Mel's Diner: A Wild Mushroom Trip With Fast-Talking, Fast-Rising Frankel
The food is cooked, but her words are raw as the reality star/author/entrepreneur shifts focus to new daytime talk show
The food is cooked, but her words are raw as the reality star/author/entrepreneur shifts focus to new daytime talk show
So is her distinctive, rapid-speech banter as she answers
questions in what are often lengthy sentences. (If you read some of them aloud without
taking a breath, you can probably also stay underwater for three minutes.)
The woman who sold her Skinnygirl Cocktails empire to Beam
Global for a reported more than $100 million likes this place because it serves
"straightforward food with a twist." And they have "interesting things" to put
in an omelet, like wild mushrooms, which she orders.
The energy Frankel exudes could burn off a plate of the meat
loaf she recommends in no time. She's come straight from taping The Wendy Williams Show, and will head
home from here to taste test new Skinnygirl Cocktails flavors. (She says the
new Skinnygirl products coming out "would make your head spin"-nonalcoholic drinks,
ice cream, salad dressing. She tells the waiter, who says he's particular about
his hummus, that she's working on that, too.) She is prepping for a multi-city
tour starting this month to promote her own talk show, launching Sept. 9. And
she and Bravo's Andy Cohen talked "15 times over the weekend," discussing a new
But her focus now is Bethenny.
She says she's like a horse kicking at the gate: "I just remember it being so
far away. I remember when the test was such a success we wanted to keep going.
Because, I mean, we were killing it."
Skinnygirl has "zero" role in the new show, Frankel says: She
and Telepictures are focused now on building the Bethenny brand. As we say good-bye after lunch, in fact, she
clutches her sparkle-encrusted iPhone featuring the Skinnygirl logo and says, "Gonna
have to change this to Bethenny."
Edited highlights of the interview follow.
You stand out among people who have been on reality television for
building an incredible business out of that exposure. Why do you think you've
been able to do what you've done, while others have had some success but not to
the degree you have?
Because from the time, the moment I stepped foot on The Apprentice [in 2005] I had a reason,
I had a purpose. I was already a natural foods chef. I had a direction and I
wasn't going on TV to be on TV. That was a great little added bonus, I suppose,
but I was going on TV because I had a message and a reason. And by the time I
got onto [The Real Housewives of New York
City] I was only on Housewives
to-I didn't want to do it, I turned it down, for two months, I said no-and I
did it because I was a natural foods chef and I wanted to create awareness.
So I was way ahead of everybody because people were going
on, from back to the original Trump Apprentice,
people were famous for five minutes, they were on the cover of magazines. It
was Bill Rancic, and Heidi [Bressler] and this other girl, I can't remember her
name, a real estate broker in Miami. And it's fool's gold.
By the time it was the third season, the other Housewives
were finally getting what I had been telling them: "Have something, do
something, be something." But you also can't just grab onto it. You can't just
decide, because I remember [Housewives costar]
Jill Zarin calling me going, "What can I have? I need to do something, be
something. What could I do? What could I do?"
It's hard to find something. It has to come from within. It
has to be true to yourself. It has to be something that's just a part of you.
You can't just go on TV and grab onto something and have it work. It doesn't
work like that.
So why do you want to do a talk show?
It's not like this was a lifelong dream. I didn't even know this was a career.
I never even thought-I never watched a talk show. I mean I've seen moments when
I've been on or flipped through and hear Jennifer Aniston saying 40 is the new
30 or whatever. But I've never watched a talk show. So it wasn't ever anything
I ever thought about. It just was an evolution. It was the next step. It was, "Where
else can I have this conversation?"
It sounds cavalier, but it's definitely my calling.
I've read the promotional materials but in your own words, what's this
show going to be like?
I mean, high energy. Fun, silly, shallow and deep. Good conversation.
Things that you won't expect-definitely won't expect because the one thing
everybody says about me is you never know what's going to come out of my mouth.
So it's not like I can even tell you what it is because I don't even know.
Just, you know, you're going to laugh, you might cry. You're
going to be inspired, you might learn something. It's kind of like an ADD talk
show. It's going to be a little bit of everything.
Let's talk about Ellen DeGeneres. How did you get to know each other?
