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Look who's talking: Why Barrymore's past makes her the perfect daytime chat host


Drew Barrymore will be in competition with The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Drew Barrymore will be in competition with The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Drew Barrymore will be in competition with The Ellen DeGeneres Show

She has been America's fallen angel and its comeback queen. And now Drew Barrymore is about to take on a new role of listener-in-chief, with news that she is to present her own daytime chat show.

Barrymore has done it all in Hollywood, from acting to producing and directing. Her most recent project was Netflix zombie comedy Santa Clarita Diet. An Oprah-like daytime gig might seem a strange detour.

However, from another perspective, the 45-year-old is absolutely perfect for the job. She will bring to her new CBS show a lifetime of lived experience. She has survived career and personal setbacks and come out stronger, whilst always maintaining her humanity.

CBS will feel confident there is a gap in the market. It has been announced this week that Ellen DeGeneres' talk show - which airs on RTÉ One through the week - is to be investigated amid claims by former employees of a "toxic work environment".

There is no suggestion DeGeneres was aware of these complaints or directly involved in the bullying alleged to have occurred. Still, there is never a good moment for your show to be investigated over claims of toxicity.

Barrymore, meanwhile, comes across as the least toxic person imaginable. "I'm in the joy business," she said, as the new series was announced (a pilot has already been shot). "I don't carry the umbrella of darkness with me."

Daytime chat is a crowded market. In Ireland, viewers can already chose between Ellen on RTÉ or This Morning, with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on Virgin Media One.

What, though, is the appeal of these shows? Are presenters friends to be welcomed to our homes? Do we gaze upon Ellen, Dr Phil, Phillip Schofield and Drew Barrymore and see dream guests for our fantasy dinner party? Or might the reasons run deeper?

"When we look at the contemporary set format for today's TV chat shows, the sofa is central," says counsellor and psychotherapist Tom Evans of selfcare.ie. "This is deliberate, as it works. It's a visual aid bridging the gap between the viewers' home and the studio. It presents the studio as an extension of the viewers' living room.

"Most now replace water glasses with coffee mugs. Again, the aim being to create a homely feel. Colours are vibrant, textures soft. It's estimated that 70pc of communication is visual. This is an important detail in TV land. The content is generally magazine format. Not too heavy, with the emphasis on entertainment. Usually a quick turnover of topics - 10 to 15 minutes.

"In therapy rooms, we are seeing the mental health impact of the Covid virus. In the stoppage, many have experienced aloneness and disconnection, with presentation of fragility, fear and anxiety more prevalent. The tenuous link that the TV chat show provides to society has become an umbilical cord to some. We are relational beings - not at our optimal when in isolation."

In the case of Barrymore, a gripping life story is surely part of the appeal. Born into an acting dynasty - she is the granddaughter of American stage great John Barrymore - she became famous playing little sister Gertie in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Her family life, however, was unstable. Her father was absent, her mother Jaid was, by Barrymore's telling, mostly interested in partying. By the time Barrymore was nine, she was being taken to the notorious Studio 54 nightclub in New York.

Barry had already been to rehab by age 12. And by 14, her notoriety was such that she was unemployable in Hollywood. In an interview with The Guardian, she recalled going to auditions and being essentially laughed out of the room.

"To have such a big career at such a young age, then nothing for years - people going, you're an unemployable disaster - that's a tough trip to have by the time you're 14," she said. "To have access to so many things, then to nothing."

Barrymore kept going to auditions and eventually the laughing stopped. She started her own production company, so she could make the sort of films she was interested in.

"I got my s--- over with at, like, 14," she said. "Like, midlife crisis, institutionalised, blacklisted, no family, like, got it done, and then got into the cycle of being my own parent, figuring it out."

And now the next chapter of her career begins.

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Irish Independent