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New "Spectacle" Musical Talk Show Hits All the Right Notes

    Two guys who reinvented themselves, and gave themselves new names in the process, have just teamed up to reinvent the talk show.

    The guys in question, long since known as Elvis Costello and Elton John, are on view in tonight’s premiere (9 p.m. ET) of the new Sundance Channel weekly series, “Spectacle: Elvis Costello With…”. Costello is the host, Elton is the guest (as well as one of the show’s producers), and the subject is nothing more, and nothing less, than the love of music.

    “Spectacle” is filmed in a large theater, in front of an audience, and opens and closes with musical performances. That’s the spectacle part. The rest, though, is intentionally, refreshingly, surprisingly intimate.

    The object of the show, and what Costello is most eager to extract from his guest, is a passionate discussion about music – early influences, neglected artists, childhood idols. The crowd seems very pleased by it all, but there’s no playing to the audience, except when they ARE playing. Otherwise, they’re just talking.

    In the opener, they talk so fondly of the likes of Laura Nyro and David Ackles that it should send old and new music fans alike to seek out their relatively forgotten catalog. The host and guest even close with a performance, not of an Elton John or Elvis Costello song, but of “Down River,” an Ackles composition. And because they’ve spent a few minutes explaining why they both found him so inspirational, it enhances the final number tremendously.

    Elton also tells stories of being introduced by Leon Russell, and watching Frank Sinatra sing one of Elton and Bernie Taupin’s songs at a London concert, and even noting with glee that he was “thrilled” when two of his songs were sung by… “American Idol” singing disaster William Hung.

    “Spectacle,” though, is no disaster.

    Quite the opposite: It’s not only a treat. It’s an inspiration.