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Ricki, revised

Oct 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

With a decade of sexual predators, mismatched lovers, on-air confessions and a pair of pregnancies now under her belt, Sony’s daytime staple “Ricki Lake” underwent a makeover in the off-season.
Executives, producers and the talk show host herself are touting a “new era” of “Ricki” that will keep die-hard and casual fans alike tuned in as the hostess settles into a world of parenting and growing older.
Among the changes in the off-season were a new producing team to take the reins of the strip, which is entering its 10th season. New executive producer Michael Rourke was tapped in the spring; Michelle Mazur later joined as co-executive producer; Mimi Pizzi came on board as supervising senior producer, while Ms. Lake took the title of supervising producer for her show. Additionally, new entertainment segments, man-on-the-street reactions and new topics have entered the mix.
Electronic Media sat down with Ms. Lake to talk about her new role behind the scenes, how growing older affects the series as well as the state of talk shows and syndication. Just don’t say they’ve gone soft.
EM: Looking back at these first 10 years, how has the show changed you?
Ricki Lake: Simply put, these 10 years have been great. It’s definitely been a ride. You look at where I started-I was 24 and dating guests on my show. I’m not kidding, I was new in New York, had a great job and guests would be asking `Hey, what are you doing after the show?’ It’s funny to look back at myself back then.
Then I met this amazing man, hooked up with him that night and was engaged to him two days later. We got married 41/2 months after that. This show helped me out of my misery in Los Angeles and gave me this whole new world. Now I have two kids, my body has changed, going up and down, and the world has watched.
Of course, having all of this documented for everyone to see can be a drag, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Growing up I wanted this. I wanted to be famous, and now I know to be careful what you wish for.
EM: Have the changes this season been positive for you and the fans of the show?
Ms. Lake: This season has been a lot harder for me because I’m no longer just an actor for hire; I’m the supervising producer as well. I’m involved in every decision that’s made as well as figuring out how to reinvent the show, how to do something in a way that we (or anyone else) haven’t done before. I decided that the answer to that is to take segments out of the studio and get some more energy that way. New York has really taken such a hit in the past year, so it’s relevant to be out in the streets of the city. It gives a new life to the show by interviewing tourists as well as real New Yorkers, who always have something to say about whatever the topic is.
As for me, this change gives me the chance to be really off the cuff, spontaneous and funny. I get to try some things that I haven’t done before, like David Letterman does when he goes on the streets. Obviously, it isn’t quite as funny as Letterman. But I think the segment provides a vibrant energy, and I feed off of that.
EM: By assuming the supervising producer’s duties you’ve clearly taken on some new burdens behind the scenes.
Ms. Lake: I like that I have even more of a vested interest in what I do every day. But there’s so many decisions to be made-I can’t possibly cover it all, so it has been difficult. If a segment goes sour I have to remember to make sure to have it cut in the editing room even while I’m remembering names, ages, why a guest is on, where to take a question, etc.
Fortunately, I really feel comfortable working with executive producer Michael Rourke. He’s a smart guy and has got great taste. The staff is really young, and they have their finger on the pulse of what is cool and hot. I’m getting so old now-OK, I’m not that old-but I realize that I no longer know who these rock stars are or who’s hot. We recently had Tweet on. Sure, she’s really hot, very pretty, a great singer and was really good on the show, but I didn’t really know who she was. So the staff keeps me young. They keep me hip with the latest lingo, what’s cool, what’s fashionable.
EM: Clearly some of your priorities have changed over the years. Has your audience changed as well?
Ms. Lake: The studio audiences are still just as rowdy as ever. We always get wide-eyed tourists from Israel. We get a lot of Australians who come to see us. Then, of course, we have those great New Yorkers who come and get their two cents in. God love them, it makes my job that much more fun.
But for the home audiences, it’s true. They’ve grown up with me. And women who were watching me when they were in their early 20s now have children of their own. I try to respond to that as well.
EM: Sony has been vocal about announcing a `New Ricki’ for this season. What does that mean to you?
Ms. Lake: For me, it means taking it to the next level my way. It’s always been my show, but I kind of gave up the power to people I trusted because I didn’t know any better when I started out. Not to take away from them and what they did for the series … but after 10 seasons, I think I know better than anybody what I want to do with `Ricki Lake’ and how I want to do it. Although we’re always going to talk about `cheaters’ and `my mother hates my boyfriend,’ as well as other topics that people can relate to and want to talk about, it’s the way that we do it that has to be new and fresh and different.
EM: How has Sony worked with you through the years?
Ms. Lake: They’ve been amazing. They’ve done nothing but support me from the start, by being extremely generous to me and complimentary. When I wanted to do `King of Queens’ last year, they found a way to make it happen. In fact, whenever an acting opportunity has come up for me, they’ve done everything they could to accommodate my schedule. It’s been a great working relationship, especially with Steve Mosko now at the helm. I hope we spend a long time together.
EM: How do you view the state of talk shows in syndication?
Ms. Lake: It’s changing. The business has always been cyclical, going up and down. When we first aired in 1993, talk shows were essentially a totally new and different genre. It was `Phil Donahue’ and `Oprah’ and `Sally,’ and that’s about it. Plus they skewed much older.
So our show came on and opened the floodgate for this new daytime audience, and we became this phenomenon. Naturally, within three or four years, everybody tried to copy us. Then Rosie came on and everybody tried to copy her. And now it’s the psychics with John Edward. The business is crazy, but I feel lucky that we have been able to outlast our copycats as well as most of the other talk shows that keep sprouting up.
We’re not the top-rated show but we’re holding our own. Hopefully, by changing up the show and with my increased involvement with the show, we’ll bring back even more viewers this season.#