Julie Chen has been a television presence since 1995, but it feels like we've only truly gotten to know the newswoman in the three years since she began co-hosting CBS' The Talk.
Anchoring an hour-long discussion five times a week has slowly chipped away at the professional artifice erected around Chen, revealing an emotionally-open, unexpectedly silly and endlessly more exciting woman underneath.
The Talk's season premiere (September 9) will continue to expose parts of Chen she once considered negatives by kicking off with all five hosts revealing their biggest personal secret as part of "The Talk Tells All!" ETonline caught up with Chen to talk about her on-screen evolution, get the inside scoop on her big secret and find out how she thinks this crazy season of Big Brother will end!
ETonline: Obviously one approaches every endeavor with the best of intentions, but have you been surprised by the success of The Talk?
Julie Chen: Absolutely. I always knew we were finding our way but doing well because we kept getting renewed, but it wasn't until this past May that I realized we were doing something special. I was at The Robin Hood Foundation benefit in NYC and Hoda Kotb came up to me and said, "OK, can we talk? You guys are killing it! And in such a short amount of time, that's unheard of!” I don't even really know her, but she was so complimentary and genuine even though she is kind of a competitor. I've never had someone who doesn't have an agenda be so honest and pure. I was kind of blown away. I love her and Kathy Lee; it was a bigger compliment than anything my husband ever said to me [laughs]. It caught me off guard. It's thrilling.
ETonline: Maybe The Talk should take a page from their book and do an entire show completely hammered!
Chen: [laughs] Who says we haven't? I will never reveal what's in certain people's cups on certain days of the week.
ETonline: In three seasons, The Talk has done a lot of headline-grabbing episodes. Have you been surprised by anything you've agreed to do on-air?
Chen: I was very surprised that I would ever agree to do a show with no make-up and no one professionally drying my hair. I know what I look like on weekends, and when I'm driving to work -- I was super touchy about that kind of stuff for ... ever! Even just having meetings with my lawyer with no makeup. I always thought it was important people always see me in a professional manner. They don't need to see my shortcomings, otherwise they might think I'm not as good of a commodity as I want to be. So I never, ever, thought I would do that.
ETonline: Do you think you've become better at your job by taking your guard down and letting the audience know you on a more personal level?
Chen: I do. I think it's because The Talk is one full hour of me driving that bus. Prior to that, I'd always been on a morning news show where you have four other people, so you could never find a rhythm. You're on for 5 minutes then off for 30 minutes and then on again and off again. Even though I worked in morning news for a decade, it wasn't until I worked on The Talk that I learned how to truly be a broadcaster. It's all about airtime.
ETonline: All of the hosts will be revealing a secret about themselves next week. On a scale of 1-to-10, how big is your secret and why was this the one you chose to share?
Chen: We're talking about a secret between a 7 and an 8. Doing The Talk for the last three years, I learned that you're the only one who cares about your insecurities. I've had embarrassing moments on the show where I learned to laugh at myself and realized that the public is pretty forgiving. I mean, unless you commit a major crime ... but I don't have a criminal record. It's nothing like that [laughs]. My secret is something I've never felt comfortable enough to reveal, but doing this show for three years has made me feel more secure about this secret. Only a few people know, and not that they would ever reveal it to hurt me, but you own that power if you reveal it and no one can ever hurt you with that secret.
ETonline: Forgiveness is something the Big Brother contestants will have to ask from the public in a few weeks. Are you surprised that the hostile tone of this season hasn't really let up at all since day one?
Chen: No. Unfortunately I'm not surprised. Mostly because this season has opened my eyes to human nature. These people are living in a bubble and if you don't get called out or shamed into behaving properly, I don't think you're inclined to change. It just goes to show you who people really are at their core. In the outside world, power and money make people more of who they are at their core, but because money isn't a factor in the house, it's all about power and who's winning competitions and who's in that HOH bedroom. That's when you see if someone is going to be ugly, ugly, ugly. When Aaryn [Gries] lost her posse, she started behaving very differently. I think it's safe to say that if she hadn't been so isolated by losing most of her clique, you would have seen a lot more arrogance and ugliness from her. She's not stupid -- she may be ignorant, but she's not stupid. She wanted to win so she put on a different face with people she would normally despise.
ETonline: CBS and Big Brother distanced themselves from all the contestant's comments with that disclaimer airing at the start of every episode, but at the same time, this has been great for ratings. Do you think the show needs to re-evaluate how they cast the show after this season?
Chen: No, because when Allison [Grodner] came on in season two, we had, purposely, picked Bunky and Kent. Remember Bunky? He was a very open, proud gay man. They also cast this older guy, Kent, who said in his interview that he didn't approve of homosexuality. The pleasant surprise was that they came out of that house as friends. Kent had never really met anyone gay so he made a blanket judgment of huge segments of the population. That worked in everyone's favor because Kent became a more well-rounded human being and it was, probably, beneficial to other gay people in America. So the casting hasn't really ever changed and it shouldn't change next year. If anything, the ignorance in this house this season was a huge headache for the producers and the network. No one wanted that. We've all spent way too many hours dealing with that ugliness.
ETonline: In a few weeks, BB15 will crown a winner. Who do you think has the best chance to win at this point?
Chen: Spencer [laughs]. You know, he's never really had a target on this back and people kid of forget he's there. They don't think he's annoying, they don't think he's a jerk, they don't think he's a threat in this game. He's basically skating on by to the finals. But it all depends on who he's sitting next to because, unfortunately for him, I don't think he's got the respect of the jury. I'm not sure think they'll give someone $500,000 for not really doing anything this whole summer.
The Talk premieres September 9 at 2 p.m. EST, 1 p.m. PST on CBS.
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- Julie Chen