Pop Culture

Is America ready for the new Star Jones?

During most of her nine-year tenure as a co-host on “The View” most folks didn’t quite know what to make of Star Jones. Almost everything about her was over-the-top. The hair, the shameless plugs for whatever she was endorsing, the clothes that she sometimes seemingly squeezed her plus-sized figure into, the off-the-cuff remarks that few people sans pigment in their skin could really relate to. And then there was her 2004 wedding to investment banker Al Reynolds, an elaborate affair that she gushed about every day on the air in the months leading up to the nuptials.

And she unapologetically wore fur.

Yep, she could be annoying — particularly during those last two years on “The View.” It just seemed that Jones kept making a series of right turns from the left lane, not realizing that the very people she was cutting off could have perhaps been the ones to save her from herself.

But by the time she kinda, sorta started to realize this, Star’s star had already begun its initial descent. Despite on-screen denials by Barbara Walters, co-host and executive producer of “The View,” word leaked out in 2005 that Rosie O’Donnell was joining the show and that Jones’ contract was not going to be renewed. When the rumors were validated by the powers that be at ABC the next year, Jones, a former district attorney, took her case to the People — magazine, that is.

She had been fired and she was not happy.

The new Star JonesOn Sunday, however, a slimmer, sleeker, and far more sophisticated version of Jones faced the nation’s television critics and writers in a ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to chat about her rebirth. Starting Aug. 20, Jones will host “Star Jones,” a new live Court TV (soon to be truTV) talk show that sounds as though it will be a hybrid between “Judge Judy” and “Oprah.”

Many critics, however, were unwilling to accept this new incarnation of a much-maligned former TV co-host. They were still hanging onto the Star of old and treated her — with the sharp, asymmetrical haircut and Prada specs — accordingly. All kinds of sticks, stones and missiles were flung in her direction — particularly when she declined to answer the age-old questions about how she lost more than 100 pounds.

Here’s a thought. Would publishing that information put an end to global warming? I think not.

When one critic suggested that he was more interested in how she lost the weight than the content of her show, the former Brooklyn D.A. finally tossed the old dawg a somewhat tasty bone. All would be revealed in a story she has written for the September issue of Glamour magazine called “Getting Over Myself.” It hits stands on Aug. 7.

Yet, throughout that verbal onslaught Jones, who is now using her maiden name again professionally, remained amazingly unflappable. At one point after someone asked her what she would do if one of the guests on her show refused to answer a question, she joked: “I hope to handle it with the same sort of gentleness that you’ve handled me.”

The old Star might have been lightly less genteel.

‘If I can face murderers in the courtroom, I can face TV critics’About five hours after she faced hundreds of journalists Jones and I talked exclusively about that session, her year of R&R — redemption and reinvention, current events and her thoughts on the new “View,” in her suite. Dressed in a nicely cut gray shirt dress with a matching baby-doll T-shirt underneath, a barefoot Jones greeted me at the door with a hug, and like any good southern girl offered me something to eat and drink. When I declined, she plopped down on the sofa, curling her legs underneath her and immediately explained why she hadn’t lost her cool downstairs during the morning press conference.

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“Our session today was intense — very intense,” she said with a slightly hoarse voice while not ever losing eye contact. “And afterwards a lot of reporters and journalists were like ‘that was intense, sorry.’ And I was like that was OK, you were just doing your job. Don’t worry about me. That’s nothing. If I can face murderers in the courtroom, I can face TV critics.”

Given a choice, I’d opt for the murders.

While this wasn’t the first time I’d met Jones — we have mutual friends and acquaintances — I’d never really had a prolonged conversation with her. Like many people who had watched her on “The View” I, too, was a bit put off by her on-screen persona. That was up until she stuck it to her employers last year on the air.

That was one fine moment for daytime television, and for any employee who had lacked the courage to do likewise. I also admired the way she handled herself with poise and dignity during the ensuing weeks. She apologized for all the screw-ups — the wedding endorsements, her disconnect with the viewing public and all the things she had said and done that sullied her rep.

“I believe everybody deserves second chances, oh, I believe that,” Jones said. “I’m a living, breathing Exhibit A.” She hopes to get that with her new look, her new show and her new attitude.

“When I left ‘The View’ I had lost touch with why I started to do TV in the beginning,” said Jones, who got her start in television in 1994 with “Jones & Jury.” “And I said to myself, I’m going to step away for a minute. I’m not going to take a new show right now. I’m not going to take the reality shows or the entertainment programs. I wasn’t interested in that. I want to take a minute to see what actually means something to me.”

‘I wanted to have fun in TV again’Jones’ new show combines her love of law and pop culture. She hopes to affect change by engaging her audience and guests in meaningful dialogue that explores various “conflict resolutions and ethical dilemmas.”

“I wanted to have fun in TV again,” she said slowly. “I wanted to make television fun, so I did an entire year of self-assessment. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I wanted to really assess who I am and how people perceive me. Well, people will perceive you the way you act. So, I wanted to correct some things about myself so that there would not be any misconceptions.

“That’s why you see me being very comfortable with the recreation of Star. I’m not ashamed that I need glasses (which are atop her head) for distance. I did not feel like I needed to have all of that hair, which was typical Star Jones, or the extra lashes or the heavy makeup.”

Other than the cosmetic changes, Jones discovered that she didn’t like the fact that some people considered her difficult. She admitted that she’s demanding, but more so on herself than anyone else. She also was dismayed that she allowed herself to lose touch with her audience and fans.

And she had to get over herself and not take things so personally.

“I also learned, and this is a really big lesson for me, all you can do is control the truth around you,” Jones said. “People will always see what they want to see regardless of what the truth is and you don’t have the ability to control it. You might be able to tell them, you might be able to show them, but some people are just going to believe what they want to believe. And that’s alright because it doesn’t change the truth.”

‘I want to be respected more’Make no mistake. Jones might not be losing sleep worrying about what people think of her, but she definitely wants to be liked.

“You want people to like you,” she said emphatically. “That is actually something that an insecure person says because I used to say it. That’s just a lie, yes you do. Everybody wants to be liked. I want to be respected more. And I want to be respected for being a person of integrity. And I do think that people like me. They may not always agree with me and I don’t need you to always agree with me. I need you to give me the benefit of sitting down and having a conversation with me.”

At 45, Jones is experiencing the same kind of mid-life epiphany many women do when some of those outer layers start peeling off, and the person they were always meant to be emerges. Like many celebrities, Jones not only bought the hype, she invested heavily into it. Sadly, when you live in a celebrity-obsessed culture that gives 20-year-olds with DUI convictions the keys to the kingdom, it’s rather difficult not to become exceedingly delusional.

Will people like the new Star Jones? Maybe, if they get the chance to sit down with her and chat about evolution and other such things. Will folks watch her show? Well, since there were no clips, it’s hard to say. There’s a new daytime talk show hatched every other week and Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah are the only ones with extended contracts.

And although Sassy Star has given birth to Savvy Star, there was something overtly disingenuous about that cat-and-mouse game she played with the reporters during the morning press conference when she refused to explain how she lost that other person she used to carry around. Her explanation for playing that game, however, did seem sincere — particularly for those of us who know who convinced her to lose the weight and why.

“That’s a whole lot for a human being to handle, not just physically, but emotionally,” she said. “And it has taken me a long time to feel comfortable to talk about it.”

Hopefully that works for the 10 people in the room who still care.

Miki Turner is a freelance TV producer/writer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at dmiki@aol.com

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