The 43-year-old says her goal for her new Twentieth talk show that launches this fall is “conversation that everyone is a part of. It will be elevated content that women 25-54 can relate to. At my age, the TV I watch has to have some substance. That’s what we’re hoping to achieve. It will offer a lot of takeaway.”
It’s all coming together again for Ricki Lake. Coming off a strong performance on Dancing with the Stars that reintroduced her to America, she will soon be getting remarried and her memoir (Never Say Never: Finding a Life that Fits) is due in bookstores (and e-reader databases) in April. And then this fall, she returns to daytime TV after a seven-year absence with an eponymous talk show.
“[I] am very happy,” she says. “I describe it as feeling like I’m flying with my feet on the ground.”
It first came together for Lake in 1988 when John Waters cast her to star in his cult-classic Hairspray. That led to more movie roles and, perhaps more important, what’s come to be called a “conflict” talk show that ran in daytime for 11 years (1993-2004) under the aegis of Columbia (now Sony Pictures).
Now 43, Lake didn’t win the Dancing‘ mirrorball trophy, and she is still nursing a broken rib and bruised toes. But her nine weeks on the popular reality show and third-place finish dramatically boosted her profile just as Twentieth Television was pitching her talk show to TV station groups.
Ricki is now cleared in about 90% of TV homes for fall 2012, including on stations owned by Fox, Tribune, CBS, Raycom, Nexstar and others.
In this interview with TVNewsCheck Contributing Editor Kevin Downey, Lake talks about all that is going on in her life these days and shares her clear vision for the new show — the Oprah Winfrey Show as it was before Oprah became a billion-dollar icon. “She was your girlfriend. She was in the audience. She was not set apart from the audience.”
An edited transcript:
Do you think your performance on Dancing with the Stars helped the show get cleared for fall 2012?
It was amazing. I was hoping it would work that way. But I didn’t know it would work as well as it did.
I’ve launched a show in the past — it’s a lot of traveling, dinners and meetings. I didn’t have to do that this time, although I was working harder than I have ever worked in my life. But, every Monday and Tuesday night, they got to see me dance. And they got to see me. So, it absolutely helped in every way, in terms of getting clearances and getting the audience rooting for me.
What did you learn about yourself on Dancing?
I learned how resilient I am. I consider myself to be a strong fighter and competitor, but it pushed me to the limits. I have a broken rib right now, which is from Dancing with the Stars. You can feel it — it sticks out. And my toenails are black and blue under the nail polish. Not pretty! But I am glad I did it.
You’re still developing The Ricki Lake Show, but what can you tell us about it?
It’s not my old talk show. I look at it as the evolved, upgraded Ricki Lake. I’ve grown up and have had a lot of life experiences in the eight since it was last on the air. I think the show will reflect that. The old show was a phenomenon in a lot of ways. It was conflict television.
There will always be controversial subject matter and there will be differences of opinions. But I’m a 43-year-old woman who has two children — teenage and preadolescent. So, this is a show I would want to watch.
My vision is the old Oprah Winfrey Show – before the book club, before the magazine and before being a billionaire. She was your girlfriend. She was in the audience. She was not set apart from the audience.
Our set is very inclusive. The feel is very much like a conversation that everyone is a part of. It will be elevated content that women 25-54 can relate to.
What is the format? Will you tackle one topic per episode?
It’ll vary. If subject matter warrants an hour, we’ll do it. We’ll do it from different angles. We’ll incorporate celebrities. But, unlike [Warner Bros.’] Ellen, which I love, celebrities on my show will hopefully be talking about issues that they have tackled or speaking out about certain issues.
At my age, the TV I watch has to have some substance. That’s what we’re hoping to achieve. It will offer a lot of takeaway. Sometimes, it will be a single topic. But, at other times, we’ll change it up. Twentieth Television and I are on the same page about this.
Twentieth Television has described you and your show as the “girlfriend” who daytime TV viewers don’t have right now. What does that mean?
On shows like [CBS’s] Dr. Phil, he’s a guy who knows it all. I’m the opposite of that. I don’t know much of anything, other than what I have experienced. So, my show is a platform to have people on who know more than me and our viewers about whatever subject we’re covering.
It’s about having an inclusive conversation where everyone feels they are an equal part of it. I’m not going to tell people what to do or how to live their best life. I’m going to say, “Let’s all figure this out together.” That’s the vibe. I’ve always been candid about my hardships and triumphs. I’m not an expert, but I am authentic. This show will reflect who I am and where I am. I’m getting remarried, which is a whole new world for me. I’m willing to share my experience, talk about it and get advice from experts and real people.
I look back on my career. I’ve had acting jobs. I’ve danced in front of everybody. I’ve made documentary films. But what I’m best at is being myself and connecting with real people about real issues.
Ricki is one of four daytime talk shows debuting in the fall. Do you have any sense of how your show will differ from Katie, Jeff Probst and Steve Harvey?
All these shows are personality driven. The show that Katie is going to do and the show that Jeff Probst will do will never be the show that I’m going to do. And I love Steve Harvey — I’m a big fan of his. It’s going to be an exciting year for daytime. But I’m not going to focus on what they’re going to do.
I have always focused on doing our show. If you look back, my show ran for 11 years and, I think, there were literally over 100 shows that tried to copy what we were doing. Some of them got on the air. Some of them made a pilot and some of them went to NATPE but never got on the air.
