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Hollywood Invades Chicago: Band From TV Visits the Windy City for Charity

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You may know the guys in Band From TV, but not necessarily for their music. As the band’s name suggests the members are from TV—as in they all star in television series. Playing for fun but not for profit, BFTV has an altruistic ulterior motive: the money they earn goes to charity.

BFTV was started several years ago by Heroes and Love Bites star Greg Grunberg. His band mates include Desperate Housewives star James Denton; Jesse Spencer and Hugh Laurie, both currently in House; Grunberg's Heroes co-star Adrian Pasdar; Scott Grimes of ER; and Bob Guiney, who appeared on The Bachelor and is now the daily host of GSN: Live.

Grunberg says on BFTV’s website, "Having band mates who also happen to be in some of the most popular shows on television creates an amazing opportunity to really reach out to our fans to help support these wonderful causes.” The band has raised more than $2 million since its inception.

The band’s members play on behalf of a diverse set of charitable organizations, from the Epilepsy Foundation (supported along with TalkAboutIt.org by BFTV founder Grunberg) to Save the Children (Laurie’s charity). The Conservation Fund, The Art of Elysium, the Taia Peace Foundation, Lupus LA, and the Indiana University-Kenya Partnership are all beneficiaries of the band’s efforts.

Due to the nature of their usual schedules, BFTV most often gigs in the Los Angeles area. But, at the end of this month, June 25-27, they will be rocking my hometown, the city of Chicago, with a whole schedule of events, including free concerts at Harry Caray’s on Navy Pier and Taste of Chicago. BFTV will be playing a concert Saturday night, June 26, to benefit The Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago at the Vic Theatre, and on Sunday, the band will enter the realm of one of baseball’s legendary rivalries at the Cubs/Sox game, where they are scheduled to perform before the game, sing the “Star Spangled Banner” and throw out the first pitch!

I caught up with House’s Jesse Spencer the other day by phone to talk to him about the upcoming BFTV weekend in Chicago (and, yes, I snuck in a couple questions about House as well). The slightly jet-lagged Spencer had just been back in LA a couple of days and getting ready to join his House cast mates back on set next week as they begin filming season seven of the hit show.

He’ll also be picking up his fiddle again to prepare for the upcoming BFTV gigs, noting that he hadn’t played much while on hiatus from House. Spencer has played violin for a long time, and after training classically for eight years he “stopped playing for [another] eight years and picked it back up to join the band. I’ve always played music: I’ve played piano, guitar. I’ve always been musical,” he noted, saying how much he enjoys working with BFTV.

Spencer also sings, as House fans learned last season in the episode “The Choice,” when his character Dr. Robert Chase accompanied his colleagues Foreman (Omar Epps) and Dr. House himself (Laurie) to a Karaoke bar. Chase took the lead on “Midnight Train to Georgia” while Drs. Foreman and House sang backup vocals. “I like harmonizing. I don’t like being the front man, so, it was slightly challenging to do that,” admitted Spencer, confessing that he hasn’t even watched his House singing debut. “I don’t like watching myself sing,” he explained.

Spencer originally got involved with BFTV through House star Laurie. “Hugh invited the band to play at one of our Christmas wrap parties in ’07 and I played a couple of songs with them. They asked me to join, which I did about a year later.” Playing with a band gave Spencer a reason to pick up his violin for the first time in years. “It was perfect, because I wanted to play again, and I need an excuse. I needed to have something to work towards, so that provided the perfect outlet.” Spencer noted that it’s win-win “all 'round.” Band members get to have fun while raising money for good causes. And—fans of the actors get to see them doing something completely different. “It’s a perfect combination,” he said.

Spencer performs on behalf of an organization called the The Indiana University-Kenya Partnership. He explained, “I have good friend who’s a doctor at Cedars-Sinai and she’s doing a fellowship in infectious diseases (and has a special interest in HIV/AIDS).” While working in Kenya with the Partnership, she wrote Spencer, telling him about the innovative way they try to treat AIDS, which is epidemic there.

Spencer explained, “The program is holistic. It tackles the program from the ground up. It includes the family; it includes jobs. You can’t just throw drugs at someone who has AIDS [in that environment]. They won’t get better unless they’re eating, but if the kids are hungry, the mum will give the food to the kids [before herself]. So you have to make sure the whole family and the community is provided for.” Spencer learned of the program around the time he joined BFTV, inspiring him to make the Partnership the charity he supports.

In addition to playing gigs for charity, BFTV released a CD/DVD set in 2008, which also raised significant cash for the various charities supported by the band's members. I asked Spencer if there might be a new release in the offing. “I know there’s talk of one coming out, but I can’t say that with authority because it hasn’t happened yet.”

Spencer was kind enough to entertain some questions about House, although with the actors still on hiatus (the writers and the rest of the creative team went back to work earlier this month), there isn’t much to tell about what’s in store for next season. He noted that at this point, “they’ve probably mapped out the first six episodes or maybe roughed out the first half season.”

