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3 more longtime staffers fired from 'Prairie Home' successor show

ST. PAUL — Three more longtime employees of "A Prairie Home Companion" have been fired from the radio variety show's successor, "Live from Here," as the staff prepares to enter its third season.

Musical director Richard Dworsky, voice actor Tim Russell and sound effects master Fred Newman — who claim more than six decades of experience on the show between them — won't be around when "Live from Here" returns on Oct. 6.

"I stand in awe and will be forever grateful to these extraordinary gentlemen," said "Live from Here" host Chris Thile in a news release. "Their artistry, individually and collectively, is an essential, immortal part of America's sonic landscape. As we stay curious about what's next, we're mindful of and thankful for all the brilliant people that have helped make this show what it is today."

In July, American Public Media chose not to renew the contract of the show's managing director, Kate Gustafson Sanderson, and eliminated the positions of marketing director (David O'Neill) and technical director (Jason Keillor, son of former "PHC" host Garrison Keillor).

The changes signal a move away from comedy in favor of more music, a direction Thile has discussed since taking over the show two years ago. Last season, a typical show would feature three sketches, down from as many as eight in previous years.

Garrison Keillor retired as "PHC" host in July 2016 and Thile — an accomplished mandolinist and frequent guest — assumed the position that October. Under Thile's watch, the show has attracted some high-profile guests, including Paul Simon, Jack White, Chris Stapleton, David Crosby, Steve Martin, Kacey Musgraves and Randy Newman.

Last November, Minnesota Public Radio severed ties with Garrison Keillor over "allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him." In January, MPR CEO Jon McTaggart said the company had received further allegations of dozens of other sexually inappropriate incidents involving Keillor. Producers also changed the name of the show from "A Prairie Home Companion" to "Live from Here" to further distance it from Keillor.

Mike Elizondo will take over as musical director. The Grammy-nominated producer, musician and songwriter is best known for his collaborations with hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre and rapper Eminem. He co-wrote Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady" and co-produced 50 Cent's "In Da Club" with Dr. Dre. Elizondo has also worked with a wide range of other acts, including Fiona Apple, Maroon 5, Carrie Underwood, Mastodon, Twenty One Pilots, Pink, Eric Clapton and Keith Urban.

Comedian Mike Yard ("The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore") and actors Greg Hess (a founding member of the ensembles Cook County Social Club and the Improvised Shakespeare Company) and Holly Laurent ("Drunk History," "Key and Peele") have joined the writing team. Serena Brook, who has been with the show for the past two years, will take over as announcer.

The third season of "Live from Here" kicks off with a free performance Oct. 5 in San Francisco (it will air the following day) and continues with shows at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater on Oct. 13 and 20 followed by an Oct. 27 performance in Lincoln, Neb. Tickets are now on sale, but no guests have been announced.