While walking the few blocks from her Court TV office to a lunch interview, Star Jones was approached by a fan.
“You know, I think they should leave Barry Bonds alone,” the man volunteered as he and Jones crossed 42nd Street.
Between bites of her salad a few minutes later, Jones can’t help but chuckle at this on-the-fly exchange about a record-breaking slugger who many believe has used steroids.
“I said, ‘I agree: They ought to prove it or shut up.’ ” Then, having reached the far corner, she and the stranger went their separate ways.
Clearly, Jones has a gift for connecting with people, and no shortage of opinions — as she is sure to demonstrate anew when she returns to daily television for the first time since exiting ABC’s “The View” more than a year ago. “Star Jones” premieres on Court TV, Monday at 3 p.m. EDT.
Her program, airing live each weekday, will be topical and news-driven, Jones says, with guests ranging from celebrities to ordinary people in timely situations. Legal issues and criminal justice will loom large, of course: Jones is an attorney and a former prosecutor who started in television as a commentator for Court TV in 1991, then became legal correspondent at NBC News.
On “The View,” where she was a panelist from its birth in 1997, she adapted her knack for injecting legal commentary into social commentary masquerading as chitchat.
But now she speaks eagerly of returning to her roots. And relaunching her career.
Jones, 45, left “The View” on stormy terms in June 2006. Having been told weeks earlier that her contract wouldn’t be renewed, she announced her looming departure on the air (while setting viewers straight that her departure wasn’t her choice). Barbara Walters, caught by surprise, later claimed to feel “betrayed” by Jones’ outspokenness.
By then, her public image had taken a plunge — or so said the network’s audience research that led to her firing. Her extreme, and much-speculated-on, weight loss had become a cultural distraction (and remained unaccounted for until this month when, in an article she wrote for Glamour magazine, Jones confirmed that she had gastric bypass surgery four years ago, eventually losing 160 pounds).
There was also the matter of her uber-lavish wedding to banker Al Reynolds in November 2004. A topic of discussion long before and afterward (especially by Jones on “The View”), it undermined her down-to-earth appeal.
“I needed to go away for a bit,” she says, thinking back to last summer. “I also needed to acknowledge that I had lost the immediate connection that I had with my audience.
“Yes, I enjoyed planning the wedding of my dreams, marrying the man of my dreams,” says Jones (who, for TV, has settled on her maiden name). “But I take responsibility 100 percent for enjoying celebrity a bit too much. I screwed up. ... It’s intoxicating. I sucked it into my lungs and let it get into my bloodstream. Let’s put it like this: Now I’ve had a transfusion.
“It’s very rare in this world when you get two chances,” she says. “I’m a very lucky and blessed girl.”
“I told them I don’t want to do screaming TV, fighting TV, insulting TV,” says Jones, “and I don’t want to do gossip.” She chuckles ruefully. “I think I’ve been the subject of enough of it that I know what it makes other people feel like.”
Jones has been busy taking stock of her life and devising a comeback. But she doesn’t mind admitting she was restless off the air.
For instance, earlier this summer: While the world obsessed about Paris Hilton’s on-and-off incarceration, casualties continued to mount in Iraq and Michael Moore’s documentary about health care, “Sicko,” hit theaters.
“The war and health care will be the two most important issues of the upcoming election,” Jones proposes, “and they were upstaged by Paris Hilton! It made me berserk not to be able to talk about that!”
A Star is reborn
Now she’s only days from regaining a TV forum, and, she hopes, reinstating her bond with her audience.
She also wants to clear the air about the one thing she couldn’t bear to talk about before: the gastric bypass she underwent in August 2003, when her five-foot-five frame was packing 309 life-threatening pounds.
She says the shame and guilt attached to her physical state kept her from going public, even when she was called a hypocrite for not being her usual tell-all self.
“I have shared so many things with other people for the purpose of empowering them to feel good,” she concedes, “but this was something I had to get emotionally capable to talk about. The specifics of the weight loss finally freed me to be able to say, ‘I was afraid — like maybe you are, too.’
“The day before I go on the air, it will be four years since the surgery,” she notes, adding, at that point, she couldn’t have walked two blocks’ distance without needing an inhaler for the asthma then plaguing her, among other weight-related maladies.
But it’s a different Star Jones now, she declares with a blend of pride and gratitude. And, lunch over, she’s heading back to work. She’s got a new show to get ready.