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TELEVISION Jason Matheson: Aiming to make it big
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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If Jason Matheson gets his wish, all eyes of the nation will be on him.

Matheson is the openly gay host of The Jason Show, a Minnesota-based syndicated series that is middle of a four-week test run in four cities, including Chicago. The show aims to educate as well as entertain—although not necessarily in the traditional way. ( Who knew that Janet Jackson and Matthew McConaughey were once an item? )

He recently talked with Windy City Times about a wide range of topics, including his husband, his show—and the He-Man and She-Ra dolls he played with during his childhood.

Windy City Times: So, I was going to sit down one day and watch Divorce Court. All of a sudden, I saw you—and I said, "That's not Judge Lynn Toler."

Jason Matheson: [Laughs] Best intro to an interview, ever!

WCT: [Laughs] So tell me about the show—how it got started. I understand it's on a four-week run?

JM: Yes. I've worked for Fox, in one capacity or another, for almost 15 years. I was an entertainment producer, then I was a flat-out news anchor, I hosted a news/entertainment show called The Buzz, and then I got a radio show about 10 years ago that I still have today [Jason & Alexis].

What happened was that I left Fox for a year to just do the radio show, and there was a changing of the guard at Fox 9. They were looking to expand programming and they knew my abilities, and that it was a dream of mine. We started developing it, and it went on the air in the fall of 2015. At the conclusion of the first season, we were told that we were a ratings success here in the Twin Cities—and that they wanted to test the show in several markets, like what they did with Bethenny Frankel and Wendy Williams before that.

So we did the test in a variety of cities, although Chicago was not part of that. We did well, but we went back to being a regional show. We did some tweaks, and they wanted to do another test run. So now we're on our second test run. That's the Reader's Digest version.

WCT: Well, I have to say that I really like the show. What would you say sets your show apart from the others?

JM: Oh, that really means a lot to me. Thank you so much.

As for what sets it apart, you know what? It's perfect that I'm speaking to you about this, but what sets it apart is that it's set in the Midwest, like Donahue and, obviously, Oprah. Every other show is on a coast. I'm a Midwest boy; I'm from Chicagoland and I've lived in Minneapolis for 20 years. My sensibility and approach to things set us apart.

We can't really hang our hat on celebrities at this point. So I'm seeing the world through my glasses. Other shows feel the same and kinda have the same vibe. I was watching WLS before it became The Oprah Winfrey Show. So, while other kids were playing sports, I was watching Lady O and then acting like I was Oprah.

Andrew, [talk-show success] is like the divorce rate and the restaurant rate. If Katie Couric, Jane Pauley and Meredith Vieira can't make it—everything just seems to look the same. We try to be a little bit different—and I am a little bit different. [Laughs]

WCT: However, you seem very comfortable doing it, unlike a couple of the people you mentioned.

JM: Thank you—and I agree. This isn't meant to sound arrogant in the least, but I don't get nervous. It just feels very natural. I don't get nervous, although I get excited. I wasn't playing baseball; I was playing talk-show host. I had a lot of years to prepare, thanks to my He-Man action figures.

WCT: [Laughs] He-Man? Really?

JM: Yes! Andrew, my favorite show other than Oprah were Dallas and Knots Landing. So I would take He-Man action figures and play He-Man with them—but I also played Dallas and Knots Landing with them. They were my Barbies, and they were my pretend guests on my talk show as well. I was a child of the '80s.

WCT: Wait. If you played Knots Landing, who was Donna Mills?

JM: Donna Mills was She-Ra because she had a lot of hair. When Donna got a bob, I cut She-Ra's hair—and I made my mom buy a new one when Donna grew her hair back out. Years of therapy will eventually get rid of this but, right now, yeah.

WCT: I'm not going to make it through this conversation. [Both laugh.] I also love that you have segments on your show where you're willing to go outside your comfort zone.

