Jason Matheson wants some new friends.
Like, a few million of them. And fast.
On Monday, Matheson's The Jason Show started a test run on a number of Fox affiliates, including in Los Angeles and Chicago, where people aren't used to sharing their mid-mornings with a Minnesotan. They might be someday.
This is Matheson's second four-week test run in major markets -- the show aired in Dallas, Phoenix and L.A. last summer -- a feat that's all the more impressive for a new show: The Jason Show only debuted locally in 2015. Though by that point, Matheson was a market veteran in the Twin Cities, with close to two decades on the air with either Fox 9 or WCCO, and as a co-host of the Jason & Alexis morning radio show on myTalk 107.1.
Matheson says his short-term debut in new markets is similar to the tryouts Fox gave to Wendy Williams or Bethenny Frankel. One difference: Williams and Frankel were established media personalities based out of New York City. If Matheson's going to break through, he'll have to do it as a guy from Minneapolis, Minnesota, shooting in a TV studio in Eden Prairie.
Matheson has a month for viewers to get to know him, his show, and the city he lives in as quickly as possible. He spoke to City Pages about his test run shortly after his first episode of this trial period aired.
City Pages: What has today been like?
Jason Matheson: Today was really exciting, and literally a dream come true. But, I would say, a little more calm than our national test last year. Which is a good thing. We’re more comfortable with the show, it’s a better show. We’re embracing where we are, and not shying away from the fact we’re in the Midwest, and coming from Minnesota, which strategically, I actually think is going to be an advantage. So, overall, a really good day.
CP: Do you know in terms of reach how different this test run is for the show?
Matheson: I know the cities, obviously. Right now, we are in the Twin Cities, we have an affiliate in Lacrosse [Wisconsin], and one more. Regardless of how the national test goes, we hope to be in most stations statewide by next season. But where we are now is, we’re in Chicago, Orlando, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix... I always forget one, but I think that’s it. Audience-wise, I won’t know until the end of the test. I purposely don’t even want to know about the ratings until the test is over. I just want to put my blinders on from that.
CP: If you were trying to pitch the show to someone who hasn’t seen it, how would you describe it?
Matheson: I’m a kid of daytime TV. I didn’t really play sports a lot, and I’m from the Chicagoland area, so I watched AM Chicago. I watched the Oprah show before it was the Oprah show. What we did is, we kind of took all our favorite elements… from all of our favorite shows: The heart of Oprah, the light-heartedness of James Corden and [Jimmy] Fallon, the hot topics of Wendy [Williams], and kind of melded it together. And then added my voice. And, especially for this test, we are not shying away from where we are. We’re the only show that’s not done on the coasts. So you’re going to see stuff about hot dishes, and Jucy Lucys, and Paisley Park.
CP: Is there some level of explaining that’s going to go on? Or is the idea that you’re a person who lives in the Twin Cities, and people will catch up to it, or they don’t?
Matheson: Strategically, that’s another thing we’re doing differently this time. We don’t even have a season for these people to get to know us. I have four weeks to make them all, like, my friend. In today’s show, we came right off the top, and – we weren’t going to do a Gone with the Wind-sized bio on me -- but, I threw 20 fun facts into this 30 seconds. Like, you don’t know anything about me, why would you care, here’s everything you need to know about me.
I like Star Wars, I’m a nerd, I don’t like sports, stuff like that. It’s really personality-based, so when they do watch the show, they’ll have a heads-up where I’m coming from. Or we do "Fish out of Water" segments, so if I’m – like, today, I did one where I’m babysitting 30 kids. In the intro piece, I said that I don’t have kids, and I’m afraid of ‘em. So, it's like a guide. We have to do everything three times as fast as a normal show because we have four weeks for them to not only get to know me, but to feel a connection to me.
CP: As someone who’s done a lot of episodes, how do you think today’s show set up as one to introduce you to people?
Matheson: I’m really hard on myself. I’ll walk off the set and I always joke, “Well, there’s a C-minus.” But … from Vanessa [Williams], to “Fish out of Water,” to Erin Campbell from Nadia Cakes – other than my mother, who is a recurring character, I actually feel like you got a really good sense of who I was, from this episode. I had very minor things that might’ve been technical, but this, I really feel, was a much better introduction than perhaps last year.
Colorful ways to dress up your desserts. Fruit and flamingos are hot this year. Erin Campbell from Nadia Cakes showed us how to decorate these colorful items. As usual, it led to some funny moments between Jason & Erin.Posted by The Jason Show on Monday, June 5, 2017
CP: Without asking you to throw anyone under the bus -- although that would be interesting, if you want to -- why is the show better now? Are there things you’re better at, are there things you’ve figured out as a show?
Matheson: Actually, it’s a little bit of both. We’re more comfortable, not only in just doing the day-to-day local show. But because we went through the national test last year, we learned a lot of lessons. We learned how to speak simultaneously to a local audience and a national audience.
If you think about it, this show is being produced out of Fox 9 News, and nobody in the building had really done a talk show. So we were really learning not only how to do a local talk show, but also, last year, how to do a national talk show, on our own. And me, personally, as a host, I’m just way more comfortable than I was, even last year.
CP: Aside from Prince, maybe, or Fargo, a lot of people don’t really have a strong sense of what a Minnesotan is like. What’s it like being the representative Minnesotan to someone in L.A.?
Matheson: It’s one of the things I’m most excited about, and most proud of. I live in Minneapolis -- I love St. Paul -- I live in Minneapolis, though, and I have a lot of civic pride. And I’m from Indiana-slash-the-Chicagoland area, so I’m a Midwest boy my entire life. And it drives me up a wall for us to be painted with this vanilla description of, there’s no culture, there’s no good food, it’s … the tundra.
So to be able to show the fact that, you know, Gavin Kaysen chose to move here, to show that we’re second to New York in theater seats per capita, to show our parks, and the restaurants. And also, own the goofy things about us, the unique things that make us who we are. I really do think it’s going to set us apart. Every show has celebrities. We had Vanessa on today, and we have Louie Anderson on tomorrow, and Kevin Hart on Wednesday. But we’re really not going to hang our hat on that. We’re going to hang our hat on just, I’m going to be who I am, and embracing where we are. And, literally, Minnesota is a character on the show.
CP: For people who like you, and are fans of the show, or are seeing you for the first or second time and are becoming fans of the show, what’s a realistic best-case scenario out of this? If a test run goes well, have you thought about what that would mean?
Matheson: I have, obviously. Both scenarios, I would be OK with. The ultimate scenario would be, some sort of semi-national rollout in the 2018-2019 TV season. What I mean by semi-national… huge, giant rollouts, I don’t think, are going to happen as often as they used to. If I were to lay money, if the stations like me, if the people respond, I could see maybe something of a regional rollout. I'd start out in Chicago, and Milwaukee, and Cincinnati, and maybe some of the markets I do well in from this test, and then keep expanding from there. And everyone’s going to streaming, so I foresee a combo of some sort of regional rollout and, perhaps, the show being on the Fox Hulu channel.
And if it doesn’t – I’m not just blowing smoke – if it doesn’t go well, it’s still going to be a regional show, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. It’s like the divorce rate and the restaurant success rate. The graveyard’s littered with daytime talk shows. I’m ready for both. I’m comfortable.