When a Casting Director Comes Calling

Last week I was contacted by a casting director to see if I might be interested in hosting a new show for A&E/HISTORY. I was a bit surprised, but curious enough to reply that I would like to hear more. Following a short telephone call I filled out a short list of questions in preparation for an audition via Skype.

I spent about 90 minutes auditioning on Tuesday morning with absolutely no idea of what to expect. Overall, it was a lot of fun, but it was incredibly draining. Within the first minute I had to change my shirt because of a glare. I then spent the next few minutes moving piles of books and furniture to create just the right setting. Eventually, we got around to the actual audition.

Our conversation ranged from my personal and professional background to discussing examples of the proposed show’s theme that I provided beforehand. All of it was pretty straightforward. The challenge, however, was expressing it in a way that captured both my understanding of history as well as my personality. I was constantly asked to repeat a point or express it using slightly different words and/or in a different tone. At times it was frustrating, but I eventually adjusted to what was being asked of me.

Turns out that the 90 minutes we spent talking will eventually be shortened to a roughly 90 second audition for producers to review. I thought that overall the audition went very well, but I have no sense of whether I will make it to the next round. My uncertainty is a reflection of not having much experience at all with this kind of media engagement.

I’ve expressed concern and even horror at some of the history-themed shows aired on these channels. At the same time I believe these programs have great potential to educate. As someone who has tried to find creative ways to engage the general public I would be foolish not to jump at such an opportunity, if presented.

For now, I am not going to hold my breath.

13 comments… add one
  • bob carey Sep 23, 2016 @ 3:11

    I wish you luck in this endeavor.
    For years I’ve been yearning for more sophisticated discussion on the Civil War era. I’m faithful to C-Span on weekends but I feel their viewership is to small to increase the general public’s understanding. Commercial TV could be the ticket.
    If John Hennessy is right on his cast of historians the discussions would be both lively and informative. Hope it works out.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 23, 2016 @ 5:36

      Thanks, Bob. I made it clear that I would not take part in anything that I believed compromised whatever credentials I can claim as a historian. You are right that there is a great deal of promise for these types of shows, but we also have seen plenty of examples crash and burn.

      • bob carey Sep 23, 2016 @ 15:25

        I wouldn’t dream of comparing you or the other aforementioned historians to Chumlee or any current “celeb” in the A&E or History Channel line-ups. LOL

  • Patrick Jennings Sep 22, 2016 @ 10:59

    I too hope you get it. I have done some work like this and indeed, it is something like an hour of effort for 30 seconds of soundbite. I think you will be fantastic. Good luck.

  • John Hennessy Sep 22, 2016 @ 7:33

    Radio, Levin. Radio. Please.

    Levin, Simpson, Carmichael, Nelson–there’d be some Housewives of drama there. I can see potential for something that goes way beyond history, with serious societal value.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 22, 2016 @ 7:51

      With that cast I was thinking more, “Big Brother”.

      • Mike Rogers Sep 23, 2016 @ 4:13

        CWI meets Duck Dynasty.

  • GdBrasher Sep 22, 2016 @ 6:45

    I got wind of this project. I am very glad to see that they are going after actual historians, so I wonder how this show will turn out and if it gets picked up. (Honestly, I was a bit too intimidated to audition for the panel because I certainly don’t have TV good looks or charisma). Keep us posted!

    • Kevin Levin Sep 22, 2016 @ 6:47

      I know of a couple of people in our small community that have auditioned. They definitely cast a wide net. We shall see.

  • Jimmy Dick Sep 22, 2016 @ 6:44

    Visual media has an awesome power to present information both factual and fictional to large numbers of people. We already know that a lot of the information out is being presented from an entertainment point of view. Whenever historians are given an opportunity to present factual information, they should make the utmost of the chance. As we’ve seen from raising of the CBF by the flaggers in the past five years, people are asking questions and want to know what really took place in the past. They want the facts, not the lies.

    With that in mind, I really hope you have a chance to make a positive impact on people’s perceptions, Kevin. You know the impact of Ken Burns’ The Civil War made both good and bad. This might be your chance to make a positive impact on people!

    • Kevin Levin Sep 22, 2016 @ 6:48

      I appreciate that, Jimmy. Like I said, I am not holding my breadth. If an opportunity arises I will definitely explore it along the lines you outline.

  • Forester Sep 22, 2016 @ 6:33

    I hope you do get it! Then I can brag to people, “Before he was famous, that guy responded to my blog comments.”

    I don’t always agree with you, but you certainly bring a fresh perspective to an often tired conversation. I like that your family wasn’t in America until after 1900, which means you aren’t bogged down with heritage ties.

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