Preview of ‘Daytime Divas’ on VH1, shot in Atlanta, starring Vanessa Williams in ‘View’-like homage

This was posted Thursday, June 1, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

When Star Jones was on ABC’s groundbreaking female-oriented talk show “The View,” she saw plenty of back-stage intrigue and competition for airtime, for relevancy, for respect.

After nine years on the show, her contract wasn’t renewed in 2006 and she told media she felt like she was fired, catching Barbara Walters by surprise. This back and forth became gossip fodder for the tabloids.

Jones, an attorney by trade, decided to fictionalize her “View” experience a few years back in a best-selling novel “Satan’s Sisters.” She then pitched it as a TV project, which VH1 picked up and softened the title to “Daytime Divas.” Shot in Atlanta, it debuts Monday at 10 p.m. for a 10-episode first season.

The show is a plot-packed dramedy, a less fizzy version of “Desperate Housewives” in a workplace setting. And the comparisons to “The View” are impossible to avoid. Maxine Robinson (Vanessa Williams) is the coldly calculating matriarch of “The Lunch Hour,” similar in stature to Walters. Her biggest rival is Mo Evans (played with vim and vigor by Tichina Arnold) as the conniving comic with a big ego and a significant lack of gratitude toward her boss.

Jones said in an interview that no particular character or story line is a direct steal from “The View” but come from her 25 years of experience in media.

“I’ve been in every green room and make-up room in New York and Los Angeles,” she said. “I’ve been interviewed by every host. I have more stories that I could ever use on a TV show.”

Williams’ character is the centerpiece, the woman Jones envisioned while writing the character in her book. “I wanted Dominique Deveraux, played by Diahann Carroll on ‘Dynasty.’ An elegant, strong, beautiful black woman who appreciated the finer things in life.  When you visualize a modern day version, the only person that comes to mind is Vanessa Williams.”

Fortunately, the two women were friends and Jones didn’t have to work hard to convince Williams to take the role.

“Maxine is in the seat of power,” Jones said. “She had to struggle and claw her way to the top. She is a bit of Barbara, a bit of Oprah, a bit of Diane Sawyer. We address issues like aging on camera and jockeying for the top chair and networks looking for the next new thing.” And her name Maxine Robinson is a direct homage to Max Robinson, the first African-American evening news anchor in the late 1970s.

“I’ve had some diva-licious roles,” noted Williams in a separate interview, acknowledging her time as Wilhelmina Slater, a vindictive schemer on ABC’s “Ugly Betty” from 2006 to 2010. “I knew exactly what she wanted. I’ve worked behind the scenes as a guest co host on ‘The View.’ I knew Barbara. I know that whole world well. It was an easy transition to slide into that role.”

FOR MORE: Entertainment Weekly’s review: more messy than fun

FOR MORE: Read my 2015 interview with Star Jones about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Arnold’s character is closest to, say, Cookie on “Empire.” Originally, Jones said, Mo was supposed to be a caustic, overweight Irish stand-up comic, closer in spirit to Joy Behar. Instead, Arnold came in and “chewed up the scenery,” Jones said. She is more like Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd and Rosie O’Donnell mixed into one, “always hugging that line of good taste.”

The cast also includes the serious journalist in Nina Sandoval (Camille Guaty), who brings to a mind, say, Lisa Ling back in the day.  “She’s my alter ego,” said Jones. “She’s too smart for the room. That could be Star at times.” Yet she piles on more hubris and lies than any of the other cast members, Jones notes.

Jones also raved about Fiona Gubelmann playing Heather Flynn-Kellog, the pious Christian conservative who privately supports her transgender son. Jones said transgender issues are now “water-cooler talk” but she wanted to ensure the show treats the topic with respect even in context of a comedy.

She might vaguely remind viewers of Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Finally, there’s troubled child star Kibby Ainsley (Chloe Bridges), who doesn’t quite fit into any particular “View” trope per se but has serious drug and alcohol issues that provide fodder galore for the show writers.

In the end, Jones said, “all the girls have some aspects of me.”

Meredith Vieira, Star Jones, Joy Behar Debbie Matenopoilos and Barbara Walters in the early days of “The View.” CREDIT: ABC

With the cancellation of Lifetime’s “Devious Maids” last year, executive producer Josh Berman (“Drop Dead Diva”) said he believes “Daytime Divas” can fill a gap in the scripted world.

“If people are going to spend time watching a TV show, it better be distinctive,” he said. “There are very few one-hour comedies like this on TV today.”

And Berman knows that the challenge the show faces is convincing fans of reality shows like “Real Housewives” to dabble in a scripted version of lady drama. “Like those shows, the alliances on “Daytime Divas’ are always changing,” he said. “The women use each other to get what they want. They also want friendships but they’re always in flux. When we sold the show to VH1, we noted Cookie in ‘Empire.’ They have one Cookie. Five Cookies are better. They loved the notion of five very strong, very dynamic women.”

Interestingly, this fictional world also includes “The Real” and “The View.” At one point in the second episode, Maxine complained how hard it was to get her show off the ground facing skeptical TV executives. “They said ABC had ‘The View.’ How many more yapping women do we need on TV?’ ”

Tamera Mowry of “The Real” (seen locally on Fox 5) makes a cameo, throwing shade at Arnold’s character, noting “There’s no opening at ‘The Real.’ ” Jones also promises cameos from “The View” itself later in the season and she’ll pop in herself, of course.

TV PREVIEW

“Daytime Divas,” debuting Monday, June 5, 2017 at 10 p.m. on VH1

 

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