September 4, 2013

Bethenny Frankel’s New Reality


A devoted mom and successful lifestyle entrepreneur, Bethenny Frankel returns to television this fall with style and substance as host of her own daytime talk show.

By Whitney C. Harris


Bethenny Frankel on the set of her new talk show "bethenny"; Photo by Warner Bros./Telepictures Productions

It’s midsummer in the city at a trendy Tribeca coffee shop, and Bethenny Frankel is preparing for a girls’ trip to San Tropez. Decked out in form-fitting exercise gear for her morning workout—a red tank top and black spandex pants, with big sunglasses at-the-ready—she takes a healthy swig of a bottled green concoction of kale, celery, cucumber, lemon, ginger, mint, and spirulina.

“Thanks for the seventy-dollar juice,” she quips.

Incredulous at the price of pressed fruits and veggies, the successful entrepreneur is not one to suffer fools gladly. Sure, she’ll answer the clarion call to drink pricey pulverized produce, but she won’t do it quietly. “There’s one for six bucks that’s not even organic!”

It’s an unsurprising response (even from a woman who’s made millions in beverages) because it’s as spontaneous as it is honest—the cutting combo that Frankel came to be known for during her tenure as the sharp-tongued bachelorette on BRAVO’s “The Real Housewives of New York City.”

Her barbed remark notwithstanding, the Manhattan mom is actually in a place of relative calm and quiet in the heat-waved month before filming her new talk show, which debuts this fall. The 42-year-old celebrity personality and entrepreneur returns to TV at a time when her branded Skinnygirl lifestyle line is also a full-tilt success with a full bar of ready-to-serve cocktails, a collection of New York Times bestselling books, shapewear for women, snacks, and nutritional supplements.

After a six-week test run last summer and the support of equally quick-witted but much sweeter-tongued talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, “bethenny” was given the green light to develop as a nationally syndicated daytime talk show. Now, people across the country who live, drink, eat, read, and wear Frankel’s fare can catch her playful yet keen perspective on everything from food and fashion to romance and relationships via television screens on weekday mornings.

“It’s like girls’ night out, talking about what we talk about when men aren’t around,” says Frankel, who’s currently in the midst of a divorce after a nearly three-year marriage to pharmaceutical sales rep Jason Hoppy.

The collective, girl-gab format will be a breath of fresh air for the reality show-spawned celebrity because, for once, it’s not all about her. “It’s not everyone watching me and how I’m living my life. It’s a two-way street now,” Frankel says. “It’s kind of like I’m running a group therapy session,” she continues. “It’s always a discussion.”

And so we discussed.

Have you always been the type of person to give good advice once you figure something out?

I’ve always been this way. And now that I have this platform, it’s almost like a responsibility. That’s why I was chomping at the bit for the talk show. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s my home. It’s my center, career-wise.

How is “bethenny” different than “ellen” or “Oprah”?

I’ve never seen a talk show bell to bell, so I don’t know what goes on. But as far as the people and my reception, I’m different from Ellen because she’s an entertainer and she’s really funny and her show is a laugh-out-loud variety show that makes people feel better about their day. If something terrible has happened, she’ll mention it and acknowledge it, but she wants to make people feel better about it—not dig in the mire and go through it with them. Her role is to make people smile.

I want to go in it. I want to talk about sex; I want to talk about your miscarriage; I want to talk about the infidelity in your marriage; I want to talk about mothers who lost their kids in Sandy Hook Elementary School. And I also want to talk about silly things…you know, beauty.

Who’s been your favorite guest so far?

I have three: Justin Bieber was my favorite guest because…it was like interviewing Michael Jackson in his time as “Michael Jackson.” I interviewed him at his most famous [point] in his life. I took it seriously, and he was comfortable and happy…

Coco, Ice-T’s wife, was fun because she has this famous ass, and I ended up making a whole big theatrical, dramatic moment out of putting a blinged-out coaster and a glass with ice and then drinking a Skinnygirl cocktail off of her ass. It showed the highs and lows of the show.

