How No Baby Meant No Job on “The View”
On New Year’s Eve, my husband Daniel and I stayed home, ordered Thai food and watched a documentary on Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda in Nazi Germany. I guess you could say we partied like it was 1939. By my calculations, that’s when our baby was conceived.
I immediately started worrying about everything from birth defects to vaginal tearing. I agonized about my lack of ability to make decisions about birth plans, stroller brands or preschools. I had nightmarish visions of morphing into my own cold, reluctant and baby-disdaining mother. About the only thing I didn’t worry much about was the prospect of being a working mother in show business. For that, I thank Barbara Walters.
In fact, a few years ago, not having a kid may have actually cost me my dream job, filling the chair left by Lisa Ling on “The View.”
I sat in for a couple of episodes, had some wholesome, well-lit laughs with Barbara Walters, trotted out on stage arm-in-arm with new BFF Meredith Vieira and felt an almost narcotic sense of belonging. Despite a career characterized mainly by paralyzing self-doubt and bad, impetuous decisions to quit jobs, I began to think: I could do this. I was about to link elbows with destiny, as I had with Meredith, who when you get close to her smells like a combination of baby powder, lilacs and poise.
As my cab sped toward JFK to fly home to Los Angeles after taping my second episode of the popular morning chat show, producers called my agent to say I was one of their top choices. Before I’d even checked my bags curbside, we’d agreed on contractual terms.
I spent that flight envisioning my move from Los Angeles to a furnished apartment on the Upper West Side. I fantasized about the breezy rapport and private jokes I would have with the full-time driver they promised, the non-pretentious but clearly expensive collection of Burberry trench coats I would acquire, and of course, the non-stop cold splash of “I told you so” my new post would throw in the faces of anyone who had doubted me. It would be hard to keep up my persona of self-deprecation with near toxic levels of smug coursing through my veins, but I would manage.
By the time I landed at LAX, I was out of the running.
The producers said not only did they want a conservative, but also, they really needed someone who was likely to get pregnant by the coming season. In the parlance of street fighters, or middle managers trying to rally their sales force after a bad quarter: It was go time. Or more specifically, it was gonad time.
Too bad mine were not likely to be in use anytime soon.
Just like that, I was plunged back into an obscurity so profound it made Debbie Matenopoulos look like Gwyneth Paltrow. I cried like the babies Elizabeth Hasselbeck would eventually have, endearing her not only to her bosses at “The View” but to the stay-at-home moms of America.
Sure, I can’t complain. I got jobs in deep cable, on local news and in radio, and frankly any work that doesn’t involve taking over my dad’s automotive repair business is a blessing. But I couldn’t help thinking that if I could just procreate, I would have ascended to the next level, and my gonads and I would have enjoyed the chauffeur driven ride all the way to the middle.
It’s just that, on “The View” and elsewhere, being a mommy seems to be good for business.
Babies are transformative. Yeah, they make you more loving and patient, blah blah blah, but I’m not talking about that kind of change. I’m talking about the magical baby dust that converts, say, Brooke Burke from an icy and unapproachable swimsuit model to the champion and co-host of popularity contest “Dancing With the Stars.” Sprinkle some magic mommy dust on Angelina Jolie, and she goes from knife-wielding, blood vial-wearing, scary force of sexual energy to earth mother/goddess breast-feeding on the cover of W magazine.
So effective is this magic dust that it has the power to make you reconsider loathing Nancy Grace.
A Google search for the term “baby bump” yields nearly two million hits, with most of the top ten devoted to celebrity pregnancy. Think about the following babies and ask yourself how many times you’ve seen their lovable mugs: Ryder, Shiloh, Apple, Seraphina, Suri, Zuma, Brooklyn, and Sparrow. I used to think this was a brand new phenomenon, that because women have increasing power and earning potential, it’s somehow comforting to know that we are still partially just baby-making machines. The threat we pose is mitigated by the hours we’ll spend pregnant, nursing, changing diapers or otherwise tending to kiddies.
Then I read that, back in 1953, the country basically screeched to a halt to watch the birth of Little Ricky on “I Love Lucy.” A record 71.7% of all television-owning households tuned in, partly because the subject was still new for television, but also because the characters Lucy and Ricky were played by Lucy and Desi, who in real life were married and the parents of Desi Jr. Media coverage of the event was so massive, it overshadowed the inauguration of President Eisenhower the next morning.
Cut to Demi Moore pregnant and nude on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991, then to cable sensation “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” I guess the secret is: we even love pregnant teens! And that means you, too, Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin.
With the proliferation of media outlets (People Magazine even has a Celebrity Baby Blog; read it to learn why pregnant Nancy O’Dell craves baked beans), we can fill the need we’ve always had to see the adorable little faces that result from celebrity DNA, or to observe someone known for her svelte body, like Heidi Klum or Kelly Ripa, enlarge. Entertainment news is now a non-stop “Bump Watch.”
As a culture, we have a voyeuristic fascination with famous mothers, but we’re simply gaga for multiples. More babies equals more baby mania.
How much did we want to see the Jolie-Pitt twins, Vivienne and Knox? People Magazine reportedly paid a record $14 million for first photos.
Watched TLC lately?
I remember when it used to be all home decorating shows (back when I was scratching for my seat on “The View,” I used to host TLC’s “While You Were Out”). Now it’s mostly shows about babies and families with many, many babies, including the Duggars, who have nineteen kids with “J” names, including Jedidiah and Jinger.
Don’t worry about the crazy monikers. They won’t get bullied on the schoolyard because 1) Jesus loves them and 2) They are home schooled.
Why this obsession of ours? Aside from the miracle of childbirth being inherently interesting (a living, breathing entity squirms right out of a human vagina--it never gets old!), and the thrill of seeing some tiny starlet get fat and then thin again (how Jessica Alba or Gisele Bundchen or any other celebrity lost their baby weight sells magazines every time), and the soothing sense that even our most kickass power women (Madonna, Katie Couric, Christina Aguilera, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton) had a baby yen, there is also just this: Moms are so … maternal.
Welcome to facile conjecture-ville, I hope you’ll have a pleasant stay.
Mothers know things. They have superhuman strength. They are selfless, protective, gentle and sacrificing. Not my mother exactly - who should have named my brother and me Burden and Buzz Kill for how much she dug being a single parent - but in general, who wouldn’t want to be imbued with these qualities in the eyes of the public?
Did I want to be the girl with one dead ficus and two perhaps overly adored cats? Did I want to be the woman who forgets birthdays, remembers petty grudges and drives around in an unwashed car littered with empty water bottles and crumpled scripts for jobs she didn’t get?
Or could I use not only a whole new fan base, but also a wealth of new topics to mine for material?
So, I certainly didn’t have a baby to help my career. But it shouldn’t hurt.