JM: Andrew, let me tell ya... I love shooting them because I have no vanity and it doesn't really matter to me. But what you just said is part of the answer to your earlier question [about what sets the show apart]. I have such admiration for Conan O'Brien and David Letterman back in the Late Night days ( not the CBS years ). We try to do a little bit of that as well; we're in Minneapolis-St. Paul and, again, we can't get the celebrities.

I'm shooting one tomorrow where I'm doing paddleboat yoga. The next day I'm strength-training with the Minnesota Twins. A Ritz cracker has more athletic ability [than me]—both of those things are very scary to me.

WCT: Would you parachute or do something that extreme?

JM: I would not parachute, believe me.

I have four weeks to make everybody my best friend, and I told everyone my three biggest fears—and one of them is heights. I don't bees, sharks, heights or black water, and not necessarily in that order. I would not parachute unless Oprah was doing it with me or was on the ground waiting for me. [Interviewer laughs.]

WCT: Is it okay to talk about your private life?

JM: Yes! They're extremely supportive.

WCT: I'm just wondering what your husband thinks about the show?

JM: My husband is very supportive. Here, in the absence of big celebrities, the local media personalities become big celebrities—and, with that, my husband is probably the most graceful and understanding person. Also, he doesn't care that I can be really moody.

I do the morning radio show for four hours, I have an hour between shows, and then I do the talk show; then, I tape pieces for the next day. So, by the time I get home, the last thing I want to do is talk. But my husband leaves the home and gives me time to decompress; that's why we work. He's the most loving, caring and supportive husband; I don't know why he puts up with me.

WCT: Who would your dream guests be? You can give me three.

JM: Obviously, number one would be Miss O. Number two would be Andy Cohen and I think number three would either be David Letterman or Howard Stern. I am a huge Stern fan; he's the best celebrity interviewer of our time.

WCT: I totally agree. He gets celebrities to say things they normally wouldn't say.

JM: Absolutely! The thing that's amazing about him is that he's gotten me to like a celebrity I [initially] didn't like. Katherine Heigl is an example of that; Gwyneth Paltrow is another.

WCT: I wanted to ask you about a couple hot topics. What are your thoughts about the Kathy Griffin situation.

JM: With Kathy, I understand the outrage. Personally, it did bother me. I don't do politics on either show, but it bothered me. However, after the initial apology, I think she shouldn't have held the press conference, although she'll be fine, career-wise.

I call it the "Paula Deen" thing. Paula apologized several times and it was, like, "Stop!"

WCT: The '90s are back in a big way. Have you heard about this Monica Lewinsky-Linda Tripp movie that's headed toward Amazon?

JM: Yeah! When I was a kid, you heard a lot about the '60s and '70s. I think the '90s are hip now, and you see that with Fuller House—which never needed to be created, but that's a whole other conversation. I think the creators of this movie are riding the coattails of American Crime Story, although Monica and Linda are not necessarily in the same category.

I'm not surprised it's happening; it's titillating and scandalous, and it'll be fascinating for millennials. I'll watch it—and I want to see who they cast as Linda Tripp. One of my favorite impressions is John Goodman as Linda Tripp.

WCT: And, lastly, there's Bachelor in Paradise.

JM: What do you expect? You have incredibly beautiful people with zero-percent body fat and you give them unlimited strawberry daquiris and martinis—and you're shocked when you put them in pools and hot tubs and they hook up? It was a pressure-cooker waiting to happen.

WCT: Lastly, what would you like to ask President Trump?

JM: You know, that's a great question. I actually find him fascinating. I would want to know if he's truly enjoying himself and if it's what he expected. I'll leave politics to Chris Matthews or [Sean] Hannity; I like to ask about the personal.

WCT: You mentioned Knots Landing and Dallas—but what about Falcon Crest?

JM: Yeah .... but if I'm putting my prime-time soaps on a scale, it'd be Dallas, Knots Landing, Dynasty, The Colbys and, then, Falcon Crest.

The Jason Show airs weekdays at 11 a.m. CT on WPWR-50 through Friday, June 30.

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