Although Spencer thinks that the writers will eventually pick up on his season six story line (in which he killed a patient—who happened to be a genocidal dictator), he noted “I’m sure they don’t want to put [Chase] in jail.” But he’d love another meaty story. “I hope they keep him doing some dodgy stuff next season.”

Spencer wouldn’t mind seeing Chase “move into a higher position—like becoming head of surgery or some other position of command.” But he also realizes it’s not likely to happen any time soon. “I think the team as it is works quite well, with Chase, 13, Taub, and Foreman, so they probably don’t want to mess with that. The chemistry really works.” He continues to be impressed with the show’s creative team as well. “The writing’s just great. I don’t know how they keep doing it, how they keep writing at that level. I can’t wait to read where they go next.”

What’s next for Jesse Spencer? He has a new project, but is reluctant to talk about it just yet. All he’d say is that he’ll be shooting it next month.

In the meantime, Spencer is recovering from a recent surfing accident, in which he hurt his leg. He’s still in rehab for the injury. “I’ll be back to full movement in about four weeks,” and like his fictional boss on House, he had to use a cane for a week, which he found ironically amusing.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Orange450

    Fantastic article, Barbara! Thank you so much!! Great background and details about the band. And honestly, no one does an interview quite like you do. The way you convey the conversation, it feels like I can actually hear Jesse Spencer speaking (oh, that accent! :))

    He sounds like a real mentsch, in every way. What a delightful guy. And I truly admire his work ethic.

    “It was perfect, because I wanted to play again, and I need an excuse. I needed to have something to work towards, so that provided the perfect outlet.” Spencer noted that it’s win-win “all ’round.” Band members get to have fun while raising money for good causes. And—fans of the actors get to see them doing something completely different. “It’s a perfect combination,” he said. ”

    This rings so true! Kudos to both of you :)

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    Thanks. It was fun talking to Jesse. He’s a great guy and a good sport talking to me jet lagged :)

  • madfashionista

    Brava! What a wonderful interview. I could picture you sitting across from Jesse and talking to him. If I was sitting across from him, not much talking would get done (although he might file a restraining order afterwards). As always well done!

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    Thanks madfashionista. Alas, the interview was by phone. Maybe next time across a table!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/olga-parera/ Olga Parera

    Really nice interview! Jesse is a sweetheart. I’d really like that the band releases a second album, it’ll be awesome

  • Alex

    Jesse is a sweetheart, but really, if there’s one thing this third pseudo-team lacks is chemistry.

    I would also like he got a meatier story, they must have kept him for something.

  • Nikki

    Thank you so much for the interview! Chase is my favourite character on House. I am glad he’s not going to jail. He deserves better! I do hope they’ll give Jesse some great stuff alongside Hugh Laurie, probably tackling the issue of guilt with the Dibala case (if it has to be addressed at all). There’s chemistry there! I would like to see BFTV but must make the jump over the big pond first… they seem to be awesome. I hope Jesse won’t need the cane when shooting begins. ;)

    Thanks, as always, for great insight!

  • Pam

    Thank you. As always, very well written. Cute that he had to use a cane.

    Do you know how to get the schedule of when they are playing where?

  • Barbara barnett

    Yes. I have one. Ill post later today

  • Greg Grunberg
  • Barbara barnett

    Greg. Thanks for stopping by. Link will appear in the article proper in a bit. Looking forward to seeing the band in chicago.

  • simona

    thanks! nice interview, Jesse is really nice. And I must admit I’d like to see Chase walking with a cane… a kind of House’s alter-ego (only briefly) :-)

  • Jacquelyn

    Great article! It’s been wonderful to see Jesse Spencer’s character grow and change on House through the years. Hopefully we’ll have more singing from him soon. And hopefully BFTV will come my way soon, too. :)

  • Ariane

    Nice article, Barbara! I’ve enjoyed reading your [H]ouse, MD articles since late Feb. 2008 when I first discovered the show. I also grew up in the North Shore of Chicago; I’ll be there visiting family during the Taste of Chicago and hope to see/hear Band from TV playing there. The last time I saw them play live was at The Grove in L.A. in Nov. 2008. They are a very talented group and a lot of fun to watch; Chicago is in for a treat!

    Here’s a useful link about Band from TV in Chicago.

    I also enjoyed the following article where you were interviewed.

    Best,
    Ariane (now in San Diego)

  • Grace

    I like Jesse more and more as time goes on.
    So Barb, I guess you’ll be seeing Hugh with the band soon huh? How exciting is that!!
    I hope you get to talk to him b/c I could never. I’ve met and spoken to celebs before, but I just can’t imagine what I could say to Hugh that would mean a bloody thing to him. Know what I mean?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/a-geek-girl/ A Geek Girl

    I really must pull my head out of my books sometime. I’d never heard about any of this. Okay. I’m hooked. Where do I sign up?