Growing up as the daughter of one of the most iconic comediennes of all time could not have been easy, yet Melissa Rivers has managed to carve her own place in the Hollywood landscape as a producer and television personality herself, coming after nearly a decade of co-hosting the red carpet fashion rundowns on E! and the TV GUIDE channel with her mother Joan. Her (mostly) behind-the-scenes work as a producer on E!'s weekly FASHION POLICE show starring Joan is just half of her duties, as she also stars in and produces the new WE reality series JOAN & MELISSA: JOAN KNOWS BEST? Also, she manages to find the time to be a single mom and confidant to her legendary mother - and clean up after camera crews. I was lucky enough to speak to Melissa over the weekend in anticipation of tonight's special edition FASHION POLICE: S.A.G. AWARDS on E! and Tuesday's JOAN & MELISSA: JOAN KNOWS BEST? on WE. Also, be sure to check out my weekend feature interview with Joan Rivers, as well.
PC: It's so great to talk to you today, Melissa.
MR: Finally! I'm so glad you got to talk to Grandmama, as well. (Laughs.)
PC: I did, and it was magnificent! I have to say, my must-see DVR item is always, without fail, FASHION POLICE. You have really honed the very best version of the show ever.
MR: Oh, thank you, thank you.
PC: It is the funniest show on TV, no question, as well.
MR: Well, then, you have to add JOAN & MELISSA: JOAN KNOWS BEST? to your TiVo list!
PC: Your mom was telling me that you have filmed eight episodes already of that and told me about the hassle of the cameras following her around constantly.
MR: No, no, no. We're done filming. (Pause.) Uh, oh! Mom must have stopped taking her meds if she still thinks there's cameras following her around! (Laughs.)
MR: You just scared me! I was thinking, "Oh, no! It's not ‘that time' is it?" (Laughs.)
PC: What was it like having the camera crew following you around? A real hassle? Your mom was telling me that you took to it differently...
MR: It's... odd. You know, I think that for my mom it was easier because she had already done the documentary.
PC: The brilliant Joan Rivers: A PIECE OF WORK.
MR: Yes. What struck me the most, though, is things like... audio? It's like, you can't have the washing machine running all day!
PC: No way! How inconvenient.
MR: You're telling me! You can't have all these things happening all day while they're filming. You're still trying to run your house, you know?
PC: So that was the biggest challenge, accommodating the crew?
MR: That's what I found to be the most difficult for me. You have between 10 PM and 6 AM to get your vacuuming done and your laundry done and all that stuff.
PC: And the crew uses your facilities?
MR: Yeah, because they were at my house.
PC: So you have to clean up after them, too? Four guys?
MR: I wish it was only four! But, I do have to say, they were very tidy.
PC: What was the most fun thing you did together? The blind date? Your nude modeling?
MR: What was the most fun was - (Laughs. Hysterical Voice.) when she went back to New York and I got my house back!
PC: Joan did say that distance makes the heart grow fonder and everyone needs a break.
MR: Yeah, but that's just the mother/daughter or father/son dynamic. And, it's not like I am living in my mom's environment - she's living in mine!
PC: The tables have turned!
MR: It's very hard for someone to be in that position, I mean, what's she going to say? "You're grounded. Go back to your house!" She's not one to relinquish any control of any of her surroundings. But, for me, it's like: wait a second, it's my house! I call the shots, not you!
PC: Joan Rivers: A PIECE OF WORK is one of the best entertainment documentaries I've ever seen and we sort of get a little preview of this new show in that. What do you think of that film?
MR: It's fantastic.
PC: Did you get to see a rough cut at any point? I would kill to see a longer cut.
MR: No, I only have the same stuff you guys have.
PC: I'm glad it got the reviews it deserved - all raves. Do you think it will ultimately be a part of your mom's legacy, a hundred years from now?
MR: I think it's great. It's a fantastic, fantastic documentary. It's an fantastic chronicling of who my mother is.
