Tribune cuts back ‘Chicago Live!’ to make it ‘even stronger’
When Chicago Live! wrapped up its spring season on June 28, the Chicago Tribune confidently assured readers that the series of weekly stage shows would be “returning for another eight-week season in the fall.” Its website still says so.
But that won’t be happening after all.
Instead, Chicago Live! is being cut back to perhaps as few as four times a year and folded into Press Pass, the Tribune’s catchall series of newsroom special events that includes Cooking with Kass (at which columnist John Kass roasts a pig and talks about politics), discussions of investigative reports, critics’ interviews of artists, and programs featuring sports columnists and writers.
The Tribune had high hopes for Chicago Live! when the series debuted in October 2010. Billed as a “new journalism platform” for the paper, each one-hour program featured an array of guests from the arts, entertainment, sports and pop culture, as well as local newsmakers, all mixing it up onstage with Tribune writers, critics and editors. Hosted by Rick Kogan, the veteran Tribune columnist and news/talk WGN-AM (720) personality, the shows were taped in front of an audience for airing on WGN and streaming online.
Week after week, Kogan was nothing short of fabulous as emcee. But the brevity of each segment and the frequency of the shows — as many as 24 a year — proved to be miscalculations. The biggest mistake may have been the change of venue last February from the elegant and accessible Chicago Theatre in the Loop to the UP Comedy Club in Old Town. Paid attendance dwindled and projected revenue failed to materialize.
Now, by folding the stage shows into the Press Pass lineup, Tribune bosses say they’re enhancing the franchise.
“Within Press Pass, Chicago Live! lives on in a way that preserves the concept and excitement but takes pressure off weekly high production demands and expense of that particular show, allowing us to shift resources to a wider range of programs, moving around the newsroom — and the community, geographically — a bit more,” said Joyce Winnecke, vice president/associate editor of the Tribune. “We think each Chicago Live! can be even stronger in this frequency.”
It’s not known whether Second City will continue to be a partner in Chicago Live!, as it has been since the series began.
The Tribune’s portfolio of newsroom events also includes: Chicago Forward, a series of public policy discussions; Printers Row Live, a lineup of talks with authors; and an assortment of classes and seminars on topics ranging from social media, photography and writing to college prep, fantasy football and co-parenting. (Previously under the TribU umbrella, they’ll now be split between TribU for “professional enrichment” and Life Lessons for “personal enrichment.”)
“The idea behind all of these programs is to extend our journalism to a new platform — the stage — and to be the convener of constructive conversation in the community,” Winnecke said. “This strengthens our journalism, helps solidify relationships, and build new relationships. We’ve learned so much over the last couple of years, putting us in a good spot to build more structure around the program.”