But it was Clinton’s recent experience with two other famous interviewers that influenced the kind of show she wanted to create. Last fall, Clinton and her daughter Chelsea recorded an episode of Conan O’Brien’s audio show, “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.” They were promoting The Book of Gutsy Women, their co-authored collection of stories about women who have inspired them.
Clinton was struck by how different the hourlong conversation with O’Brien was compared with short promotional segments on TV and radio. She had already begun discussions with iHeartMedia, which also distributes O’Brien’s show, and she started to think about how the format might allow her to record deeper conversations with newsmakers that listeners could enjoy well after they aired.
“Conan just exudes enthusiasm about this platform and he does these interviews that are really evergreen and the idea with her, in part inspired by that experience, is to do the same thing,” said a person close to Clinton. “She wants to try to have a wider-ranging conversation that will be lasting, so you can listen to it in a year or you can listen to it tomorrow and it will be interesting. And then of course she’ll do some ranting and raving about news of the day.”
The other radio personality who influenced the format and style of the new Hillary Clinton show was even more unusual: Howard Stern.
Clinton had avoided Stern for decades when she was in the White House, Senate, Obama administration and as a presidential candidate. She finally agreed to appear on Stern’s show late last year during her promotional book tour. It was scheduled to be an hourlong session, but Clinton quickly succumbed to Stern’s well-known skills at getting his guests to open up with a mix of flattery, empathy and emotional mirroring.
Stern and Clinton ended up recording for almost 2½ hours, producing Stern’s longest interview for a non-musician in the show’s history.
Clinton was unfiltered. She joked that she “likes men” despite “what you may have heard,” discussed how Sen. Lindsey Graham may have suffered a “brain snatch,” complained that Bernie Sanders’ delayed endorsement in 2016 “hurt me,” and recalled that, when she phoned Trump to concede the election, “he was so shocked he could barely talk.”
Clinton enjoyed the relaxed environment that Stern creates at his studio, which isn’t too brightly lit and where guests sit amid throw pillows on a couch that looks like it was from Stern’s college dorm room. “It was an incredible experience,” said the person close to Clinton. “We’ve been thinking through based on that experience how to create a similar format.”
There is some irony that Clinton has gravitated to doing a podcast. As Stern repeatedly shows, what makes for a great interview is when a subject opens up and offers windows into character, motivation, relationships — the very things that Clinton the candidate was often unwilling to do. Her guardedness led critics to regard her as “inauthentic,” which arguably harmed her two presidential campaigns.
Clinton’s show will feature her in conversation with a brand-name guest, who might be drawn from world leaders and politicians, of course, but also celebrities, authors and perhaps famous chefs. Her team is experimenting with using a Stern-inspired ensemble plucked from the larger universe of Hillaryland to help loosen her up, keep the show conversational, and discuss the day’s news, perhaps at the top or bottom of the show. The search is on inside her organization for a Robin Quivers-like sidekick.
Overall the project is guided by the spirit of Clinton’s recent media blitz: the Stern podcast, a recent podcast with David Plouffe in which she suggested that Tulsi Gabbard was being groomed by the Russians, and an interview with The Hollywood Reporter to promote a new Hulu documentary series in which she says of Sanders, “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done.”
“Stern has a cast of characters,” said the person close to Clinton. “So could you have some people on the show in her orbit who are interesting but not necessarily guest-worthy? And then hopefully there’s some irreverence involved.” (Hillary is not the first Clinton with an audio show. Bill and Chelsea Clinton currently both appear on the Clinton Foundation’s podcast, Why Am I Telling You This?)
Hillary Clinton wants the main guests to be defined by the theme of her most recent book. The person close to her described the ideal interview for the show as “a meeting of the minds with people of grit and determination.”
Clinton has brought in two podcast veterans to produce the show, which will be recorded from a studio in Manhattan: Kathleen Russo, executive producer of Tina Brown’s “TBD” and creator of Alec Baldwin’s “Here’s the Thing,” and Julie Subrin, who also produces for Brown’s show. Clinton has already spent some time in the studio, and on Friday, she’s recording an interview with an author promoting a book out in the spring. She’ll continue interviews over the coming months until there’s enough material for a splashy launch.
Another focus of the show for Clinton is to use the podcast to share good news about problems that are actually being solved rather than produce yet another regular conversation strictly about how the world is going to hell.
But considering the timing of the new show, and Clinton’s recent penchant for offering her candid assessment of politics, the show will offer her a big new platform to weigh in on the drama unfolding in the Democratic primaries, including the potentially messy convention in Milwaukee. Clinton could play a role helping build support for an alternative to Bernie Sanders if he doesn’t secure the nomination on a first ballot — or in helping unite the party if he wins the nomination.
The show also continues the trend of former major political leaders, especially Democrats, becoming media entrepreneurs. After he lost the 2000 election, Al Gore created his own TV network and starred in an important documentary about climate change. Upon leaving office, the Obamas created Higher Ground, a multimedia production company whose first documentary, “American Factory,” just won an Oscar. If Trump had lost in 2016, he was reportedly prepared to start his own conservative media organization.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time before Clinton, whose time in office was marked by a deep distrust of the media, hopped onto the other side of the microphone and became the media herself. As her recent blitz of interviews showed, she has an almost unparalleled ability to make news with even a passing comment about major political figures and events. But that power is partly a function of how rarely she speaks, and she may find that it diminishes the more she’s in the fray.
Can she keep up the edginess needed for a compelling show? When asked how she’s been preparing, the person close to her said, “She’s been listening to a lot of podcasts.”
Marc Caputo contributed to this report.