Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America
Julie Chen and Leah Remini discussed The Talk at press tour today.
With the long-running soap As The World Turns leaving the air this fall, CBS needs a show to replace it. They've settled on what they are calling The Talk, a roundtable chat show with six (!) hosts: Julie Chen (the host of Big Brother), Leah Remini (of The King Of Queens), Sara Gilbert (of Roseanne, who also came up with the show), Marissa Jaret Winokur (who starred in Hairspray on Broadway and later went to Dancing With The Stars), Holly Robinson Peete (most recently seen on The Celebrity Apprentice), and Sharon Osbourne (of ... being Sharon Osbourne).
The hook of the show, it seems, is that these women are all moms. It's a mom's perspective! During the press tour panel discussion, Winokur said that she really thought the show was important, because it's not "popular" (a word she used a few times) to discuss the fact that being a mother is really, really difficult, and apparently, she wants to bring this to light. It's not clear what Winokur watches on television, but the idea that the show can distinguish itself entirely by saying that motherhood is difficult and admirable seems tenuous.
But Chen stressed that the show isn't really about the fact that they're moms, necessarily — it's just that they all bring the perspective of moms. They'll be talking about current events, things everyone else is talking about, and so forth. (She mentioned the Arizona immigration law as an example of what might make a topic.)
Based on Gilbert's explanation that she came up with the idea while talking to the other women in a moms' group, it's evident that the conviction here is that moms have important things to say about world events that only moms can say. The idea isn't necessarily to discuss being a parent all the time as much as it is to present a perspective on various topics and promise that everyone involved is a mom, and therefore has something to say that you should listen to more than you would if they weren't moms.
The whole "moms" thing isn't going to make the show sink or float, of course — it's the hook, the gimmick, the talking point. If it's good discussion, it will be good discussion, and if they need to switch out a host, they will, and if it seems like it's a good idea to bring in one person who isn't a mom, you can bet that they'll do that, too. A six-person cast seems ripe for change as things shake out. But how you sell the gimmick, which is that moms are in some special position to opine on television about immigration law (as opposed to, say, dads or non-moms) is an interesting pickle.
The bigger problem, though, is that the panel discussion didn't suggest that these women are going to have a lot of extremely sparkly banter to offer. Asked perhaps the softball-iest question they can ever hope to receive — basically "What's your pet peeve about your husband or partner?" (Gilbert's partner is a woman) — they offered mostly cliches. Winokur's husband is indecisive. Peete's husband snores. Gilbert's partner is better-looking in clothes than she is. Remini gave the dramatic, "Oh, am I only allowed to name one thing?" eye roll before settling on the fact that her husband only does nice things for her when he wants sex. Osbourne insisted Ozzy has no drawbacks at all, because his total indifference gives her such freedom — "He doesn't even know I'm doing this show." Julie Chen said that her husband wakes up the baby when the baby is sleeping.
Not exactly the kinds of fresh and specific personal stories that keep an audience feeling embraced.
The chat didn't improve a lot from there. Winokur said she was going to talk on the show about things like the fact that she lets her children watch television, and Remini says you might hear other people disagree with her for letting her daughter eat sugar.
If watching moms bicker with each other over whether you should let your kids eat sugar and watch television is your idea of entertainment, perhaps this will sound more solid to you than it did to me. To me, it sounds like a terrible, terrible Internet discussion thread.
There's another awkward point that came up as well, and that's that Julie Chen's baby-waking husband is Les Moonves, the president of CBS. This is now the third show (in addition to Big Brother, where she'll apparently still host, and The Early Show, where she'll have a reduced role) on CBS where Chen is prominently featured.
When Nina Tassler, the president of CBS's entertainment division, was asked in her executive session this morning whether it looks at all bad when the network puts the president's wife on her third show, Tassler was quick to point out that Gilbert, who pitched the show in the first place, is the one who suggested Chen as a possibility.
To which a journalist, not unreasonably, responded that this doesn't entirely resolve the issue, since if he were a producer pitching a show to a network that was competing against three other pilots for the same slot, he might reasonably suggest the network president's wife as a possible host, too.
None of this is to suggest that Chen can't do the job or necessarily doesn't deserve it — she was funny today, referring to herself by the nickname "Chenbot," a moniker applied by many of her detractors — but she's already been controversial, and adding her to yet another high-profile show puts this whole thing back on the radar again.
Of course, she has a way of creating some of her own controversy, as when she compared the show to Barbershop, starring Cedric The Entertainer. Probably not the wisest words to ever come out of her mouth.
There was also a collective groan when Peete was asked whether her kids dislike it when she talks about them on television. She went on to say that there was one highly personal topic her adolescent daughter begged her not to talk about — and Peete proceeded to tell the assembled journalists all about it, insisting her daughter doesn't read press reports and would never find out. This is the kind of thing that is not charming; this will make people not like you. This will make people uncomfortable.
So far, the show looks on very, very shaky ground. A lot can change, but for now, CBS still has a way to go with this one.