One recent lunchtime I went on TV for a few minutes. This isn't a regular occurrence. Television appearances are a cumbersome, time-consuming experience if you're a print journalist. But it can be an educational experience.
As I went into the Toronto building that houses CP24 and other channels I realized the walls were almost shaking. The audience for CTV's daytime chat show The Social was being escorted into the studio and there was a fierce amount of shrieking going on. Cover-your-ears shrieking. Exactly why this was happening was unknown to me, but the atmosphere was febrile. Daytime TV. Who knew?
Most daytime chat shows follow the same format. The Social, as with The View and The Talk and The Chat, feature a group of women engaged in staged debating of political and social topics and interviewing celebrity guests. It's all very formulaic and there hasn't been a truly disruptive daytime talk show since Oprah Winfrey closed her syndicated show to launch her own channel.
Every now and then there is a news item about backroom shenanigans and feuding on these shows. Sometimes, the shows actually diss each other publicly. The genre is almost always portrayed as an arena of high-octane snark and scheming.
Daytime Divas (Monday, Bravo, 10 p.m.) is a new satiric drama that sends-up such shows. It's a curious kind of hybrid – part spoof and part loving depiction of the characters. It is "inspired" by the book Satan's Sisters … A Novel Work of Fiction written by Star Jones, TV personality, lawyer and journalist who spent time on The View.
The gist is this: a fictional show called The Lunch Hour airs on network TV every weekday at noon and the five women who co-host it try to get along while backstabbing each other and having tumultuous personal lives. They are Maxine (Vanessa Williams), Mo (Tichina Arnold), Heather (Fiona Gubelmann), Kibby (Chloe Bridges), and Nina (Camille Guaty) and when they're not on-set sitting at a table to chat about life, love, politics, fashion and celebrity gossip, they are complaining about their roles on the show or self-destructing.
In what is sometimes a very broadly comic show, Williams plays the Barbara Walters-type Maxine with aplomb. She runs a tight ship, the show being produced by her son, and her diva behaviour tends to be confined to plastic surgery and shrewdness about making her chat show the subject of gossip as much as it is a forum for chat.
The opening episode has a big 'ol ridiculous twist to set things up. Maxine goes into a coma during a routine hospital procedure and the others bicker and battle about their roles in a Maxine-less future. Inevitably Maxine comes out of the coma quickly and her son is delighted to inform her, "You were trending on Twitter ahead of Beyoncé!" When Maxine gazes at the show proceeding without her she drawls, "Those ungrateful bitches." That gives you the flavour of the thing.
At the same time, there is an attempt to make the spoofing drama element close to reality. The strongest, loudest co-host is Mo, a comedian with a vicious tongue. (Think Whoopi Goldberg with some edge.) She's secretly having an affair with a young PA on the show and this mostly involves them having sex in her car. Turns out, though, the kid is a bit in love with her. Former child star Kibby, who describes herself as "sexually fluid", is supposed to be drug-free and booze-free after some bizarre behaviour incident but, threatened with blackmail by a female lover, goes on a bender. Meanwhile the conservative Christian co-host Heather seems to be dealing with an abusive husband.
There is a lot going on backstage. A lot. The first episode features not one, but two, blackmail incidents. And yet there is a real connection with the backroom fighting that has happened on real daytime shows. The character of Kibby is particularly interesting since Barbara Walters is known to have made cutting remarks about "uninformed child actors" featuring on daytime talk shows rather than "smart, educated women with strong talent."
How you respond to Daytime Divas depends on how you respond to daytime TV chat shows. If you think of them as being like a talking Twitter feed, utterly unmemorable and childishly snarky, then you won't get the frisson of it all. If you are the sort to shriek at the mere thought of being in the audience for a daytime chat show, you will adore it. But if you just admire any send-up of television itself, it is very entertaining.