Arsenio, Bethenny, Latifah ... the new TV talkers are here

Officially, the new TV season is two weeks away. For stations and talk-show fans, however, it starts now. On Monday, the Arsenio Hall and Bethenny Frankel shows start Monday (Sept. 9); Queen Latifah is a week later. Here's the overview I sent to papers; scroll down after that foe Hall and Frankel profiles.


For TV stations, it's moving time

Old talk-show hosts – Jeff Probst,
Ricki Lake, Anderson Cooper – are moving out. New ones are arriving
– Arsenio Hall and Bethenney Frankel on Monday (Sept. 9), Queen
Latifah a week later.

That's part of the annual shuiffle, as
stations fill their non-network timeslots. This year, it includes a
couple key comedy reruns (“Modern Family” and “The Middle”)
and assorted oddities – including two shows (“Paternity Court”
and “The Test”) that will sometimes have paternity tests.

Near the top, however, are those new
talk shows.

In daytime slots, there's Frankel,
whose outgoing personality scored on “Real Housewives of New York”
and two spin-offs. Her talk show will be upbeat, she said, with some
serious subjects – sex, business, diet, love – and some others.
“It's definitely going to have its shallow moments.”

And there's Latifah who describes a
blend of variety-show moments and an Oprah Winfrey mood. “There's a
space in daytime television for … a whole bunch of fun, some
amazing music, but really some heart. I think (Winfrey) was able to
tap into that …. I would love to tap into the heart.”

In latenight spots, there's Hall, whose
previous show (1989-94) had a fresh, hip feel. “It's kind of the
same Arsenio,” he said. “Less hair, less shoulder pads, but
inserting myself into this culture of music, comedy, pop, hop.”

The difference is that the top
latenight turf is tougher now. By February, it will have two Jimmys
(Kimmel and Fallon), plus David Letterman and lots of cable shows. “I
call this a golden age of late-night TV,” said Neal.Kendall, one of
Hall's producers.

That still leaves lots of room, said
John Ferriter, anther Hall producer. “There are 290 million
Americans who don't watch late-night.”

Meanwhile, daytime has had huge gaps,
ever since Oprah Winfrey left. The new talk shows have major people
as producers. For Frankel, it's Ellen Degeneres; for Latifah, it's
Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.

“I couldn't think of anyone else who
could win in this space besides Latifah,” said Pinkett Smith, who
feels her friend fits the requirements neatly. “She is extremely
likable …. She's a lot of fun.”

And soon, she and Frankel will try to
give daytime a fun injection.

  • “The Arsenio Hall Show” and
    “Berthenny” debut Monday (Sept. 9)

  • “The Queen Latifah Show”
    debuts Sept. 16

  • Each continues weekdays, in a
    non-network line-up



Arsenio's back ... at last

Arsenio Hall left his TV show way too soon and stayed away too long. Now, 19 years later, he's back, entering an overcrowded late-night field. Here's the profile I sent to papers; I also sent sent an overview and a Bethenny Frankel profile. Hall and Frankel both start their shows Monday (Sept. 9):



When Arsenio Hall invaded late-night TV
in 1989, it was open turf.

NBC had Leno-Letterman, ABC had news,
Fox had failure. Cable had a lot of reruns and CBS was preparing a
Pat Sajak show.

This was easy for a guy who was young
(33) and funny, with hip music taste. “The first Friday I was on,
Bobby Brown broke 'Don't be Cruel' and 'My Prerogative,'” Hall
said. “Same night, same show.”

On a makeshift line-up of Fox and
independent stations, he soared … then left after just five years.
“I needed balance in my life,” he said, “not only personally,
but professionally.”

His professional life didn't go well.
Hall turned down “Bad Boys,” which helped boost Will Smith; he
did a failed comedy, joined “Martial Law” after it started,
hosted a “Star Search” revival.

His personal life was better. Hall
dated, had a son and five years ago considered a return to
late-night. .

“I had an appointment at Paramount …
and something happened with my son at school,” he recalled. He went
to the school, not the meeting. “It wasn't time, you know.”

Now it is. “My son's 13 now and he's
having me drop him off a block from the movie theater. That's usually
the sign that you can go back to work comfortably.”