I always wanted to do her show. I did get on her show and at the same
time I was talking to a bunch of different studios about doing a talk show and
ended up talking to Telepictures about it...I got a tweet that Ellen liked my
show and liked me and shortly thereafter I got booked on her show as a guest,
which I was so excited about. And the morning before doing her show, I was
saying to someone, "She should Oprah me." Because I was talking about doing a
show and I said she should come Oprah me.
And that day on the break, Ellen said, "I hear you're
talking to Telepictures and I'd love to do a show with you."
What did that feel like to hear that?
I thought I imagined it. I thought I dreamt it. I went into the
dressing room and said, "I think I just dreamt that Ellen said this." In the
world of TV I think that it happened pretty quickly after that. We had a
meeting the next time I was in L.A. to do her show. And her team really liked
me; we shot a pilot. Her executive producers and I fell in love. They're consulting
on my show and we became one big family.
And the thing is Ellen and I just naturally connected. Not
like BS, on-TV guests. I hang with her. We have really deep conversations. Not
about being a talk show host-a little bit. But just about life, what we've gone
through, living our unusual path. She's several years ahead of me and she's
broken through and groundbreaking in many ways and I am in different ways. And
we're similar in some ways and different in many ways. And we just jive.
On Twitter, do you ever feel like you've overshared?
Um, no, not really overshared. No it's not an oversharing thing.
Sometimes you'll tell someone to go f--k themselves when they've said something
really rude and it's not totally necessary and people get annoyed. But I do
think it's important once in a while to just really slap somebody if they slap
me and-not for them but for everybody else-that they know that "she stayed true
Based on that I think I know the answer but have you ever been tempted
to or have you ever deleted a tweet?
I think that someone has deleted a tweet of mine. I think someone who's
been in my account. I do my own tweeting but other people can get in there if
they have to change a link or something. Pictures and links I'm not great at.
And people have deleted certain things I've said and I'm like, "Don't delete my
It's happened, I said something about a celebrity and that
gets deleted and then that celebrity and I are like texting and the celebrity
is fine with it and I'm like, "Don't be deleting my tweets. I know what I'm
What do you think about being compared to Kris Jenner, both having been
on reality shows and now you have talk shows?
I already was on a test and I passed the test. She's about to do a test
on the same network group, so we should be happy for each other. It's like
Wendy Williams, we're not competitors. If it works for her then she's on the
same station group, making those stations more powerful with more entertainment.
I don't even look at what everyone else is doing. I'm happy for her and hope
she does well and hope she kills it and has fun most importantly. And the more
I'll tell you what aggravates me about this: I have a big,
big issue, and I'll probably talk about it on the show, one of the only things
that gets me really charged in like bull--- world is inaccurate and
irresponsible press, which is totally rampant. And it's like no one has to vet
anything-except for People magazine,
I've never seen anybody have to vet their sources or have lawyers check
anything out-so anyone can say anything. Anybody with a laptop or a computer
can say anything
So just a dumb example: Kris Jenner and I are competing for
guests. Here's a little tip: Kris Jenner's show is going to be off the air when
my show is on. The most idiotic prospect of all time. It doesn't even make any
logical sense. It's just stupidity. And it's annoying. Like, give me something
I want to talk to women about it and say, "Just so you know,
when you pick up a magazine, 90% of the time it's toilet paper. So you might as
well wipe your ass with it. It's fine if you want to be entertained. But most
of it just isn't true. Truthfully, 15% of it is in the realm of possibility.
But 99% of it is not accurate. We're competing for guests for what?
Why do you think Ellen's been so successful?
She's an entertainer. She's funny. She's really smart. And I've been on
almost every talk show. And there's only been two people, and Ellen is one of
them, who really listen. She can ask you a question and you can go completely
off the beaten path and she goes with you. You can't throw her. She's not
looking at cue cards. She's real. I mean, she's in the moment. And like I said,
she's an entertainer, she makes people's day better. If they're upset about
something, she is not getting stuck in it and mired in it, she's making them
laugh, she's making it lighter, she's caring, she inspires people. You know she
says at the end, "Be good to each other," and she means it. And she's been
famous and she's been successful for a while but on a fundamental level she's
aware, she's self-aware.
