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Bethenny Frankel sees Sept. 9, the date her new daily syndicated talk show launches in more than 95 percent of American TV homes, as the television equivalent of a first date.
“It’s so important,” she said. “You want them to stick around. You want them to call you again.”
During a press conference Wednesday night, Frankel said several times that she knows she is a “polarizing” figure who is both loved and hated.
Her answer is to provide her target 25- to 54-year-old female audience with straight talk, unfiltered opinions and the lessons she has learned in rising herself from difficult circumstances to being a success in business and the media.
However, like anyone on a first date there, will be some topics she hopes remain off-limits.
Start with her messy divorce from Jason Hoppy. As of last month, there still was no agreement on a financial settlement or the custody of their 3-year-old daughter, Bryn. The ongoing disputes have produced a stream of tabloid media stories.
“I would prefer to not talk about my divorce because I just don’t think it’s the right thing for my daughter,” Frankel said.
She says during that first date, she knows she will have to address “the elephant in the room” by saying: “Look, I’ve had a rough year but I’ve had a great year. I’m very blessed. And we’re here, and let’s go through this and see what happens.”
Frankel is also making a key change from last summer, when she did well enough in a six-week test on six Fox TV stations to earn her shot at syndicated stardom. She is toning down the sex talk and sex gags, like one that saw her use the rear end of Ice-T’s wife, Coco, as a place for one of her trademark Skinnygirl margaritas.
“(When) we came out of the gate, there was a lot of sex,” Frankel said. “There will be sex on the show because I think it’s something that women are going through, whether they are having it or not. But there’s so much more to mention.”
With women facing so many issues, Frankel said her show may have “its shallow moments, like I was drinking a drink on Coco’s ass, but it’s (also) definitely going to have a lot of depth.”
“We’re going to talk about sex,” Frankel told The Hollywood Reporter after her formal press conference, “but it doesn’t have to be gratuitous and just for the sake of talking about sex. It’s about the delivery rather than the content. I want to talk about, it but I don’t want it sensationalized. I don’t want it to just be funny. I want it to be real women talking about having sex with their husbands, or women who aren’t in touch with themselves or women who feel repressed. I want to get into it and have fun but not make it so in your face.”
“We don’t need to have a vibrator on the set of the show in order to talk about sex,” added Terence Noonan, the former Anderson producer who is executive producing Bethenny for Warner Bros. along with Meghan Schaefer Spielberg. “We just don’t need to be so out there. We’re going to talk about sex but we don’t need to be so specific.”
Frankel thinks she has a reputation for being way more sexy than she is in real life. “Because I’m so edgy and outspoken, people think I’m overly sexed, when I’m kind of prudish in ways,” Frankel said. “So (the sex talk last summer) just wasn’t true to me. One day we did one of those talk-backs in the morning and I’m sitting there and I said, ‘Today’s show, vibrator virgins!’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ It was just a little too much.”
Frankel even revealed how little sex she herself is having these days: “I couldn’t possibly be having less sex. (Laughter). It’s not possible.”
Noonan does agree that Frankel is polarizing to many people, mostly from the impression left by her appearance on The Real Housewives of New York City from 2008-10, Bethenny Getting Married in 2010 and then Bethenny Ever After in 2011-12.
“She’s very aware she is polarizing,” Noonan said. “Our job is to have a show that for the people who think she is polarizing, we present a show that will bring them to our side. We will show other sides of her. There are many sides to Bethenny people haven’t seen that they’re going to see on the show.”
Frankel said she got the best advice about how to deal with people’s strong attitudes toward her from Ellen DeGeneres, who has been her mentor and who is helping present and produce her new talk show.
“(Ellen) said, ‘Don’t buy into how much people love you, and don’t buy into how much people hate you.’ I just thought that was so interesting because … you get so caught up in what you’re hearing. You know, ‘Oh they love me, we’re great.’ And most people don’t even know who I am.”
Frankel described the atmosphere she wants on her show as being like a pre-wedding bachelorette party. “It’s sort of like a girls’ night out meets group therapy. And its not really about me, its about … us.”
When asked if she would share her personal life, the straight talker threw a curve. “Ironically, it’s the Bethenny show,” she says, “but it’s not really the Bethenny show. It’s kind of the ‘us’ show. So if we’re talking about a woman who had a miscarriage, I’m going to discuss on some level my experience because I’ve had one. But its not like, ‘Let me tell you about things I’m going through.”
On other hot topics, Frankel provided some answers.
On rumors of disharmony on the set of her new talk show: “We have no set (yet). There’s one day that people have been at work. So its kind of great to sensationalize things … but there’s no disharmony because there’s no set. If there were, I would tell you.”
On the personal assistant who left the show after a short tenure: “She was there kind of training. I worked with her for four days. To be honest, I run a tight ship. We’re not really lolly-gagging. The honest truth is I’m nice to everybody. We have a lot of fun. We’re definitely respectful, but it isn’t a party. I mean actually sometimes it is a party.”
On how to avoid problems like the short-term assistant, who caused a lot of bad press: “I imagine it won’t be the last time this type of thing happens. So you kind of got to keep your circle tight and hope you have people around you that you trust, and never hire anyone new [this brought laughter]. You know, I’ve got to start hiring, like, people that live in my building, or I don’t know.”
On using the talk show to control media coverage of her: “I’m not interested in controlling my press. I don’t think you (can). The press is like a beast. The press is like a hundred-foot wave. There’s just no controlling it.”
On her outgoing personality: “I went to, I think, 13 schools. I was always the new kid. … I was always able to just kind of go into a room and meet new people, and have a conversation.”
On how she grew up as the daughter and step-daughter of horse trainers: “I was always with adults as a kid. I kind of grew up at the racetrack, so it wasn’t like I was going to day camp, or I don’t know what the other kids were doing, but I was kind of going to the betting windows and the jockey’s room. So I’ve always been around interesting characters. The race track’s a really colorful place. I just think it kind of prepares you for all types, and all situations. But I wouldn’t know any different.”
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