Mullally: Stars should 'come ready to play'


There's a new stop in town for celebrities on the talk show circuit, and the show's host, Megan Mullally, has been helping to make sure that her new talker isn't forgotten by A-listers looking to promote their upcoming projects in the competitive, complex world of talent booking.

In fact, Mullally -- host of NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution's syndicated "The Megan Mullally Show," which debuted last week -- booked the show's first guest herself when she ran into Will Ferrell at Vanity Fair's Oscar party in early March, long before the show even had a studio to call home or most of its staff had been hired.

"I wanted the first guest to exemplify the tone I was trying to achieve," she says. "Will is a really nice guy, he's very talented and versatile, and he's also fun. I knew he would come ready to play."

She was right: For the Sept. 18 episode, Ferrell emerged wearing only bikini briefs and carrying flowers for Mullally's mom, who was in the audience.

Mullally and her executive producer, Corin Nelson, recognize the importance of having the right guests. But at the same time, Nelson, a former showrunner on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," realizes that "Megan" might not always be able to compete with the veteran talkers in terms of being the first stop for A-list guests.

"We understand we're the new kid," Nelson says. "We're happy to follow other shows. We would rather try something different with our guests anyway that the viewers haven't seen," such as Mullally cooking or singing with her guests rather than just interviewing them.

Nelson also knew it would be harder to book big names before the show actually debuted, so she took the approach of having Mullally sit down with publicity and talent management firms to explain her philosophy for the show and let them get to know her on a personal level.

"They knew her as a performer, but it was important to have conversations about what their clients' experience on the show would be like," Nelson says. "It had a huge impact."

That strategy paid off: Along with Ferrell, Mullally's initial guests include Patricia Heaton, Felicity Huffman, Eva Mendes, Carol Burnett, George Lopez, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lisa Kudrow and her former "Will and Grace" co-star Debra Messing.

For publicists, having one more talk show for their clients to visit is an advantage, says Mitch Schneider, president of music publicity firm MSO, which handles such clients as David Bowie, Aerosmith, Depeche Mode and Korn.

"If you think about how many (recording) artists are out there right now -- from the '60s all the way through the '00s -- all wanting to go on TV, the competition is absolutely huge, so a new TV show is most welcome," Schneider says.

His strategy for booking clients often entails a lot of prep work months in advance -- getting the shows' taping schedules, figuring out clients' travel plans, sending out advance CDs and news releases and sometimes even scheduling the booking as much as three months ahead of time. Sometimes the process also boils down whose couch an artist would feel most comfortable sitting on or loyalty to a particular host who was helpful early on a star's career -- which may not always mean giving a top-rated show first dibs at a high-profile client.

"You have to create a scenario where you can make the right decision without alienating people," Schneider says. "TV is a more important component of a (promotional) campaign than ever before."