Queen Latifah wants viewers to know her, but not her sexuality

Last week during TCA, I visited the set of Queen Latifah‘s new daytime talk show. The Queen performed a cheeky song about TV critics set to the tune of “When You’re Good to Mama” from her role as Mama Morton in Chicago, complete with a big red boa and back-up dancers. Then La (which is what she said her friends call her and she hopes fans will, too) sat on the couch with the show’s executive producers Jada Pinkett Smith and Corin Nelson. La was all laughs, a big smile on her face while she answered critics’ questions about what her show will be like and how different it might be from other daytime talk shows. Overall, the point was it’ll be different because Queen Latifah is someone all kinds of Americans love.

The Queen Latifah Show is all about La, her friends (who she said she’s not afraid to call in to help get viewers) and real life people she wants to connect with. As we’ve seen with Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey and Anderson Cooper, viewers are never fully engaged unless hosts are at least a little up front about who they are outside of a “work” environment, especially when they’re asking for people to tune in daily. When your competition is offering up anecdotes from their own lives, how can you be less transparent and hope to have that same kind of kinship with strangers? Queen Latifah might soon find that out.

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In a new Hollywood Reporter interview this week, the Queen answered how she will discuss her private life on the show, saying, well, she won’t.

“I don’t feel the need to discuss my private life on this show or any other show. There’s the part of my life that the public and I share together. And there’s the part that’s mine to keep for myself. And that’s mine. For me.”

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In 2011, Anderson Cooper gave a similar answer to our brother site The Backlot when asked how much viewers would see of his home life on Anderson.

“Is there any interest in that? I’m kidding. Whatever happens organically happens organically, and as long as it’s organic to what we’re doing and wherever the show’s going, then I think it’s fine. I mean, to me, it’s not a big deal, and it’s not something I think about or think out or plan out. I just… I think we’ll see how things go. Obviously, given the kind of topics we’re going to be covering, you’re going to be seeing more of my personality, more of who I am. Certainly, this is a format where you’re asking people to talk about themselves, and there’s a two-way street, and I understand that.”

Eventually Anderson did come out as gay, which didn’t seem to hurt nor help his ratings as the show was canceled after one season. Would it have done better had Anderson been up front about his sexuality from the beginning? It’s hard to know.

What makes it frustrating for fans is the idea that there are off-limits subjects at all. When asked if her show would include discussions of politics among the entertainment and fun promised on the show, La said sure, if it was pertinent and joked the Obamas were welcome at any time. So the fact that there’s this one thing she will not talk about is a preexisting pink elephant that’s likely not going to disappear.

The Reporter talked with Holly Jacobs, executive vp syndication and reality programming at Sony Pictures Television, which owns The Queen Latifah Show.

“It’s her choice what she chooses to talk about,” she said. “It doesn’t feel relevant to me because we’re just making a big, entertaining show and celebrating all of life. There’s a difference between talking about one’s personal life and one’s point of view and perception of the world and how they see it. And I respect that people need to put boundaries to whatever they want to talk about.”

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Public figures have a right to privacy, but can they really ask for viewers to want to engage wholly if they feel they are only seeing one side of someone? Gay viewers, especially, might feel as if there’s a disconnect, as if a discussion or fact of sexuality on La’s set is a point of secrecy or shame. It’s uncomfortable to be around someone who is uncomfortable with being who they are, especially if they are asking you to embrace them on all other levels. If lesbians can change the channel and watch Ellen DeGeneres celebrating Portia’s birthday or Sara Gilbert telling her proposal story, why should we turn on Queen Latifah? Even if she isn’t gay, talk show hosts like Kelly Ripa and Katie Couric allow viewers to become a part of their lives. Sure there are things they don’t share, but they probably don’t tell everyone “We will not be discussing this.” That would only draw more attention to it, as Anderson Cooper might attest.

The Queen’s set is built to look like her home, with a living room area, a dining room, an upstairs that appears like it would lead to a bedroom or two. She wants viewers to be invited to her house, to share in the positivity she thanks daytime TV needs, and to overall, entertain them with her many talents: singing, rapping, acting. Will that be enough to keep people tuned in, or will they constantly be waiting for her to let her guard down and be true herself? Then maybe everyone will truly feel at home.

 

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