One thing we talk about is if you get in a bad mood and
you've got this great life, and you get upset with yourself that you were in a
bad mood or that you might've snapped so then you walk over and you apologize
because that's what happens when you get stressed out. And I think she's just
very in touch with people and feelings, and it's just a level where we can
connect on that.
She also broke through. I mean she's fearless. Being, having
no kids, not being married, going on television, being a lesbian, being out. I
mean, terrifying. People didn't want her to dance at the beginning. The dancing
became a signature. They worried about her being gay, it's part of who she is.
You can't let the suits tell you who to be.
Just the other day I had a suit email. And I was like,
"Listen. Stop focusing on this. I'm in a good place. Lemme do my job." You
know. You have to know they're amazing, what they do, they're amazing at what
they do but you're a creative person. But they have to know that. Both of you.
I am not doing the business part. You have that fine line. Ellen and I talk
about that a lot.
Has Ellen given you particular advice about the show?
Not about the show because she knows I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do and
we have very different shows. Just about dealing with the show, dealing with
media, it's more about, it's a hard thing to do a show, you have to worry about
yourself and the audience but I would say the actual schedule and being handled
24 hours a day is something that very few people can relate to what it's like;
it's almost June and you've been shooting 150 shows and you're like a carcass.
Just good coping strategies.
Anything in particular?
Nothing jumps off the page.
There's an interesting thing that happens when talk show hosts become
famous. You could argue that Oprah by the end wasn't as relatable to the
everywoman in the middle of America who isn't a billionaire. So I'm curious how
you see balancing all of your success and fame and fortune with being relatable
The woman watching.
Yes, the woman watching.
Yeah, I've thought about that. As far as the Oprah thing. I mean she
was 25 years. It would be hard to relate to yourself after 21 years of being
under lights and cameras and hair and makeup and the one thing is that you know
the more responsibility you have your connection to the viewer is the same.
They don't see what's going on behind the machine.
I've heard different stories about different talk show hosts
being divas and demands and different sorts of things and now I feel a little
more like maybe they were being a diva, maybe it's just the normal course of
their business would seem like being a diva to somebody else. Because when you
have, you can't have it both ways. You can't get a show on the air without
having writers-well, not writers, but people who are putting the food out. I
don't design the set. I can't display the food. Whereas, in my old life when I
would shoot a video I would display the food, cook all the food. I would do my
own makeup. I want to do my own makeup but they wouldn't let me because I
wouldn't have time to focus on the things I need to focus on to get the show on
the air. So after doing that for 25 years I don't think it's the money; I think
it's being handled that you change a little.
I hope I'll always stay real. I haven't changed personality-wise
or that I love a bargain or that I'm high to low or that I can go down and
dirty but I can go fancy fancy. But listen, it's a journey. How could you know
what you're gonna be? I want to stay true to exactly who I am. And I think
kids, having children is one thing that is different between a lot of talk show
hosts. They will keep you grounded and you still have to clean a dirty diaper
and you still have vomit on yourself in the park. It humbles you.
Especially little kids?
Well, or even teenagers maybe doing drugs, taking keys to your car. No
amount of fame or money or hair and makeup can help you deal with things going
on with your kids. So listen, you do the best you can.
To your point about being yourself, one thing people always talk about
that's key to success in daytime is authenticity and relatability. Especially
given so much of your life has been on reality television, I have to imagine
there's an expectation among viewers that they're going to have access to
what's going on with you personally. I know you are going through a divorce and
I'm so sorry to hear that.
How much of your experience do you plan to talk about on the show?
It's not like as much as I'd talk to girlfriends who've known me for
twenty years; I'm not going to walk out onto television and start divulging.
It's people I'm getting to know; I'm just new with this audience, some of them
I know, some I don't. It's like you're out to dinner with a group of
girlfriends and you might mention something that you're going through, they
might mention something they're going through, you might give some advice. It's
natural. It's not like you walk out on-stage and say, "Hi, look what I'm going
through." Because I wouldn't do that with people I'm just getting into a
relationship with anyway.
Whatever naturally happens, I don't have any kind of plan for
that. One day I might wake up and feel like crap and be like, you know what,
I'm having an edgy day and another day I might be like, "I'm good."
