The famous mother-daughter duo, Joan and Melissa Rivers, star together in their first reality series as the always ballsy, often vulgar and popular-as-ever 77-year-old Joan moves from New York City to Los Angeles to be with Melissa and her grandson, Cooper. The show kicks off tonight and while there is obviously a lot of love between the two, Joan's take-charge attitude (she takes the sexy nanny to a uniform shop to cover her up) and business ambitions (she takes photos of Melissa in the shower to convince her that her body is good enough to be a part of high-paying "Hollywood Moms Gone Wild" video) cause a lot of friction which, of course, makes for a shocking, hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt reality series. Our Jim Halterman chatted with Melissa Rivers yesterday to find out how the show came about, what surprised her most about the experience of having her mother shack up with her and whether she's on the same page with Joan, who believes nannies should only be ugly or gay men.
Jim Halterman: When you were growing up, when did you realize that your mother was "Joan Rivers?"
Melissa Rivers: It's one thing to be an adult and you realize your parent's significance, in my case, in pop culture but it's not like you wake up and go "Wow, my mom is Joan Rivers!" I mean, who she is as Joan Rivers and who she is at home are two different people. I don't have anything else to compare it to but as you grow up you start to understand their cultural significance. My least favorite question is always "Was it always funny at home?" and I'd say "Yeah, it was fun getting grounded and having the car keys taken away!"
JH: How did the show come about? Were you pitching it around or did WE tv come to you?
MR: It's actually very organic. We've been pitched reality shows for the last couple of years and it was always along the lines of "We'll put you in a house and Melissa, you'll get a group of guys for your mom. Joan, you'll pick for Melissa and hilarity will ensue." And I'm like "Could it be more pushed?" But about three years ago my mom did her one-woman show at the Geffen Playhouse, she took an apartment in Westwood and it was fabulous. I haven't lived at home with my parents since I left for college so it was the first time I'd ever felt like I had a sort of normal family where I could stop by my mom's, I could drop my son off and she could come to [Cooper's] games. That was really an amazing experience.
Normally when your parents come to visit, it's pressure-filled because you have to do things. That was all gone and it was fantastic. We really appreciated it. Then, all of a sudden Cooper turned 10 in December and we had done "Celebrity Apprentice" and "Fashion Police" became a weekly show. Suddenly, my mom was going to have to start spending at least half the week out here and then with the documentary ["Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work"] she started to feel like there was some sort of mortality. In the [WE tv] show she says "I want to be in the picture" and with "Fashion Police" going weekly the stars lined up. It was time to take the plunge.
JH: You've said you watch a lot of reality shows. Did you know the kind of tone and how you wanted to shape this show from the start?
MR: I think more than anything for me I wanted to dispel a lot of preconceived notions about who I am and what I'm like and we would go in and it had to be warts and all. It's really the first real examination of the mother-daughter dynamic. Also, with all the stuff with [Bernie] Madoff and all the banks, a lot of parents had to move in with their kids so it's a very timely situation that people are living through at the same time.
JH: And no matter how old we become, we're still our parent's kid, right?
MR: Now the roles are reversed because they're now living in your house with your rules. What is she going to do? Ground me? "Go to your house!" Come on! Really? But at one point whenever we start to argue with our parents or disagree with our parents we suddenly turn back into teenagers!
JH: Now, when your mom moves in on the show, she doesn't know your boyfriend is living with you and Cooper. She doesn't want to bring it up. You don't want to bring it up. That seemed very real to me in terms of mothers and daughters.
MR: Here's the thing. Jason and I have been together and he was always here. His lease came up and we made the decision not to renew it. Number one, it's nobody's business. Number two, I don't need to clear it with my mother. Number three, [my mother and I] may talk a bunch during the day but they're usually 15-second conversations about work and this really wasn't the kind of conversation I wanted to have over the telephone.
JH: What was the biggest surprise in this experience with your mom?
MR: I was surprised what a hard time she has in letting go. We have a big fight during the show and it was one of the biggest fights we've ever had where it got to the point where all I heard was negative and she couldn't say anything nice without qualifying it. Even when she would say something positive, I would only hear the negative part and I had to learn how to listen differently and she had to learn how to say things differently. Plus, we work together! There was nowhere to hide! I had to go in my closet and shut the door and sit on the closet floor. The one who had the best time was Cooper. He's learned how to work that system. Grandma always says yes.
JH: Now that taping is over, is your mom still living with you?
MR: 3-4 days a week! She still hasn't found that place she's looking for. She keeps saying "When I see it, I'll know it. It's like everywhere else I've lived!" It's more fun for her to complain about my guest room, which, by the way, isn't as bad as she makes it out to be because it's meant to be a guest room, not a residence.
JH: When she goes to three plastic surgeons who all tell her NO about having another procedure, did you have a hard time not saying "I told ya so?"
MR: You will see the victory dance! I'm like "enough!"
JH: Joan says nannies should be ugly or gay men and then you have Dominica who is this gorgeous, blonde nanny. It definitely made for some fun moments seeing your mom's reactions.
MR: Here's the deal. I have the most fantastic nanny and she wanted to go home for the summer because she had a family member who was ill. I love her death and I wanted her to go but then here I am at the beginning of summer and I've got a show that I'm executive producer on, which is Fashion Police, I was in the process of joining the team at Access Hollywood Live and doing this reality show. I was desperate! Dominica had babysat, she worked for other people in the neighborhood as an au pair, she drove, she spoke English, she was great with Cooper and she was available. Desperate times, desperate measures. She was highly recommended, we knew her and she knew the area. Go!
JH: What do you hope people take from the show?
MR: First of all, I hope they laugh and enjoy it. I hope they relate and I guess it's about being able to laugh at ourselves a little bit even when we are mad at our parents. I hope they take away that we're not the Addams Family. We're very ordinary in abnormal circumstances. I think there really is a relatability factor... at least with me! It's fun and it's moving.
"Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?" premieres tonight on WE tv at 9:00/8:00c.