HOLLYWOOD — It's barely 8:30 in the morning, but a perfectly-coiffed Joan Rivers, in a tailored metallic gold jacket with fur collar and dripping in jewelry, looks like an affluent, plastic-surgery lovin' lady-who-lunches on her way to lunch.
Until she opens her mouth. Then the Joan we know and love comes forth.
At 80, Rivers remains one of the hardest-working entertainers in show business, so it's not surprising that she's first on the set of Fashion Police, sitting in her customary chair, rehearsing lines as she looks into a teleprompter before the panel — Kelly Osbourne, George Kostiopoulos and Dancing With The Stars contestant Christina Milian, who is subbing for regular Giuliana Rancic on this episode — arrive.
Why has Fashion Police been so successful? "We love each other as a group," Rivers explains. "And E! lets us say just about anything."
For the next two-and-a-half hours, during a recent taping of the hit E! show, Rivers is all business, with a lot of laughs in-between. Make no mistake: It may be called Fashion Police, but it's the Joan Rivers show. Without her sometimes tasteless, always acerbic putdowns of foolishly-dressed notables, the show would be a real snoozefest.
During a break Rivers engages in conversation with the 30 or so "guests" on the set. Because the studio located in a nondescript office building that houses most of the E! operations is so tiny, there is not room for much of an audience. Since the show has become a hit in the U.S. and is shown in 160 countries, parent company NBC Universal has offered a much bigger studio on the Universal lot, Rivers says, but she won't move from this studio where the show has been taped for three years. "I'm superstitious," she says.
CultureMap was allowed to observe a recent taping, with a plea not to reveal too much about how the magic happens. A TV taping can be tedious and a bit messy — it's a bit like watching sausage being made — but Fashion Police proceeds crisply, although the segments are shot out of order and, occasionally someone muffs a line, so it has to be re-shot.
The "guests" on this day are predominately gay, as are many of the show's regular viewers, and the show's warm-up comic Nina Manni and head writer Tony Tripoli urge us to laugh heartily, which isn't that hard to do. "I need you to all embrace your inner gay man and get rowdy like you're at the Abbey after three martinis," Manni says, refering to a popular Los Angeles bar.
(Upon hearing we're from Houston, Tripoli reveals that relatives started the Truluck's chain of seafood restaurants. "I'm in the wrong line of business," he laments.)
To keep our stomachs from growling at the early hour, a large basket filled with chocolate bars and assorted candies is passed around, and as a reward for attending the show we receive a plastic sheriff's badge, officially designating us as a member of the "Joan Rangers."
As any viewer of the show knows, many of Rivers' jokes skirt the edge, and we are told to laugh even if we find a joke shocking. On this show, Rivers picks on regular targets Anne Hathaway, Tom Cruise, Peter Dinklage, Paula Deen, Oprah Winfrey, Betty White and the Kardashian clan in an especially funny joke about Kim and Kanye that is too R-rated to recount here.
Overseeing it all is Rivers' daughter Melissa, who stands behind a camera and communicates with the control room while finding time to banter with the audience about her tattoos, boob jobs and love of shoes. Melissa is wearing a killer pair of Chloe ankle booties, which she proudly shows us during a break.
It's our lucky day because instead of featuring a no-name starlet, a staple of the show as it expanded to an hour, comedienne Margaret Cho is a guest and she and Rivers easily exchange jokes like the pro's they are for a good 10 to 15 minutes. Only about three minutes of their conversation makes it into the televised show. (Off camera, Cho and Osbourne, who are both heavily tattooed, show off their favorites.)
During a break, Rivers takes questions for the audience, talking about Michael Jackson, Cher, what she wears and why the show has been so successful. "We love each other as a group," she explains. "And E! lets us say just about anything."
Jimmy Kimmel's world
I was hoping to also get a behind-the-scenes look at Jimmy Kimmel Live! and made that clear with the show's publicity team. But when I arrived for the 4:30 p.m. taping of the popular late-night ABC show, a publicist escorted me and a guest to the green room, where drinks and food were available, along with an adjoining game room, with pool table and old-fashioned video games. She told us to watch the show here and about 15 minutes before it ended, she would escort us to an outdoor stage to watch John Mayer perform.
Even though we were disappointed, it's hard to complain when you're in a room with free food and booze — along with a TV that shows NFL football games on a rival network.
When I protested, she explained there were only 180 seats in the auditorium. Then she disappeared and we never saw her again.
Even though we were disappointed, it's hard to complain when you're in a room with free food and booze — along with a TV that shows NFL football games on a rival network. By the time the Kimmel show started taping at 6 p.m. (despite the title, it's not "live," although it is taped as if it is) and the TVs in the green room switched to his show, nobody was paying attention. Which is just as well, because it seemed like an off night for the talk show host, with an opening monologue that fell flat and only the charisma-challenged Mayer and a supporting actress in the ABC soap, Scandal, on hand as guests.
We stayed around to watch Mayer perform on the Sony Studio Stage. On TV, it looks like the stage is on a cool rooftop, but it's actually in a depressing asphalt parking lot behind the Kimmel studio on Hollywood Boulevard. Kimmel introduced Mayer and then quickly disappeared (it was a Thursday night and Kimmel doesn't work on Fridays) and, after two Mayer songs, we vanished, too.