Out of all of it, what do you enjoy most day to day that you get to do
in your career?
Going on the tour. Going to the cities, meeting people, just talking
about what we're about to do, just touching people. It's hard to do because
you've gotta bring a different outfit and getting on a plane and you're
exhausted and you're meeting with reporters. But when you get up and just talk
to people that's when it's the best.
It's the same thing with the book tour. It's exhausting
signing 1500 different books or bottles but it's when you realize what's going
on-this couldn't be more perfectly timed. It's right before the show you feel
like you're part of it you're getting into people.
A question that comes up for people who became known first for being on
a reality show is: What is she famous for?
What's your response and what would you like to be known for?
My response is probably, she's that Housewife who sold her cocktail
company who says whatever's on her mind. I don't want to be known for anything.
I don't really care. I just want to have a conversation. I don't really think
about stuff like that.
Let's talk about Skinnygirl. How has your role changed day to day since
you sold it?
Well, I have to go back right now and test some-I can't even say what
it is, I almost said. Some new, surprise flavors. So I'm completely and utterly
involved in the flavors, and the creativity and the marketing and the packaging
and the wording and the taglines and the message. But I don't have to run the
show day to day and panic that it's not getting to stores and how are we
selling it, because I have the best. I've got the best distribution, I've got
the best everything. So it's the best of both worlds.
So you don't panic?
I panic about certain things, but that's because I'm a perfectionist.
But I'm not running the business every day. I don't have to worry about
shipping and trucking and stuff like that. I'm the creative, the marketing and
the flavor. But I promote it, I love it, I live it. It's still my brand.
Is the creative desire still burn as brightly as ever?
For that brand? Oh yeah, it's a once-in-a-lifetime brand. It really is.
We cracked the code. Every liquor company, everyone's copied us. It's a
But it's not just liquor.
I have salad dressings coming. I have non-alcoholic beverages. I have
ice cream. I have currently in market, shape, wear, nutritional bars.
All the networks and studios, they're all in the business of creating
multiplatform businesses, and I'm sure everybody looks at what you've done and
they want a piece of it. So I'm curious what the conversation was like with
Telepictures when you went to do the talk show. How involved were those
conversations about keeping those things separate, even things like your
I'm just a different type of person because I came into a talk show
with an existing brand and existing businesses, which is different. So coming
into it, it's a different kind of deal. But you're both bringing a lot to the
table. The sum is greater than its parts.
The combination of Telepictures and their power and their
marketing power and financial power and Ellen and her marketing power and using
the show as a platform, me already having fans-it's a perfect storm. So you go
where the fish are, whatever direction it is. You push back in some places and
in some you don't.
I already had a website, people were already coming to it.
Why start a new website, the Bethenny show? That's just not smart business. So
basically I allowed Telepictures to infiltrate my website and my Twitter...If
we want to say things for the show, we say it through my Twitter.
But that's good. That's me helping them by saying, I have a
website. They're helping me by saying, here are the departments upon
departments that we have that build websites and that build social networking
Do you still own your website?
Yeah and I own my business. But the thing is, Skinnygirl's really the
brand. We're about to build the Bethenny
brand together. They don't want any part of Skinnygirl. They don't really want
much of anything. They want the show to do well. That's its own machine.
They're not looking, they don't care what I do as long as the show does well.
The truth is I'm not really focused on that much else. I
have a good staff. I'm building a lot of businesses around Skinnygirl in such a
major way. We're coming out with so many new products your head would spin. But
my attention and energy is focused on the show. And what that means is to just
be calm and try to rest and try to sleep and try to have other aggravation be
on the back burner because all I really need to do is be relaxed and be me.
What is the role of Skinnygirl on the show?
Zero. And I don't want to be hocking my wares on the show, I want to
have a conversation and not be promoting Skinnygirl. The viewers wouldn't like
that, no one would like it anyway. So it's ironically where it's going to be
really different from the reality show, because I'm not.
Because that's what you were doing the reality shows for.
Right. If guests want to talk about it, it's because they love the
cocktail, they love the brand they're going to want to talk about it. But it's
not going to be the focal point. I don't want it to. And I could really include
it because that's where I came from, but I don't really want to. And a good
brand can live without a face to it.
