Q: Rudy, you have an extensive background in journalism. You've written for The Washington Post, GQ, Forbes and MSNBC.com, and have been a frequent guest on CNN, Fox, The View, and other shows. How did you get involved with public television?
A: I came out of a straight news background. I worked for 13 years as an investigative reporter at The Washington Post out of college. I broke a lot of political and sex scandals, and wrote a couple of non-fiction books. After the Post, I spent nine years at the monthly city magazine, Washingtonian as a senior writer and a personalities columnist. While I was at the Washingtonian, about 13 years ago, I got a call from a producer at what was then a new public radio show, the evening business show called Marketplace, based in Los Angeles. This producer wanted me to do political commentary every other week, but I really wasn't a political commentator. I think to do that well, you have to be a James Carville or a Pat Buchanan. Also, I wasn't familiar with public radio.
But this Marketplace producer, J.J. Yore, called me a few times, and I kept resisting. He finally asked me, 'Well what do you want to do?' The truth is, I saw myself as a print guy. I had some radio experience — I'd hosted a four-hour, radio talk show every Saturday morning for several years on what was then the NBC owned-and-operated, all-talk station here in Washington when I was a Post reporter. But I really had no radio training, and I wasn't committed professionally to radio.
When J.J. Yore asked what I wanted to do, all I could think of was that I've always loved to travel — I've traveled all my life. I was the guy at the dinner party who would disappoint someone by saying, 'No, you really can't fly from D.C. to L.A. for $89 because you're not a Libra born on Monday.' I was always amazed that educated men and women had no idea what they could do with their airline tickets. They didn't know if they could fly later, go on another airline, or get a refund. So, I said, 'Why don't I do a consumer travel thing?'
Q: What did that lead to?
A: So I began a segment called The Savvy Traveler on Marketplace every other week. Over the years, it apparently became the most popular recurring segment on Marketplace. And that led to a one-hour, weekend show called The Savvy Traveler that I helped create and hosted for the first four years. It's still on about 175 stations coast-to-coast.
Then travel journalism began taking over more of my life. I had to keep coming up with ideas and reading trade journals and interviewing. I started writing for Worth magazine as their consumer travel guy. Later I did stuff for Forbes. I wrote weekly columns for ABC News.com and, later, MSNBC.com. And eventually, when I left Washingtonian in 1992, travel was my life. I didn't plan it, I didn't wish for it — it just happened. Fortunately, it was also my major passion in life.
Q: How did Smart Travels — Europe With Rudy Maxa come about?
A: John [Givens] wanted to launch a new Europe series in High Definition. I think John sensed there was a whole generation of travelers (baby boomers) who didn't necessarily want to carry backpacks up stairs. He thought it might be smart to put a little more emphasis on cuisine and wine — which are great interests of mine. He'd heard me on The Savvy Traveler and asked if I'd be interested in working with Small World Productions. I went to Seattle for a screen test, and it worked out. So that's how it started. However, we simply could not have produced the quality of shows we produce without corporate support. In our first season American Airlines and Expedia.com stepped up to the plate. Then the airlines hit rough weather, but fortunately Expedia.com increased its contribution considerably and by watching our budget very closely, we've been able to cross the finish line with 39 shows. We have 26 on the air now, and the third set of 13 is being edited now for release next April.
Q: What can viewers look forward to in Smart Travels?
A: During the first series, I had to keep coming back to the States each week to host The Savvy Traveler, and during the second one, I had to return for two weddings. But I was there the whole time for last summer's shoot, which is great because it meant I was never jet-lagged. And, of course, I've grown more comfortable in front of the camera, and I hope it shows. I'd done a lot of TV as a guest, so the camera doesn't intimidate me, but hosting is a little different, and it's taken some time to get natural and to have some fun with it. This past summer we shot in some especially gorgeous places — the Champagne region of France and the Dolomites in Italy where I'd never been before. Overall, it was just a more enjoyable shoot for me. I felt totally in sync with the places and the camera. I think it's going to be a very, very exciting series.