With her daytime talk show set to launch this fall, supermodel Tyra Banks hopes to hit the TV jackpot, Oprah-style. Guiding Banks’ way is Lisa Hackner, senior VP of development for Telepictures Productions, the arm of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution that is producing the show.
“There is really not a talk show on the air right now that is geared toward a younger female audience who are beginning that journey in life,” Hackner says. “Because of Tyra’s background and her ability to speak out about a broad range of subject matter and topics, she can speak to these younger women about the things she cares about.”
In the show’s pilot, Banks gives viewers a glimpse of what she looks like without all the tricks of the trade, in an attempt to close the gap between reality and Hollywood glamour.
“Tyra asks a lot of questions and then listens to what people have to say,” says Hilary Estey McLoughlin, executive VP and general manager of Telepictures. “She homes in on what people are thinking and gets them comfortable enough to tell her.”
Part of what attracted Banks to daytime television, she says, is the opportunity to help women. As the executive producer and host of America’s Next Top Model, “I got a chance to really mentor all the girls in the house and get deeply involved in whatever conflict was going on. That’s turned into me wanting to do it on a daily basis.”
DIFFERENT KINDS OF BEAUTY
Banks has more experience working with girls than just on Top Model. Using her own funds, she hosts a summer camp for underprivileged girls called Tzone, where she personally works with them on such issues as self-esteem and independence. She has also written a book, called Beauty Inside & Out, that focuses on being beautiful by being yourself. While on tour to promote that book, Banks learned that many women want her advice on how to better themselves.
Banks, 31, and her team chose Telepictures to produce The Tyra Banks Show because the production company understood the show’s concept without even having to be told.
“It was exactly the right fit,” says Banks’ agent Nancy Josephson, president of ICM Talent Agency. “We walked in, and they pitched us a show that was exactly the show we were going to pitch them before we even said a word.”
And Banks immediately took to Hackner, who is helping build the show from the ground up. “Lisa has a great feel for the demo we are going after. She is so passionate, and she is an amazing brainstormer,” says Banks. “She has a great spin on how to make people think they are seeing something they’ve never seen before.”
As for Hackner, 43, she is impressed with how involved Banks is: “She comes to meetings with a notebook full of ideas and with things typed out, ready to present. She doesn’t just have an opinion; she comes fully prepared.”
Although Banks is a celebrity, the show will feature everyday people talking about real issues.
Telepictures had been chasing Banks to do a talk show for years, McLoughlin says: “We’ve had her eyes on her for a pretty long time, even predating her Oprah appearances. She seemed very comfortable, had a real point of view and was willing to share her life, which is one real key to talk-show success.
“At first, she didn’t feel like she had enough to talk about, but now she’s older. She’s succeeded in a lot of different facets of the business, and she’s lived more.”
Next Top Model’s success, which is playing a key role in rebuilding UPN, is a big selling point for Telepictures. Banks and her producing partner, Ken Mok, pitched the show to networks themselves after her then-agent didn’t think it would work. Top Model debuted on UPN in 2003 and quickly established itself as the highest-rated show in UPN’s history.
“On the set of Top Model, every day was at first a fight because some people thought I was just a model posing as an executive producer,” Banks says. “People who had positions lower than mine didn’t accept me as their boss. After a while, a couple of them apologized for doubting me so much. I had the power to fire those people, but I just wanted to prove them wrong.”
'NO’ IS A CHALLENGE
Banks takes that same attitude into syndication, even though she is well aware of the failure rate. “I’m very inspired by the words 'no’ and 'can’t.’”
“Tyra is one of those amazing people who is so multi-talented,” says Dawn Ostroff, UPN’s president of entertainment. “She was able to make Top Model a compelling television show by recognizing what would make women want to see these young women struggle and then hopefully achieve their dream and aspirations.”
Banks also will serve as an executive producer on The Tyra Banks Show, which will prove a much bigger challenge. UPN buys 13 episodes of Top Model at a time; Telepictures plans to produce 175 episodes of The Tyra Banks Show each year.
Hackner is serving as one of the show’s main wizards behind the curtain. She returned to Telepictures in July 2004, after serving as executive VP at Universal Domestic Television, which was acquired by NBC the previous March. Hackner got her start at Telepictures in 1990 as a receptionist and climbed the ranks.
She prides herself on developing daytime shows, such as The Rosie O’Donnell Show, that capitalize on the personality of the host. For Tyra, Hackner wants to show a “real” Banks but will obviously employ the runway that is emblematic of the model’s career. “We’re not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole,” Hackner says. “Tyra is an incredible talent and we’re building the show around her.”