PC: Do you think her YouTube clips will keep introducing her to new generations - like they have mine? Do you watch them?
MR: Obviously, growing up, it's one of those things where it's like: this is my mom. It's not until you are older that you realize that she has this significance in pop culture. I have the originals; I have the vault; I have the library - I lived it. (Pause.) So, yes, it's fantastic that these research materials are out there.
PC: What a fascinating perspective. Liza Minnelli said a very similar thing to me when I asked her about her mother's clips on YouTube introducing her to a new generation.
MR: It's your parent.
PC: Right. As she said, "I lived it."
MR: Right. Totally. I lived it.
PC: And your memories of Joan Rivers are of her as your mother - not the star?
MR: Yeah, and, the other, further thing is that: your parent is a legend, but you never, ever look at them that way. And, they never behave that way. Does that make sense?
PC: Complete and total. Do you find your mom puts on a face for the public?
MR: I think anyone in this business does.
PC: Do you?
MR: Listen, I was raised kind of in-between eras where there wasn't this huge paparazzi presence. So, I was raised with the idea that if you go out in public, you behave accordingly.
PC: With proper undergarments.
MR: Exactly! I'm never gonna leave the house without underwear on! You know, you go out and it is part of your job - even if it is on your private time - I was raised to believe that you should never have an argument in public. Unfortunately, it does happen, but, nowadays, there is so little privacy that, of course, you are very aware.
PC: You and your mom are largely responsible for creating the whole celebreality culture that is so pervasive in all of news today. After all, it was the first time anyone did a fashion critique live on the red carpet at the Oscars. Now, ten years later, we are saturated with it. Tell me your thoughts.
MR: Well, you know, now, it's like, "So, do you want to come back and do the red carpet?" And the answer is always, "No!" We've done it. We left the party while it was still good.
PC: You started the party.
MR: We started the party and we left while it was still good. And, it's not that it's not good now, but it's predictable. There's too many stylists. Everyone looks the same. Everything is rehearsed. There's so much of, like, if you aren't nice to one client of a publicist, they won't let you talk to any of their other clients now. It's all this absurd trade-off. (Pause.) It's become so homogenous - in personality and style. That's why when certain people come up and are funny and loose - like a George Clooney or a Tom Hanks or a Robin Williams - you talk about it.
PC: What was the best memory of your red carpet years?
MR: Oh, there are so, so many. It's almost easier sometimes to remember worst experiences.
PC: Those work, too!
MR: OK, Tommy Lee Jones.
PC: What happened?
MR: Nothing in particular happened, but he just hates doing it and he's so miserable and then there's this arrogance. It's like, "I'm unhappy and I hate doing this so I'm going to make this as unpleasant as possible for everyone, as well." And, I just feel like, "Dude, we're just doing a job." And, what makes it worse is I am such a fan of his work.
PC: It helps when everyone pitches in just a little bit.
MR: Tiny bit.
PC: That's all it takes.
MR: I understand there is more gravitas at the Academy Awards than at the Golden Globes or the SAGs or the Grammys, but how can you not feel, "God, isn't it fabulous to be here?" Enjoy it - and let us see you enjoying it! We want to feel that excitement and take the ride with you! And, everyone is just so, so controlled. (Pause. Robot Voice.) "Yes," "No," "Please," "Thank You!" I just felt like, at the end, "Oh my God, I'm going crazy!"
PC: The unrehearsed moments make it all worth it. Why do you think the stars listen to the people telling them to clam up?
MR: I think they are so frightened and controlled. They're afraid of doing something silly and that people will talk about it.
PC: It's not easy to establish instant, live rapport in a red carpet interview either.
MR: Well, going back to your original question that ties right into this: What makes FASHION POLICE so great is that I believe I run a happy set and I know my mom and the co-hosts enjoy talking together and love having fun. As much work as we put into the show, the cookie is tape day. We all look forward to it.