Other people associate you with it.
Right, but some people know it but don't know who I am. It's hard for
me to believe that but there are people who see me on the street and say, oh,
there's that Skinnygirl. They don't even know my name.
I associate myself with it because I'm proud of it. But it's
not the Skinnygirl talk show. It wouldn't make any sense.
Going forward, two months from now, when you have a talk show, how do
you anticipate you will keep growing the Skinnygirl brand?
They're gonna fly. It's a rocket. It's unstoppable. It's deals, it's
ideas. It's who I am. This show is great because it's a place to send emails
about my ideas. Pretty much every topic is something I sent to the executive
producers that I want to talk about. So now I'm going to stop home, and taste
these flavors. If it were two months from now they'd just bring them to the
set. And taste them. And then by email: You like these ideas, you like these
You're in a car driving to the Hamptons and you're like, "Alright
let me look at this." You're on the plane going to the tour you're like, "Let
me just look at this." It would seem like a lot of work for somebody else but I
mean, right now is the first time I can remember in years I don't have to
write, I just finished my fifth book, launching next month right before the
Coincidentally, and not launching coincidentally-That was
sort of by design so I could promote both at the same time, because I won't
have enough time to promote the book. But the content of the book is a
blueprint for the talk show. That is a coincidence. It's like about home and
career and your environment and family and weight and fitness.
If I'm in a car for a couple hours or I'm on a plane, I like
to have a book to write. Because I'd have free time. I'll call; I'm like, "Give
it to me." Because I have free time right now. And then I have to write this
book in a year because I have one more book in that deal. And I have other book
deals, I'm doing cocktail books and children's books. But sometimes I'm like,
"Someone who needs me raise their hand right now because I'm free." It's sort
of like a mom with seven kids, "What do you mean, it's quiet right now." When I
have all this free time I need a book to write.
What's your relationship with Bravo these days?
Great. Really good. Andy and I spoke 15 times this weekend. We've
talked about another project. He wanted me to do this other project and I
really liked it and it's a matter of time and schedule now.
Another reality show?
It's something that's in line with what goes on Bravo but kind of like a
hybrid. But it's a calendar-I mean, it's just like, you can't put a car where
there's no spot. We will do something together but my priority is the show. I
want this to be smooth and not try to bite off more than I can chew. But we
have a good idea and we'll probably do it.
What's the production schedule for the new show?
Theoretically, two shows a day, three days a week. Theoretically,
meaning I have four days off but there are photo shoots, field pieces, other
things you have to do. But two shows a day, which is really intense.
I went to one of the test shows last summer. And I noticed when you
were doing the tosses when you go to break that you didn't use cue cards. |
Do you plan it?
No. I don't have writers. They can save money on paper. And there's
apparently something called blue cards; I don't use those. People come from
other shows and say, "Is it a myth, is it true that you don't use the blue
cards?" and I'm like, "No, I don't."
So I'm confined and constricted by a script. I can't be
myself. I know what I'm saying. If someone comes on, a guest, I'd like to know
the name of the book. I'll say beforehand if I don't know the person, name, her
book. That's it. I remember the story, we just discussed the fact that her
husband left her. The rest it just goes.
Where does that come from?
I don't know. Years ago, I took a class at [famed comedy troupe] The
Groundlings. Maybe that's what inspired me to go to the Groundlings, but when I
was trying to be an actress years ago right out of college, 22 or however old
you were, in my head I understood how the script was gonna go, but then you
worry how the other person is saying it and then you just can't. So, I give
actors a lot of credit. They just, they take written material and make it their
own. I always said I don't want to be an actress; I want to do something where
I can be myself.
Even hosts, I guess I am a host. But even on the red carpet,
they're like, "Hi, I'm coming to you live..." it's all scripted anyway. It
doesn't feel like they're really hosts.
A good host doesn't have a script.
So it's not contrived. It's not orchestrated. I didn't even
know there were cards. I didn't know how anyone did it.
