“Overheard at Tredici” features some of the “most formidable, influential, disruptive leaders” in the Philadelphia area.
Philadelphia is full of visionaries, and Ajay Raju wants you to meet them.
Such is the premise of Indian American Raju’s new series Overheard at Tredici, now airing on ABC television’s Philadelphia affiliate 6ABC. Raju, Chairman of white shoe law firm Dilworth Paxson, philanthropist, impact investor, education advocate and perennial object of electoral speculation from Philadelphia’s political rumor mill, has distinguished himself over the past decade as, at once, the city’s most enthusiastic cheerleader and its critic.
In speeches, interviews and a growing collection of essays, Raju has railed against Philadelphia’s political sclerosis and the “cement boots” of its revolutionary history, while highlighting cities from Tokyo to Shenzen that are eating Philly’s lunch in the hypercompetitive, hyperconnected world of the 21st Century. Raju’s principle diagnosis of his city’s ills is an endemic and entrenched failure on the part of its leaders to think boldly out of the box.
With Overhead at Tredici, Raju sets polemic aside in favor of relaxed but substantive conversations with local luminaries who actually do have ideas about Philadelphia’s future, and how to get there. Filmed at Tredici Enotoca, a bustling Center City wine bar where Raju and his guest occupy a booth beside a window overlooking the corner of 18th and Sansom Streets, Overheard achieves a unique fusion of the sensibilities of the Charlie Rose and a diner scene from Seinfeld.
The casually elegant atmosphere of Tredici at once welcomes the viewer and disarms Raju’s interview subjects. It is an odd but charming sight, for example, to witness Raju chat with Comcast Senior Vice President and Pennsylvania powerbroker par excellence David L. Cohen as the latter lays out his prescription for “reinventing the future” between sips of orange soda. This intimate and unpretentious setting presents eminences like Cohen (not to mention Raju, a larger than life character himself in Philadelphia’s civic demimonde) as approachable and relatable raconteurs.
Approachability and relatability are the key components of Overheard’s special cuvee. In contrast to, say, a TED Talk, another milieu in which Raju and any of his guests would fit right in, Overheard doesn’t seek to launch a single, unified, slickly prepared thesis at its audience. Instead, the show’s informal chinwags take an ambling stroll around big ideas and personal insights alike.
According to Raju, this is precisely the point. “On Overheard, I’m talking to some of the most formidable, influential, disruptive leaders in Philadelphia today,” says Raju. “But that’s not who they’re talking to. Folks like David Cohen or Nerd Street Gamers founder John Fazio are reshaping the landscape of business, tech and civics in the region. Being in a position like that brings with it certain deep insights and profound anxieties, but what I’m trying to help show is that those insights and anxieties are as resonant with the regular Philadelphians who go to work each day and watch network TV at night, as they are with peers in the C-Suite.”
And Raju’s guests seem more than happy to accommodate. Whether it’s tech entrepreneur Fazio seguing from predictions on the future of Philadelphia’s e-sports industry to the challenges of simultaneously cultivating an ambitious start-up and a healthy marriage, or crusading Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro confessing that he simply couldn’t hack it as a pre-med student, Raju manages effortlessly to draw these formidable figures and their hard-won wisdom out of the rarified air they seem to occupy and right down to earth. It’s an impressive feat of interviewing, to be sure, but it’s also a key tactic in Raju’s ambitious mission to engage all Philadelphians in shaping their common future. After all, what good is a vision if it can’t be shared?