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Bethenny Frankel is a creature of TV, specifically the reality-TV genre. (Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail)
Bethenny Frankel is a creature of TV, specifically the reality-TV genre. (Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail)

John Doyle

I'm gobsmacked by the brilliantly sassy Bethenny Frankel Add to ...

Bethenny Frankel has a big mouth and a sassy attitude. She’s my new crush.

Okay, not crush exactly. That would be inappropriate. I wasn’t even sure who Frankel was until I moseyed over to the SLS Hotel here in Beverly Hills the other day to listen to her talk up her new daytime chat show, Bethenny (it will air on CTV in September). The SLS is a lovely spot, by the way, where the bartender gives you an extra-large Jack Daniels if you go all, “Jeez no, not one those girly cocktails!” I know this for a fact.

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But, not knowing much about Frankel I was kinda gobsmacked. She strode into the room, all heels and leather skirt and began talking about this and that. Apparently there’s been some negative coverage regarding a personal assistant who was fired from the production crew of the upcoming show.

“I don’t care about the press,” Frankel said. At this, one critic got up, as if to leave. He was just kidding. Bethenny Frankel is the sort of person you can joke with. Once she quit giggling about the press leaving the room she said: “Is there anybody in this room I can sleep with tonight?” She was, ah, joking. I think.

She’s a transfixing figure, is Bethenny. A creature of TV, specifically the reality-TV genre. An example of someone with the rare gift of translating fleeting TV fame into a media empire and, like, total stardom of the kind that generates monstrous love/hate coverage. Or as Frankel told us, with some satisfaction: “I’m a polarizing figure!” This happened, in part, because she has more sass than any person seems reasonably capable of containing. It’s a career powered entirely by the force of her own sass.

According to her official bio, Frankel’s connection to the TV racket began when she had a lowly job as a production assistant on the execrable sitcom Saved by the Bell. Next thing you knew, if you cared at all, she was a contestant on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart and was runner-up in the battle to be the next Martha Stewart, or something. Then came her breakout work on The Real Housewives of New York City from 2008 to 10. From this, somehow, sprung her SkinnyGirl empire. Bestselling books such as Naturally Thin: Unleash Your SkinnyGirl and Free Yourself from a Lifetime of Dieting were published and sold millions. There is also, Lord save us, her SkinnyGirl cocktail company. Recipes for low-cal Sweet ’N Tart Grapefruit Margarita and such. They are unspeakable. I tried one. Hence the Jack Daniels to erase the taste.

But, like I’d know from SkinnyGirl cocktails. According to my diligent research afterward, Frankel sold her SkinnyGirl cocktail company for, oh, around $100-million (U.S.).

Her marriages, divorces and romances amount to a narrative so tangled as to be utterly incomprehensible to the uninitiated. At the press conference she was asked about the situation of Teresa Giudice and Teresa’s husband, Joe. These people are unknown to me. Later I discovered Teresa is a “star” on The Real Housewives of New Jersey, and she and Joe were indicted for fraud last week. The room was hushed as Frankel delivered her thoughts: “My first thought today was, ‘Oh, if they weren’t on reality TV, none of this would probably ever be exposed.’ And it’s just funny how certain people are a moth to a flame. It’s almost like – not that you want to get caught – but people who love to be in the spotlight often have a lot of skeletons in their closet. It’s just an interesting thing. Do I feel sorry for them? No, I don’t. Not so much, because it [whatever they did, which is unproven] broke the law. You broke the law and you went on television. That’s not really that smart.”

Not smart like Bethenny Frankel. Last year her chat show was given a trial run on some stations. It went over well and now it’s going national. We were shown some examples. In one, Frankel interviewed model/actress Coco Austin (another reality-TV star, her life with actor Ice T being documented for some channel or other) and announced that she wanted to feel up Coco’s famous derriere. This she did and then she used the derriere as a cocktail table to hold some drinks. From the screaming reaction of the adoring audience of young women, this was hilarity itself. Frankel said she wants her show to be “a bachelorette party every day.” Asked if this meant her show was not aimed at men, she demurred, as if this perspective had suddenly occurred to her. She then had a thought: “Lots of good-looking women to look at in the audience,” she said.

What the studio audience and viewers will get is a lot of risqué talk and there always seems to be a posse of young hunky men on the show, doing nothing apart from looking hunky. Also of note is the fact that Mike Darnell, the genius who created so many of the Fox network’s outrageous reality shows, from Joe Millionaire to Temptation Island, is now in charge of reality TV at Warner Bros., which produces Bethenny. Who knows what madness will result.

We live in a golden age of TV. Great cable dramas abound. And then there’s what happens in the afternoons, on chat shows like Bethenny. That too is part of this age of TV. Bethenny Frankel may well be part of the reality-TV culture that threw Sarah Palin into the spotlight, emphasizing the ordinary over the talented or highly educated, but it is a fascinating, freakish world.

And if it were appropriate, Bethenny would be my new crush. Hard to resist the sass, even if the cocktails are unspeakable.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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