But now the competition is tougher …
and in some cases younger than Hall, 57. ABC has Jimmy Kimmel, 45; in
February, NBC will shift to Jimmy Fallon, 38. CBS has David Letterman
and a vibrant cable world has Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien, Chelsea
Handler and W. Kamau Bell.

How will Hall stand out? “Music in
late night is often relegated to just the last few minutes,” said
Neal Kendall, one of his producers. “And more often than not, you
don't even hear the musicians talk. Yet I find them some of the most
interesting guests.”

Hall likes to talk to musicians, likes
to let them do a second song. He's a preacher's kid from Cleveland
who brings a different perspective.

“There's a lot of great late-night,”
said John Ferriter, another producer. “There are a lot of really
funny, talented people. There's not as much diversity.” Or there
hasn't been since Hall left, 19 years ago.

  • “The Arsenio Hall Show” debuts
    Monday, in non-network spots (check local listings)


Bethenny Frankel enters talking

Here's the Bethenny Frankel profile I sent to papers. I'm also including the two stories that go with it -- an overview of new TV talk shows and a profile of Arsenio Hall; like Frankel, he has a syndicated talk show opening Monday (Sept.9).


In a twisty-turny life, Bethenny
Frankel has rarely been able to sit back and contemplate.

She enters talking; she booms and
blurts and makes an impression.

“I went to, I think, 13 schools,”
Frankel recalled. “I was always the new kid ….I was always able
to just kind of go into a room and meet new people.”

That's one way to prepare for TV talk
shows. Frankel's father and stepfather were horse-trainers; her
mother, she has said, was alcoholic and angry. “I was always with
adults as a kid. I kind of grew up at the racetrack. (It's) a really
colorful place and it kind of prepares you for all types and all

Later, she arranged show-business
parties, studied at a culinary school and was runner-up on Martha
Stewart's “Apprentice” spin-off.

“I really did want that job,”
Frankel said. “That was a job for $250,000; I was flat broke ….I
wanted to be Martha Stewart's successor. She democratized style; I
wanted to democratize health.”

So she guested on a lot of talk shows,
then joined “Real Housewives of New York City.” Frankel (who had
divorced after a brief marriage) wasn't a housewife, but she did fit
in. “I have a mouth for nighttime …. I think I'm a polarizing

On two follow-up series, viewers saw
her marry and have a baby. Then – after a successful try-out for
her talk show – that second marriage fell apart. She doesn't plan
to talk about the divorce on her show, but everything else – food,
health, business, sex – interests her.

“I'm pretty open and I reveal a lot
about myself,” Frankel said. “I've gone through a lot of
different things and I am going through a lot of things right now.”

  • “Bethenny” debuts Monday
    (Sept. 9) in non-network time slots



Stardom's not enough? Now Dempsey hits the race track

In the perverse fashion of TV, this slow week has two interesting debuts ... at exaclty the same time.

That's 10 p.m. Wednesday (Aug. 28). One cable channel has the sometimes-compelling "Surviving Evil" (see previous blog); another has a sometimes-interesting portrait of actor Patrick Dempsey's journey into big-time car-racing. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Patrick Dempsey is near the top of the
TV world, star of a show (“Grey's Anatomy”) that just won't quit.
So what does he do with his spare time?

The same thing Paul Newman, Steve
McQueen and James Garner did – become a big-time race driver.

“He's climbed the ladder from novice
to expert,” said Bob Scanlon, senior vice-president of the
Velocity cable channel. Now Velocity has “Patrick Dempsey: Racing
LeMans,” a four-week series.

But what about his day job? Shouldn't
“Grey's Anatomy” stardom be enough?

“My moods change dramatically in the
course of 12 months, … depending on where we are in the run of the
show,” Dempsey said. “But it's a different type of passion.”

For good or bad, it's easy to get used
to playing the same doctor for a decade. “When you're in a long
show,” Dempsey said, “there's less discovery …. It doesn't
change. In a race, it changes constantly – every lap, every corner,
every moment …. And that, to me, is very exciting and keeps me

This all began when his wife gave him a
present – a course at the Skip Barber racing school. “She opened
Pandora's box,” Dempsey said. “(Now) I think she realizes it's
important for me.”

