Concerts at The Kate to air on CPTV and around the U.S.

Ann Wilson performs in the CPTV series
Ann Wilson performs in the CPTV series "The Kate." (Photo by Jonathan Olson)

The Kate is getting televised and going national.

A series of concerts filmed by CPTV at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (nicknamed The Kate) is airing Fridays on CPTV — and then will take to stations around the country starting next month.

“It’s really exciting for us,” says Brett Elliott, the Kate’s executive director.

“The Kate’s” first season is airing at 10 p.m. Fridays on CPTV, and the concerts were all filmed in front of a ticket-buying audience at the 250-seat Old Saybrook theater.

Tonight’s episode focuses on Rickie Lee Jones, followed on successive weeks by Jarrod Spector, The Ann Wilson Thing, Barb Jungr and Rita Wilson.

That line-up shows just how diverse the series is. The artists include singers who have had chart-toppers like Ann Wilson of Heart and Rickie Lee Jones (“Chuck E’s in Love”), as well as performers who are best-known for other art forms: “Sleepless in Seattle” and “It’s Complicated” actress Rita Wilson, who is about to release her second album, and former “Saturday Night Live” star Ana Gasteyer, who also sings. Featured, too, are British cabaret artist Jungr, and Broadway luminary Spector, who played Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys” and was nominated for a Tony for his role as Barry Mann in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”

The upcoming schedule of premieres and rebroadcasts on CPTV features Jones tonight and April 8; Gasteyer on April 1; Spector Feb. 5 and April 15; Ann Wilson Feb. 12 and April 22; Jungr Feb. 19 and April 29; and Rita Wilson March 25 and May 6. Each episode runs one hour.

“The Kate” follows in the successful footsteps of another CPTV show that films concerts at Connecticut theaters — “Infinity Hall Live,” which shoots at the Infinity venues in Norfolk and Hartford. That series began in 2011. Distributed nationally by American Public Television, it draws TV and online audiences of about 3.5 million people.

Jennifer Boyd, the CPTV executive producer who is “The Kate’s” co-creator and producer, says people from The Kate broached the subject of this series.

“An idea’s just an idea unless there’s support for it,” she says. “It really came down to their ability to help us be able to fund production. From there, we were able to move forward and think about how can we make this series unique? Having Katharine Hepburn’s legacy and some of the images and ideas, concepts that she represents, influenced the style and direction.”

A slogan that the producing team keeps in mind is Hepburn’s quote of, “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” So when they contemplated what kind of show to do, that notion played into their decision. Ultimately, they wanted to offer something different from the other performance shows on television.

One of the things that meant is giving performers an opportunity to do something different from their day job. So Ana Gasteyer is famous for being on “Saturday Night Live,” but she’s also a classically trained singer. On “The Kate,” Gasteyer performs “entertainer-style jazz from the ’20s and ’30s, among other songs,” Boyd says.

And Ann Wilson, who still tours extensively with Heart, wanted to do something on her own where she performed songs that influenced her by artists important to her. Wilson and Gasteyer’s side projects might not necessarily make it onto commercial TV but are perfect for public TV, Boyd says.

Another aspect of “The Kate” is that it mixes storytelling in with songs.

“So it’s really an opportunity for the artist to connect with the audience in maybe even more of a cabaret style,” Boyd says.

Indeed, Ann Wilson, who performs such songs as Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” and John Lennon’s “Isolation,” talks about her life and career — how, for instance, she fought to be taken seriously as a female rock artist. Rickie Lee Jones speaks about turning 60.

Elliott says The Kate has worked with CPTV on the show, but the CPTV team has crafted the idea and has handled more of the selection of performers.

“The Kate” will, like “Infinity Hall Live,” be distributed nationally by American Public Television.

Elliott says, “The Kate has, in six years, become a little bit of all things to all people. We do such diverse programming. ... This idea that we’re always doing something new, we’re always doing something different — here we are doing it again. Except this time, people are going to be sitting in their room in Los Angeles watching it. How cool is that?”

And “The Kate” will continue after this first season. Boyd says they now have three-year funding for the national series. Some members of the show’s creative team were at The Kate earlier this week to discuss season 2, with artists and dates to be determined. As they say: stay tuned.

“The Kate” presents actress and singer Ana Gasteyer in its inaugural season. (Photo by Jonathan Olson)
“The Kate” presents actress and singer Ana Gasteyer in its inaugural season. (Photo by Jonathan Olson)

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