PC: That comes through in spades - you love the collaboration. It's a party atmosphere.
MR: Right. It's to the point where, like, Giuliana will cover her eyes when the next joke comes up on the teleprompter because she wants to hear my mom deliver it.
PC: Your mom has at least forty killing jokes per episode.
MR: George always is saying to me, "Oh my God, I can't to hear your mom's joke about so-and-so - but, don't tell me! I want it to be a surprise!"
PC: Why don't you make it a five-person panel like THE VIEW?
MR: Someone has to be the cat wrangler. (Pause.) Have you ever tried to wrangle cats?
PC: It sounds really difficult.
MR: It's like, "Everyone! Stop having fun and look at me! All eyes on me!" And I tell them what to do next and then the fun starts again.
PC: So, take me through the taping: it's about an hour-long show that is filmed live usually cut down to a half hour for air? Sort of like improv. theatre.
MR: Yeah, they're constantly off-script. There is no script, really. So, I'm constantly, "Class, what are we talking about?" And, I'm constantly saying, "I'm so glad so-and-so was seen wearing this-and-that, but I don't have a picture of that so save it for next week!"
PC: How do you pick the pictures and select the subjects each week?
MR: We just try to get a really well-balanced show with interesting clothes and people we like talking about. We like having an age range; we make sure there is TV, movie and music people - a really well-balanced show. We, surprisingly, have a really, really wide demographic so we try to satisfy as much of that as possible.
PC: Who are the riskiest fashion icons right now?
MR: Blake Lively is at the top right now, I think.
PC: What about the fashion icons of the twenty-first century? Who will always look like a movie star?
MR: Scarlett. Eva Mendes.
PC: Scarlett Johansson has done this column, you know.
MR: That is so, so cool. She's one of the biggest fashion icons right now. (Long Pause.) Those are the only two that come to mind that are always on.
PC: Who do you find you are featuring on the show the most?
MR: We have a lot of Blake Lively, a lot of Scarlett, a lot - always - of Halle Berry.
PC: What do you think of your mom's ultimate comedy legacy - stand-up or red carpet or just her overall personality?
MR: My boyfriend Jason and I were just talking about this last night - that all great comedians are a little bit crazy. Lenny Bruce. Richard Pryor. All of them.
PC: Your mom and I were just talking about them in comparison to her own legacy, actually. Interesting.
MR: I just taped this thing for LOPEZ TONIGHT and George and I were trying to figure out who wasn't completely demented of the great comedians. (Laughs.)
PC: Do you think being in the tabloids and always on TV sealed your mom's legacy - or was it other things?
MR: As long as you stay current and address current topics you will stay relevant. I think it's about relevancy. She is always, always relevant.
PC: Magazines are always behind the times because they have a three-day printing/mailing turn-around. FASHION POLICE airs less than 24 hours after it's filmed.
MR: Right. Plus, you never try to be cutting-edge - you either get there or you don't. You can't consciously do it.
PC: Speaking of cutting edge: what's coming up fashion-wise?
MR: You can't predict! You can only think, "What's the next way to skin this cat?"
PC: What can we expect at the Grammys?
MR: Grammys you can never predict. It's wild.
MR: Very saturated reds or very pink greens. A lot of fleshy colors, too.
PC: What about the DYNASTY look ala Angelina Jolie and Anne Hathaway at the Golden Globes?
MR: You better know how to carry that, ladies!
PC: Are the eighties back - even for men?
MR: Please. I don't want the eighties to ever come back! I am not a fan of the look. I am just pretending it's not happening. (Laughs.)
PC: Not happening.
MR: It's just not happening in my world. (Laughs.) Sorry.
PC: Is Broadway the most glamorous of art forms?
MR: Yes. Yes. And, there's such a cache. You know, when you hear one of the actors is, (Whispers.) "Going to Broadway!" It's like, you know, they really have the chops.
PC: Would you ever produce or invest in a Broadway show like your mom is with PRISCILLA?
