THE DISH: It's two months to the day until Bethenny Frankel launches her syndicated daytime talk show Bethenny, and the confidence and candor that won the reality star/author/entrepreneur millions of fans—including more than 1.2 million Twitter followers—is on full display during an early lunch at 24-hour upscale diner Cafeteria in Manhattan.
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 show.
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 to herself."
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 tweets."
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 doing here."
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 the merrier.
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 accurate.
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 to-
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 pioneer.
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 website?
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 presence.
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 flavors.
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 show.
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 envisioned?
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 initially?
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 nervous?
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 intense.
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 doing yoga.
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 stall.
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.
I like to wrap up with a lightning round. If you have more to say, please elaborate. But the aim here is for quick answers. What type of phone do you use?
iPhone, but long for my BlackBerry.
What's your favorite thing about it, and least favorite? And why do you long for your 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?
Literal or figurative?
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?