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Personal Touch Makes Tyra Banks Unique

Apr 23, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Call her exciting, beautiful, dynamic and compelling, because she’s all that and more. Tyra Banks, host of “The Tyra Banks Show,” is celebrating her second year on the Telepictures talker with six Daytime Emmy nominations, including outstanding show and host. The former supermodel has emerged as one of the most dynamic stars in syndicated programming. She spoke with TelevisionWeek correspondent Allison J. Waldman about her Emmy hopes and the goals and dreams she has for her show.

TelevisionWeek: This past year, your show has gained in reputation and stature, culminating with Daytime Emmy nods for show and host. What do you see as the differences between year one and year two?
Tyra Banks: In year one I was tentative and still feeling my way into the job. I had to learn to speak more clearly and really get comfortable as a host. I remember thinking more about what I was going to ask and not listening as much as I could. In year two I’m more confident in my instincts and sure of the direction of the show. I really listen to my guests and their questions, and it’s more of a conversation and exchange of ideas.

I’ve also learned to make myself more accessible as a host, which has had a positive influence on the show. I’ve had great celebrity guests, such as the in-depth interview with Nicole Richie, who spoke candidly about her weight issues and the paparazzi. Beyonce was also great; she’s a woman who keeps her personal life very private, but with me, she got personal.

I’ve also spent a lot of time on weight and appearance issues, and I realized in these past few months how important it is to put myself out there and be vulnerable if I believe it will help other women. I have been gratified and inspired by the response to my “So What” campaign.

TVWeek: What would it mean to you personally to be recognized by the National Television Academy?
Ms. Banks: The nomination was a surprise to me and I was thrilled! I know it’s a cliche, but it really is gratifying to be recognized by my peers. I was on cloud nine for a week after I learned about the nomination. I always knew this is what I wanted to do, and the nomination is validation of that ambition. It’s also flattering to be in the company of such talented nominees. I’m really ecstatic about it.

TVWeek: What makes “The Tyra Banks Show” unique, and how do you stay original and fresh?
Ms. Banks: We try to stay original by staying true to ourselves and our passion for pop culture. We’re programming to the Internet generation, so we jump-start our shows with a current reference or pop-culture point of view. We pull from all genres of entertainment in our storytelling, incorporating social experiments, reality show-style contests, mini-movies, anime, graphic art, music videos and YouTube. We understand that our audience is current, and we do everything in our power to stay with them.

We also try to keep it real and not shy away from the hard stuff, even when it comes to pop-culture stories about me. One of our most powerful shows came out of one bad photo that was taken of me in a swimsuit and splashed all over the tabloids. I could have ignored it, but instead chose to keep it real and addressed it right on the stage in front of my audience — while wearing the swimsuit. I meant it when I said, “Kiss my fat ass.” And other women related, and that became the “So What” movement. As a result, our show became the talk of other talk shows. We became a pop-culture jump-start for discussions all over TV and the Web.

TVWeek: Have you had any mentors? What advice did you get when you began the talk show?
Ms. Banks: My mother is my greatest mentor. Oprah is definitely a mentor, because she is the best at what she does and she has such an amazing heart and spirit. She’s a constant source of inspiration for me. As for advice I got, when I began the talk show a lot of people said I couldn’t do it. But I knew better; I knew when I was a model that I wanted to have a talk show because I always had a voice and I had something to say.

TVWeek: What kind of feedback do you get from viewers?
Ms. Banks: Where do I begin? The prime way our viewers keep up on the world and in touch with each other is online. That’s where you’ll find me late at night when I can’t sleep. I’m always surfing my site and other sites for show ideas and feedback on the shows I’ve done. People are brutally honest online.

Our viewers have been so great and so giving. There are a lot of positive affirmations about what we do. They love the “So What” campaign — I constantly have women coming up to me and thanking me for helping them feel better about their bodies and about themselves. I continue to have women who actually yell out their weight to me on the streets, like, “Tyra, I’m 185 and feel beautiful.”

The campaign has really taken off. … It was such an honor when Rosie O’Donnell called to tell me she watched the show and was so proud of how I was confronting the headlines and taking a stand for women.

We get a lot of feedback through the Tyrashow.com message boards, and we’re working hard to make the site even more user-friendly so there will be constant communication between us and our audience. We value the input from them … and it really helps us shape the show in so many ways. On our series “Focus on Race,” we received so much feedback that it helped us position the next installment of the series.

People with amazing stories always write in asking for help, which is where we find most of our makeover candidates for our “Tailored by Tyra” series, where I personally make over a handful of deserving women. Our audience appreciates that we address issues like body image and we’re constantly providing them with useful, necessary information about sex, relationships and body issues.

I get a lot of feedback from my audience whenever I talk about how to take chances. I’m a big believer in making a plan, and I want to empower this generation and help them feel they can get out there and make a difference in the world. It’s about sharing what I did with my life and helping them do it in their lives.

TVWeek: Compared with the other nominees in the best show category — “Dr. Phil,” “Ellen,” “Rachael Ray,” “The View” — what will the blue-ribbon voters see when they view the “Tyra Banks Show” nomination reel?
Ms. Banks: The reel highlights different types of shows, [including] celebrity interviews that are very strong, in which celebrities open up about their lives and answer questions that they have never been asked.

TVWeek: Are you a hands-on producer who gets involved in all aspects of the show? If so, how do you balance all your responsibilities?
Ms. Banks: Yes, I’m a hands-on producer, but I don’t do it alone. There are so many people who help make the show what it is, and they all work very hard. It’s a constant challenge to balance everything, and it all comes down to working with a team of people I can depend on, everyone doing their job and paying attention to time management. I take great pride in being a hands-on producer; I would never put my name on something without putting my stamp on it. Sometimes I feel frustrated by the celebrity vanity title stereotype.

I’ve spent sleepless nights and countless hours behind the scenes. There’s the amount of time you see me onscreen, and I’m spending at least three times that amount behind the scenes. I need to be involved in everything, from the [graphics] to Web design and content, props and production — and show content, of course. I have an incredible team of devoted people who help create and build my vision and take it to that next level.

TVWeek: What do you think of the talk shows you’re competing with?
Ms. Banks: I have nothing but respect for them. I know how hard it is to do this and I enjoy their work, too. I’m amazed at the variety of shows that are nominated and how they all entertain and educate in their own ways.

TVWeek: Where
would you like to see your show go in the future?

Ms. Banks: I want to be able to help as many women as possible realize their ambitions and dreams. I know I’m helping people already, and that’s very rewarding. But there’s always more to do, and I won’t rest until the show is even bigger and better.