Perfecting ‘Martha’

Oct 24, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Viewers pointed out that Martha Stewart was interrupting guests on “Martha.” She pronounced herself “horrified,” apologized to the viewers and vowed she would do better.

Rob Dauber, who is co-executive producer to executive producers Mark Burnett and Ms. Stewart, decided that the show’s long, biographical opening was no longer fun (or necessary). It is being shortened by more than half (most days last week “Martha” started with a cold open) and will reappear soon with more emphasis on what has happened on “Martha” than on what has happened to Martha Stewart.

The audience has demonstrated a feeling that celebrity guests are fine, even fun-especially when they bring out a new playfulness in Ms. Stewart-but that nothing beats the how-to know-how that made Ms. Stewart the patron saint of better-run and better-done home and hearth. So there’s an increased focus on the balance between glam guests and domestic DIY.

“We’ve actually learned a lot since the show launched,” Susan Lyne, the former ABC Entertainment president and movie-miniseries chief who became president and CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia last November, told The Insider.

She said the “Martha” audience wants more “Wow! Why didn’t I know that before?” takeaway. The Insider’s personal “Wow!” moment occurred Oct. 14, when Ms. Stewart did more to glamorize pumpkins than “Cinderella” with a little time, a coat of white paste and a dusting of glitter.

The showbiz guests will continue. Bette Midler, for example, will get a “Martha” hour Friday, when she will perform and get a lesson in pumpkin carving 101 and last-minute Halloween costume ideas. Zac Posen, fashion designer to hip young Hollywood, is booked for a visit.

But November also will focus on how to have a perfect Thanksgiving (a holiday that brings out the Martha in everyone), with segments on everything from how to cook a turkey to the correct way to stuff a dishwasher.

Ms. Lyne cited a recent wedding show that was so packed with content, “We had to race through segments. I think we’ve learned to let segments breathe. I think we’ve also realized we aren’t promoting enough of what was coming up in the shows” or giving enough advance word to let word of mouth build audiences for special shows.

Mr. Dauber very much likes the multizone “Martha” set in which everything functions, but he is yanking heavy metal doors in favor of trellis-like ones. The studio audience seating also has been pulled in closer to Ms. Stewart, which makes it easier to bond and to see. “I think she’s really enjoying this format,” Ms. Lyne said. “She is a quick study,” said Mr. Dauber.

Not to mention an influence on a desirable and purchase-prone demographic.

Glassybaby, a tiny blown-glass cup/candleholder/vase line that comes in a rainbow of colors, usually gets a few Web orders a day. It received some 400 orders the day it was featured on “Martha,” according to glassybaby General Manager Morgan Graff.

Then there’s the inmate-crocheted poncho Ms. Stewart wore as she left the federal prison nicknamed “Camp Cupcake” last winter. It inspired a whole show early in “Martha’s” run in which a similar poncho was required attire for everyone in the studio, from guest David Spade, who had spoofed the look on “Saturday Night Live,” to Ms. Stewart’s hammy new French bulldog Francesca.

At marthastewart.com, the poncho goes for $49.99. More than 13,800 hand-made ponchos have been ordered. (Profits go to women and children in need.) The red version is sold out.

The Insider isn’t the only one who still (or again) hearts “Martha,” “Martha,” “Martha.”