I loved having Denis Leary on because I used to cook for him, so that was full-circle. It’s like, look at where I’ve come from. I used to be in a trailer cooking for him, and now he’s on my talk show.

Who’s your dream guest?

Mark Zuckerberg is my dream guest. Seth MacFarlane is my new cute-crush-dream-guest. Also P!nk and Amanda Bynes, who is going through something. I know that she would feel safe with me. I have a decent shot at having a real conversation with her, because she’s read my book, she’s tweeted me, she’s aware of me.

Are there certain topics you’re particularly excited to tackle with viewers?

I’m excited to talk about marriage, divorce, infidelity, motherhood, how to start a business, dating, and tips. You don’t always have to be the prettiest woman in the room, but you want to be the most interesting woman in the room.

You definitely talk a lot about career. You’re a big advocate of women promoting themselves in the workplace. Have you read Lean In?

I’m reading it to get through it. I don’t like that we come out of the gate with all of these statistics that if we keep going this way, women are not at all going to be in the workplace. [Sheryl Sandberg] acknowledges that women have kids and that despite that, we can still be these mavericks in the workplace. I know that there’s a good percentage of people who went to Harvard and decided just to be moms—and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think they went to Harvard because that was the best school and they were overachievers and this is the trajectory that they were on. And then they had kids and didn’t want to work that hard. Some people just don’t want to work that hard. It’s exhausting. Part of me doesn’t want to work this hard… But, I think it’s fifty-fifty. Fifty percent of women probably want that identity at the playground, but I don’t ultimately know that that makes them happy. Some people do want to be moms and do other things later. And it doesn’t have to be such a big deal.

And it’s such a personal decision. There are few, if any, hard and fast rules that can be applied to everyone’s work-life balance.

I haven’t finished the book, but I don’t really get how Sandberg says it’s so rewarding. She never really addresses how thrilled she is with her career and that she loves her life. She’s always talking about working 18 hours, being away from her kids, her husband cutting her slack. And she makes a nice living, but sometimes she would feel bad and cry because she hadn’t seen her kid. I would not be able to deal with that, and I’m a pretty successful businesswoman, but I see my kid all the time. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do any of this. She’s kind of just scaring us into needing to get back into the workplace and break the ceiling, because otherwise it’s going to be all about the men. And I get that, but I didn’t see anything very compelling. She can help other women who don’t have a voice or who don’t feel like they can speak up to their superiors. I didn’t have that problem.

I don’t like this whole gender conversation in general… It’s too much to have a conversation about what we’re not getting; just go get it. I’m not into the “woe is me.”

But I could not do this if I didn’t have this flexible schedule. I could not be working in some office on Fifth Avenue from nine in the morning to six o’clock at night with a kid. I could not mentally handle that. So, find your way through it, whatever that is.

Did you have any mentors who showed you the way?

I feel like I should make somebody up, but no. Nobody. No one has it figured out. I don’t even know what anyone else is doing. I don’t look at anybody else.

What inspired you to write your new book, Skinnygirl Solutions: Your Straight-Up Guide to Home, Health, Family, Career, Style, and Sex?

It’s, coincidentally, a blueprint for the talk show. We’re all trying to figure out how to navigate a day without being bogged down with so much information, so we need a crystallized, mental toolbox… The book is really user-friendly and I don’t want it to feel overwhelming. It talks about things like purging your closet, your kids’ toys—and how over-sensitized [kids] are because it all accumulates. Every time a parent wants to get their kid to stop crying or feel better about themselves as a parent, they buy their kid a ten-dollar stuffed animal. Then there are 7,000 stuffed animals, all these toys, all this crap in your house. They end up having stuff from when their kid, who is now 8, was 3 years old. So the book is just saying: Take it from a different perspective.

On the very first page of the book, you say, “I thought fame would be fun, but it changed me a little.” Can you tell us more?

