NPR’s Scott Simon to host second pilot of Wonderful Town variety show

By Andrew Lapin

NPR is mounting a second pilot performance of Scott Simon’s Wonderful Town, a variety show featuring the Weekend Edition Saturday host.

The live taping will take place Jan. 22 at the Bell House in Brooklyn, N.Y., where NPR’s trivia show Ask Me Another also tapes. It will feature appearances from comedians and musicians including Eugene Mirman, Nellie McKay and Daily Show contributor Aasif Mandvi. This is the second Wonderful Town pilot to be taped; the first was in February 2013.

Scott Simon

Simon

The program has a “progressive couch” format, said NPR programming VP Eric Nuzum. Guests arrive on the show’s couch one at a time and stick around to chat with each other and Simon. Inspiration came from former Tonight Show host Jack Parr’s interviewing method.

“Back in those days, everyone wasn’t trying to push a book or a movie or something new, but they were put together because they were an interesting collection of characters,” Nuzum said.

Simon first pitched Wonderful Town more than a year ago, when NPR was brainstorming new programming ideas, according to Nuzum. During the piloting process, NPR will consult with listener focus groups to tweak the show’s format. Wonderful Town will tape the day after Ask Me Another, in the same venue and using the same program staff, so as to keep costs down, Nuzum said.

Public radio stations already have variety programs to choose from, including American Public Media’s Wits and A Prairie Home Companion. NPR has not offered such a show since 2012, when it elected not to continue producing John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders after a six-episode pilot run.

“We’ve learned a lot over the past few years of how to produce shows in terms of live audiences, knowledge that we started with Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! and developed with Ask Me Another and Cabinet of Wonders,” Nuzum said. “It seemed like the right mix of what we know how to produce and what we’re able to produce.”

NPR has not decided whether to produce Wonderful Town as a continuing series, and Nuzum did not know when that decision will be made. It’s also unclear how Simon would balance hosting the show with his Weekend Edition hosting duties, according to Nuzum.

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