I’m anxious to see Katie. I’m a Katie Couric fan. I imagine she will do interviews with world leaders, which is not my forte. I don’t know what kind of show Jeff Probst is going to do. I am a fan of Survivor. And I’ve done this before. The difference this time is that I was cast into my last show — I was one of 100 women they met with, to be the younger Oprah. It became me over time. But, this time, I’m collaborating with Twentieth Television on it from the very beginning.
You have written several books and made documentaries about pregnancy, giving birth and motherhood. How will motherhood factor into your show?
Being a mother and balancing work and home life and dealing with a blended family and dealing with an ex-husband is very daunting and overwhelming at times. That’s another way the audience will relate to me. They’ll feel like they have a girlfriend next door who’s going through the same thing.
We’re already connecting through social media. We’ve reached out to mom bloggers and women’s bloggers. I was the keynote speaker at the BlogHer conference last year. I’m doing that again this year. We’re connecting because social media is the way to have an immediate connection.
How did this show come together? Were you pitching the idea to studios or did Twentieth Television approach you?
It feels like this has all fallen into place in a very organic and perfect way. Every single year since I went off the air, people have talked about me going back to TV. It never felt right. For a long time, I wasn’t ready.
And, even Dancing with the Stars, every year I was offered to be on the show. But I always said, “No.” This time around, I sold a memoir about 18 months ago that’s coming out in April. It was so fortuitous. It was always set to come out in spring 2012. Lo and behold, I just finished Dancing with the Stars and now I have a talk show coming out in September. So, it all fit in perfectly.
I met with Twentieth in January or February last year. I sat down with a bunch of companies. They all seemed excited about me going back to daytime. I also felt really excited in a way that I hadn’t before. The timing was right. A part of it was hearing that Oprah was going off the air. The other part of it is that I have a new perspective and a new drive. And I have a new appreciation that this is what I enjoy doing most, in terms of my career.
Twentieth also felt like they were the right company. They were so committed to me and sure that I was right for what they were looking to do. It fit. I met with all the buyers, like Tribune, and it just felt right. We did the pilot over the summer. They convinced me to do Dancing with the Stars. They felt it would be a great platform to be back on television. It was the perfect fit.
How does your experience on your old talk show factor into your new show?
I was a kid last time around. People made decisions for me. This time, they value my opinion. I know what I’m doing in a lot of ways. I know who I am and how I want to be represented. It’s a different animal. I’m really psyched.
Stephen Brown [SVP of programming and development at Twentieth] is my executive in charge of production. He’s a dream. He comes from a producing background. So, he’s not just an executive; he’s a producer. And Greg Meidel [Twentieth president] and Paul Franklin [EVP and general sales manager at Twentieth] are the best. I’m thrilled to be in partnership with them.
What is the timeline for putting together the producers and staff? How about for shooting the show?
We have an executive producer who I am so stoked about. It’s a huge get, but we’re not ready to make that announcement. And everyone is coming out of the woodwork to work on this show, which is great. I think it’s because they think the show will be great but also because I have a reputation for being easy to work with.
We’re going to have a great pool of talent. We haven’t staffed it, yet. We’ll start that in March. But, as of March, we’ll be up and running. We’ll start shooting in July to be ready for September. And we’re shooting in L.A., which has great energy. And I’m hoping we have studio audiences who really want to be there.
Your show will air on some Tribune Broadcasting stations, including WPIX New York, which are known for conflict talk shows. How will Ricki fit into those lineups?
I think there’s a familiarity to me that will fit in well. The new show is beautiful, fresh, highbrow and classy. My old show was awesome — it was a party. I think Sean Compton at Tribune was concerned at first that it may not fit in with the conflict shows like [NBC’s] Maury. I think it will. People know me and they know me in that genre, even though this show will be different. If you look at the target audience, they want a show like this. It will be fun, funny and spontaneous. But it will also have takeaway. Ultimately, Sean felt confident that it would work with his lineup.
Have you thought about how you will promote Ricki?
I have. That was a huge undertaking with taking this job. Once you’re up and running, you become a well-oiled machine. I have confidence that will happen on this show. But launching a show is a huge, huge commitment. So, yes, I have told the stations that I would cut personal promotions for them. I’ll go on station visits when I can. At NATPE, I’ll stop by the Miami station and cut some promos for them. I’ll do everything I can to give this show every shot to make it a huge success.
Are you doing anything outside local stations to promote the show?
What I really like about Twentieth Television is that they’re really thinking outside the box. They brought on this guy Bryan Moore to handle all the social media stuff. So, for a year prior to the show, he’s been building relationships with mom bloggers and women bloggers to get information about what they want to see on the show. We’re really on it, even though we’re not fully staffed, yet.
We might tie in with a videogame. There are apps for the iPad and iPhone. And the website will be unlike any other website for a talk show. Twentieth is doing everything to make this show the best it can be and to make it fresh. I have a lot of confidence that they’ll pull it off and that I’ll strike lightning twice.
I can’t imagine that you have other projects you’re working on besides The Ricki Lake Show, but do you?
Well, I’m getting married. My body is still recovering from Dancing with the Stars. And my book is coming out April 17.
It’s hilarious because if you asked me 18 months ago, I would have said I would never get married again, I would never do daytime TV again and I would never have done Dancing with the Stars. I’m really excited about the book. John Waters is writing the forward. So, I could not be any busier. But I am very happy. I describe it as feeling like I’m flying with my feet on the ground.