Actor Steven Van Zandt on the state of television

Bob Moon Mar 7, 2012

Bob Moon: Have you been watching the new series, “Lilyhammer”? It stars Steven Van Zandt as a gangster who turns on the mob and gets relocated to Norway by the FBI. If you haven’t been watching, you still can — anytime you want. The eight-show series is part of the new original programming streaming on Netflix.

Steven Van Zandt joins us now. Thanks for talking to us.

Steven Van Zandt: My pleasure, Bob.

Moon: You famously starred in “The Sopranos.” Did you ever expect to come back, star in — and now executive produce — another show like this?

Van Zandt: You never know in this world. You learn to expect the unexpected. You got to be flexible enough to say, “You know what? I wasn’t planning on playing a gangster again — not this soon — but this is just too good an idea.”

Moon: And this is a new concept that Netflix threw at you — an original series, launching all at once online, so you can stream it whenever you’re ready to watch. How’s it doing so far?

Van Zandt: Well, it’s doing remarkably well. And it was just very impressive to me that they would choose this as their first original programming — to pick this quirky show with subtitles. It bodes well for this conversation constantly about globalization and the global marketplace. In a few years, companies like Netflix will be one-stop shopping for the world, perhaps.

Moon: I read one account that suggested you weren’t convinced it was wise to put all the episodes up for streaming all at once. What was some of the debate around that?

Van Zandt: Well, I’m an old-school guy, you know — so I’m a little bit, my natural inclination is to question new stuff. Just how it is. In the old days, you get a cumulative word of mouth. But the head of content over there very accurately pointed out: you know what? It’s just like releasing an album. Which I hadn’t really thought of, but of course it is a very accurate analogy. What’s nice also is you’re getting away from the panic of the opening weekend thing, which is so prevalent in the movie business and even the music business to some extent now.

Moon: So is this, as they say, the future of television — or more to the point, is this going to be destroying traditional TV as we know it?

Van Zandt: Well, I wouldn’t use the word “destroying” as much as just an evolution of it. I started asking to people: you know, what are their viewing habits these days — because I don’t really watch TV to tell you the truth — and turns out, most of the young people in my office watch shows that way. And so this is actually happening. I think Netflix is just a little bit ahead of everybody else in picking up on what the actual viewing habits seem to be.

Moon: Steven Van Zandt, thanks for talking to us and good luck with this.

Van Zandt: Thank you very much, Bob — really, good talking to you.

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