunity.
"Hi, this is Marc Singer. I played Mike Donovan in the 1980s series 'V'. Scott Murray also played Mike Donovan in school. And thanks to him, no lizards ever infiltrated the classroom. Long live The Resistance."
I love it when I come across the occasional meme or message on social media that states something truly meaningful. For example, I like it when I see reminders that in a very celebrity-obsessed and self-focused world, important people get overlooked - like our military heroes. This is especially true for those who belong to The Greatest Generation.
No doubt about it, I was always excited when I booked a celebrity guest on my first talk show. However, I was honored to talk to two heroes in February of 2012. The movie Red Tails was coming out, and it told a story featuring a group of Tuskegee Airmen. Sure, I could've worked on finding a couple of actors from the movie, but I decided to go a different route.
I went out and found two actual Tuskegee Airmen to feature on the show - Master Sergeant Joseph Montgomery and Colonel Charles McGee. First off, Colonel McGee was a modern day badass. From World War II to Vietnam, he was like Maverick from Top Gun. He flew over 400 combat missions during his service. He is 99-years-old today.
I had the unique opportunity to interview Master Sergeant Montgomery at his home in Fort Worth, Texas. Like many heroes of his generation, he was a great storyteller. He talked about making the trip to Tuskegee via train and having to cover up the windows at stops where skin color could cause some problems for them. At times, he chokes up talking about the experience, proving how much pain still existed. I was sad to learn that he passed away last year, but I feel lucky to be someone who got to hear his story.
I'm also proud to be someone who can help keep the stories and memories alive for both of these American heroes.