MR: I would like to observe and learn, but I think it's like asking someone in PR to go sketch, you know? Just because you can do some things, you can't do others. It would be a big learning curve. But, it's not something I would ever do at my mother's expense, that's for darn sure.
PC: So, what is it like to wear both hats - being onscreen as a personality and off-screen as a hands-on producer - on both FASHION POLICE and JOAN KNOWS BEST?
MR: We have to be very disciplined and be able to say when we don't know best in a certain situation, so we do defer to the powers-that-be when appropriate.
PC: So, there's no chance the network will turn either into a car-wreck because you are really running the shows.
MR: Yes, we were all very much on the same page as far as what the endgame was going to be with JOAN & MELISSA and I am very, very hands-on with FASHION POLICE.
PC: That's quite rare - especially on a reality show.
MR: But, they did override us a number of times [on JOAN & MELISSA].
PC: Give me an example.
PC: At one point, my mom and I had a huge fight about something. I was like, "I do not want that in there!" and they were like, "Sorry. It's in."
PC: Was it a repeat of your final APPRENTICE?
MR: (Laughs.) Almost! It was a pretty big battle. (Pause.) It was so real and so bad and so difficult that I could barely believe it. I couldn't even watch the raw footage. I couldn't deal with it. I couldn't watch it. I couldn't relive it.
PC: What ultimately happened?
MR: They said, "Look, we're gonna take a pass at it and you watch what we come back with. If you are comfortable with that, then fine." So, eventually, they came back with it and I said, "More than I would have liked, but I can live with it."
PC: At least they gave you input.
MR: I think they were just being polite and letting me feel like I could say, "Don't do it!" I mean, I'm not stupid. Anyway, in the heat of the moment you never think rationally. So, then, I put my producer hat on and tried to look at it differently.
PC: It's essentially a show about two strong women, your mom said.
MR: Right. This is really about our relationship as a mother and daughter and sticking it out living together. And, actually, it's really timely because of all the economic problems, a lot of people have had to move back in with their parents or had their parents move in with them.
PC: The plight of my entire generation. Do you think reality TV is around for the long haul?
MR: I think it's here to stay. I think there's a great mix of stuff on a number of channels. I think that - like it or not - THE APPRENTICE is compelling. Plus, there's the competition shows and the singing shows and so much stuff out there.
PC: Is X FACTOR the next big reality show?
MR: I think it's gonna hit. I didn't think AMERICA'S GOT TALENT was going to hit and it did. People love having someone to root for. It's the same principle in soap operas - they love hating the villain. It's just now that instead of actors it's real people.
PC: Pseudo-real people.
MR: Well, on IDOL or THE BACHELORETTE or whatever - it's, you know, "That could be me!" It's identifiable.
PC: Are the created personalities dangerous though? Everyone knows, essentially, that what you see is what you get with you and your mom. It's not an act. There's a difference between you and your mom and New York and The Situation.
MR: I think it depends upon the person and whether they can handle it - and, whether or not they get caught up in their own sh*t. You know, "You are not all that and always remember to say please and thank you."
PC: You don't take anything for granted.
MR: Never, ever, ever.
PC: Last question: what are you reading right now?
MR: Oh, my god. I am reading this book on Allan Carr, PARTY ANIMALS, and it's just amazing. So many people are in it and it's so fascinating.
PC: Theatre people?
MR: Oh, yeah! Michael Bennett is in it and Marvin Hamlisch is in it and a lot about A CHORUS LINE.
PC: OK, I have to say that I hope someone on the panel gets sick soon so you can fill in on FASHION POLICE again!
MR: Well, I guess a little flu bug wouldn't hurt! (Laughs.)
PC: Thanks for this great conversation and all my best to you and your mom with these two huge hits! You've earned it!
MR: Thank you, Pat. It was so easy and fun to talk to you! Bye bye, dear!
Photo Credit: Walter McBride/WM Photos