I used to talk to everybody on planes, in restaurants, and I don’t anymore because everyone gossips and everything I say gets out. You have to be more guarded, especially when you’re in the heat of the press. Before I was famous, I was always the person who was like, “What’d you order? How is that?” It’s not like I don’t talk to people—I do—but in general I’m not the first to be jumping into conversations with people I don’t know.

Some days you’re out with your daughter and you just want to walk into a park, but there are all of these cameras following you and you feel self-conscious. You feel like it’s weird to go and start talking to some other mom, because some camera is going to start following you and take pictures of all of you. So you stay to yourself and you retreat a little. So you tend to hang out with people you’ve known for a long time, who you feel comfortable with.

When we first interviewed you three years ago, you were pregnant with your daughter, Bryn. You said you wanted to be a “calm mother who is communicative.” Have you been able to achieve that?

Definitely. I don’t have much noise about being a parent. I just love to be with my child all the time…We have a great connection and a lot of fun. That’s one area that I’m pretty calm about.

What are the joys and challenges of being a parent for you?

The joys are just purity—you never get to see something so pure and simple. It simplifies things, because I have so many decisions to make and so many obligations, being pulled in so many directions. Being a mom is the only thing that keeps you centered and you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing and how you’re supposed to be doing it, and that you’re doing the right thing. And everything else becomes a little quiet.

My challenges are…knowing my age and that I may not be able to have another child…just wanting to maximize every minute. The one consistent thing that everybody says is that it goes by quickly. So you really just want to enjoy every part of it.

So what have been some of your life’s biggest lessons?

Never assume anyone is smarter than you. The Skinnygirl Margarita was the greatest concept. I knew it was a good idea, and all the big guns didn’t want to do it. So I did it on my own. And all those people ended up wanting to buy me or copy me. So play your own game. In relationships, go with your gut, not with your head or your heart.

Speaking of your heart, are you interested in dating? Would you ever date someone who’s in the public eye?

I don’t know if I’m ready to date someone. I can’t imagine meeting someone that I don’t know and starting over. Then again, I meet people all the time and I like people. I’m sort of not looking for it in the next couple of years…who knows. I don’t know if someone really private would understand this life, but I don’t know if I want someone as chaotic as me. I like a businessperson, a person who is achieved, accomplished, passionate, who’s striving to make a difference. I think I underestimated that in the past.

Someone more like you?

They don’t have to be more like me, but maybe fundamentally so—they’re interested in making change and creative ideas.

Do you think you’ll be a lifelong New Yorker? Is New York where your heart is?

It is now where my heart is. New York gave me so many things. My child, my career, my success… Right now, I’m feeling really good about New York, planting roots here, so I think I’m going to be here.

What are some of your favorite things to do around the city?

I just found the John Jay Park on [the Upper East Side]. Tribeca has a water park in it. I like the carousel in Central Park; getting tea at Eloise at the Plaza, Alice’s Tea Cup, Dylan’s Candy Bar, Sugar and Plumm. I like the children’s museums—both in Soho and the Upper West Side.

Do you have any advice for separated or divorced parents who are raising young children?

Have your own quality time with your child. Realize that this is just a moment in time… You [may be] beating yourself up more than [you should]. This moment reflects such a small percentage of their whole life.

Where do you turn to for parenting advice?

I’ve never read any parenting books. I don’t really give unsolicited advice and I don’t really take it. I mean, if it’s a medical thing, then you go to the doctor or you look online; if it’s a logistical thing like a camp or a school or a class, then that’s something you ask another mom when you’re picking up your kid at school. What’s funny is that I’ve had a lot of people come up to me, freaked out about so many things—potty training and sleeping—and they seem so anxiety ridden and they just want the right answer. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. As women, we’re instinctive creatures; we should go with our gut. Not with your head, not with your heart, but with your gut. You know the right thing to do.

Bethenny” will air starting Monday, September 9 at 11am on FOX 5.

To read Bethenny’s “Ultimate Mom” Tips, click here.

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