Sesame Street for  Grown-Ups: Joseph Gordon-Levitt on His New Show

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 21 2014 10:24 AM

Sesame Street for Grown-Ups: Joseph Gordon-Levitt on His New Show

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

You’ve probably never seen anything quite like actor-director-producer Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new variety show HITRECORD ON TV, which premiered at Sundance this week. It may be the first truly crowd-sourced television program: Gordon-Levitt and his producers put together contributions from Internet fans—short films, songs, cartoons—to create the episodes, each based on an organizing theme, like “trash” or “fantasy” (Episodes 2 and 3 respectively).

It’s like “Sesame Street for grown-ups,” Gordon-Levitt says, and it sounds like it could be terrible. But he pulls it off: While gimmicky in parts, it is great in others, thanks to what must be herculean curatorial efforts and the infectious charm of Gordon-Levitt himself. (If you like him, you’ll like the show; if not, stay away.) The contributions, of course, range in quality, and sometimes the interactivity feels forced, but at their best the shorts are groundbreaking and unlike anything else currently on TV. The premiere of a TV show at a film festival is also unusual, but perhaps a sign of things to come, as creative talent continues to work the small screen.


The show airs on Saturdays at 10 p.m. on Pivot. I spoke with Gordon-Levitt at the premiere.

Slate: What do you view as revolutionary about the show?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: We never aimed for that—“Let’s make something revolutionary.” We just wanted to make good stuff. Though even just a few years ago it wasn’t technically possible to make a short film with hundreds of people from all over the world who live in different countries—it’s a great time to be alive.

Slate: Were you inspired by other variety shows?

Gordon-Levitt: We talked about it as a Sesame Street for grown-ups. I love all of Jim Henson’s stuff—The Muppet Show was another good one.  Some of the stuff that’s old-fashioned as well, like even Judy Garland had a variety show.    

Slate: How about The Ed Sullivan Show?

Gordon-Levitt: What happens on The Ed Sullivan Show is that people come and bring their acts that they have made independently. HitRECord is not so much showcasing one person’s act—it’s about lots of people coming together to put things together.

Slate: There’s a stereotype that Web content can be bad, crazy, and angry. 

Gordon-Levitt: A long time ago, when my brother first helped me set up the first version of HitRECord, it wasn’t supposed to be collaborative, it was just a place where I’m putting stuff. The initial decision to put up a message board for people to post was something I had to think long and hard about. Because the Internet can be a shitty place. People often use the anonymity to take out their animosity toward each other and be needlessly hostile. I was worried that that would happen.

We decided to give it a try, and to our surprise people were really cool to each other. And I think it’s that if you are nice and generous and thoughtful to people, that sort of spreads.

Slate: There’s a lot of philosophy embedded in HitRECord. In last year’s introduction to Don Jon, you spoke of the importance of I and Thou and other works to the film.

Gordon-Levitt: There’s an interesting parallel between the philosophy of Don Jon and Hit RECord. Don Jon is about a guy whose whole existence is a one-way street. He doesn’t connect with anybody in any way.

Our media, in the 20th century, was much that way: a one-way street. There was a small clique of industry people who made everything, and everyone else had to sit and consume it. There wasn’t any interaction. 

Now technology is changing that. HitRECord is our way of taking advantage of the way technologies are changing, to add connections that are not just one-way.

Interview has been condensed and edited.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.