The “Grey's” producers – who want
him to keep coming back as Dr. Derek Shepard – have cooperated.
Their insurance company, however, insisted he drive a closed-top car,
limiting his choices. Dempsey picked a Lola prototype … then, as
his team assembled it, learned the company was going out of business.
After much scrambling, he raced LeMans in a Porsche RSR.

He hired two other drivers – his
mentor and a young Lola expert – and some experienced mechanics.
Then came the constant crises … which a reality show needs

“Everywhere you look, there's a”
dramatic story, said producer John Watkins. “It's man against
machine and man against money and … time … and fame. And man
against family obligations.”

Dempsey's family – including a
daughter, 11, and 6-year-old twin boys – may be fine with this.

“The kids love it,” he said. “My
daughter wants to race and she's a good driver already …. She
picked it up on her own. She steals the golf cart and runs around the

– “Patrick Dempsey: Racing LeMans”

– 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Velocity;
starts Aug. 28, for a four-week run

– “Grey's Anatomy,” off the air
this summer, starts its 10th season Sept. 26


"Surviving Evil" has strong stories to tell

When done well, true-crime stories can be compelling; when not, they can be awful.

Now the new "Surviving Evil" has big stories that it tells in diligent detail. Here's the story I sent to papers, focusing on the women in the first two episodes, Aug. 28 and Sept. 4:


For Charisma Carpenter, young and
optimistic, a 1991 night was typical. She was going to the beach.

For Lisa McVey, young and forlorn, a
1984 night was typical. She planned to kill herself.

Then they faced attackers; their lives
transformed. “You can prevail,” McVey said. “You can go on.”

These days, Carpenter is a TV star,
known for “Buffy” and “Angel”; McVey is a deputy sheriff in
Tampa. Their stories from long ago fill the first two weeks of the
“Surviving Evil” series.

“It's about, 'How did did they
survive …. How did they get through this?'” Carpenter – who
also hosts the series – said of real-life people who were “in a
barrel, packed in ice, stuffed in a storage locker.”

Her own crisis never got that far. A
21-year-old bikini beauty, newly named a San Diego Charger
cheerleader, she was starting a late-night swim with two guys, when a
gunman arrived. Told to tie her friend's hands, she left it easy to
break free from; when a fight ensued, she ran for help and later took
the men to the hospital.

For McVey, things were always
difficult. “All my life, I've been abused,” she said.

That may have helped her during the
crisis. “I've lived on the streets,” she said. “My mother was
an alcoholic and drug addict. There are things you pick up and

When her mother crumbled, she moved to
her grandmother's house, where things got worse. (Later, the
grandmother's boyfriend was arrested and charged with sexually
abusing McVey.) Her happiest times involved working at a doughnut

Then came the 1984 day in which she
worked a double shift, then planned to go home and kill herself at
17. On her bike ride home, she was kidnapped.

“I was planning on suicide,” McVey
said. “(But) nobody was going to take my life like that.”

That's when a lot of empty hours in
front of a TV set proved helpful. “I used to watch a lot of cop
shows back in the day (and) it just benefited me.”

She planted her fingerprints around the
rapist's apartment. She slid an item from her hair under the bed.
Although blindfolded, she memorized the contours of his face. Staring
under the bottom of the blindfold, she memorized things about the car
and the route from the apartment.

Then the man left her in a parking lot
and drove away. He later was found guilty of eight murders –
seasoned prostitutes, mostly; the idea of killing a teen-ager was
apparently too much for him.

What he didn't realize was that she
would become what Tampa police call the best witness ever. And that
she would eventually be a cop herself. “I have a passion for
helping others …. From the age of 2, from when I can remember, I've
always wanted to be a police officer,” she said.

During the ordeal, she said, all
thoughts of suicide vanished forever. “It made me appreciate that
my life is worth living.”

– “Surviving Evil,” 10 p.m.
Wednesdays, Investigation Discovery, repeating at 1 a.m.

– The opener, on Charisma Carpenter
(who also hosts) is Aug. 28; it reruns at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1 and
8 and 11 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3.

– The second episode, Sep. 4, is on
Lisa McVey.