With Skinnygirl and all these brands you have going, you now have a
talk show and a tour to promote. When you thought about the Bethenny Frankel
brand a few years back, say five or ten years back, is this what you
No. No. I didn't think about any of this. I really didn't. I kind of
just take opportunities as I see them. There's a grand plan that's a dream. And
it's funny all those grand plans I had made come true. When you say them it's
kind of like saying, "I want to move to France." Or, "I want to win the
lottery." You say them, you put it out there, you say them to people maybe but
you can't imagine they'll come true. But the universe hears everything so what
you put out there comes back.
I mean, when I was the runner-up on the Martha Stewart Apprentice, I wanted that job because I
wanted to be her successor. That was who I really wanted to be; I wanted to be
her successor. And I can't believe I wanted that because now I'm doing a
similar thing that she did.
You just put it out there and you keep going. If that
doesn't happen in that moment, then you do something else.
Ryan Seacrest has said he admired Dick Clark's career, it was something
he's aspired to. Would you say Martha Stewart was that person to you at least
Kind of, but not all the way. I never really read her cookbooks. I
didn't really know that much about her. When the show came I knew who she was.
I knew she was a strong businesswoman and she built a brand and you could go to
Kmart and see it. But that's kind of all I really knew.
It was just a woman who was a chef and was on TV and a
strong personality and kind of self-made. But like I said I hadn't read any of
her books I didn't know that much about her really. It was the idea of her. The
idea of her success and the quality.
Some of the busiest people on earth have gone to do a daily talk show
and then been astonished by what it takes to do a daily talk show.
Yes, it is major.
And I know you did the test last summer.
But that was only six weeks.
How do you feel about it, what are you doing to prepare and are you
I'm not nervous about doing the show. I'm moved by how many people the
machine takes. And just that there are offices, people moving across coasts and
that I'm the center, the cog in this wheel. I'm moved by that, it's pretty
I wanted to make sure I am sleeping as much as I possibly
can. That stresses are at a minimum. There are a couple of minutiae things that
can wind up setting your whole day off the wrong way, just little things going
wrong in different areas, something can get you hooked in. So I'm trying to not
get as hooked in.
How much do you sleep every day?
Last night I got into bed at 9 o'clock but then couldn't get to sleep
until after midnight and I had to get up early so I get a little annoyed but
you do the best you can. And definitely exercising and resting.
I'll exercise sporadically but recently I've been really
trying to just make it a part of my schedule. Because I feel like it's a good
release of tension, it's an empowering thing, it makes you feel strong. And
I'm just trying to reel it in. And not just trying to relax
the week before. Have fun but by and large, realize things aren't going to be
the same. Maybe take a trip that's like a last hurrah, do the spa, be with my
daughter as much as possible, which has been great. Just getting mentally
prepared. But I'm ready. I'm like a horse that's kicking to get out of the
I always like to ask the busiest, most successful folks in our business
as their professional lives have grown and their personal lives have grown how
do you do it? What are some of your strategies for balancing it all and when
and how did you learn it?
Well, first of all sleep, not getting out of control with your sleep
because you run around-you really can only do work and family. I don't do that
much social. Luckily, I'm a businesswoman so you'll have to do a business
dinner more than once in a while so that becomes your social and I'm fine with
that. I'm not that much of a social other than that.
Being a mother; that becomes your priority so you have a
good base. Everything falls around that, you're just trying to work around
that. You have one thing that defines you as a center.
And then you have to prioritize and have good people around
you. And just delegation is huge.
But the machine's gotten pretty big and the details have
gotten pretty intense.
iPhone, but long for my BlackBerry.
Favorite thing is photos and video and Googling-getting on the Internet.
I can't stand typing on the iPhone, I long for my blackberry because I wrote
four books on the BlackBerry.
You wrote your books on the BlackBerry?
I acknowledge BlackBerry in the foreword to my book. We were in a
relationship and now we're broken up.
One thing you want to learn in the year ahead?
Guilty pleasure TV show:
I have not been watching any TV. Anything on Bravo.
Dream guest for your talk show:
Amanda Bynes, Pink, Mark Zuckerberg and my new one-well, and Oprah-and
Seth MacFarlane because he's cute and funny. And Jimmy Kimmel.
Have you asked any of them yet?
No, I haven't asked anybody.
In one sentence, how do you define success?