Sherri Shepherd on the Importance of Representation in Daytime TV and How ‘The View’ Prepared Her for a Talk Show

·11-min read

Sherri Shepherd will debut her own talk show next week. It’s a job she’s been preparing for her entire life — long before she was a co-host on “The View.”

“It’s something that I used to dream about when I was a little girl. I would line up my Teddy bears with my Barbie dolls and I have a toilet paper roll and I would put them on chairs,” Shepherd tells Variety. Growing up, Shepherd would watch “The Phil Donahue Show” and Dinah Shore’s syndicated daytime talker with her grandmother. Later in life, she looked at Oprah and Sally Jessy Raphael as chat show inspirations. Now, she’s hoping to have a similar effect on her own viewers.

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“It is so important that people see a representation of themselves. I didn’t get to see a lot of Black women on TV growing up,” says Shepherd, who gives a shout-out to competitors Tamron Hall (who began Season 4 of her show earlier this week) and Jennifer Hudson (whose new talk show launches next week). “So, to think that little brown girls can look up and see three black women on TV right now, it just blows my mind that Tamron, Jennifer and me are all hosting our own talk shows. To me, that is so awesome. It is phenomenal that there will be three Black women helming their own daytime talk shows by themselves.”

Shepherd is taking the timeslot previously held by “The Wendy Williams Show” on the Fox TV stations, but her training ground for live television began with “The View,” which she co-hosted for seven seasons.

“Barbara had taught me to always be curious about people and to ask the questions that other people wouldn’t ask,” Shepherd says of Barbara Walters, who created “The View” in 1997 as a talk show for women by women. Shepherd adds, “I learned from Joy Behar that once you open your mouth, half of your audience will hate you. You can’t win, so you just do the best you can and you be authentically you.”

Shepherd is a familiar face on the Fox TV stations where she has been a host of “Dish Nation.” With a new daily talk show, Shepherd says she will continue on “Dish Nation” on a limited basis. In the final season of “The Wendy Williams Show,” Shepherd was a regular fill-in during Williams’ absence, garnering the highest ratings of all the guest hosts. In conversation with Variety, Shepherd sings Williams’ praises.

“Please, let’s put Wendy up there with the greats — with Oprah and Rosie and Sally Jesse Raphael,” Shepherd says. “Wendy has now taken a spot up there with women who have carved their own lane, so we cannot forget that.”

Here, Shepherd speaks to Variety about what to expect on her new talk show, “Sherri.”

The streaming business has disrupted broadcast, and it’s no secret that there are fewer eyeballs on daytime. What was appealing to you about a daytime talk show, at a time when there are so many other options? 

I think daytime is just special. It’s the place that you can sit and have your morning cup of coffee with your girlfriends who are on TV chatting with you. I used to watch with my grandma all the time. I think that when women didn’t want to watch other stations, they got their news from women. When there was a woman at table, it was more palatable to them than watching CNN. Daytime is a gift to you – it’s something that can be a pleasure by yourself, or you can do with the kids, with your partner, with a meal or exercising. I think it just starts off your day with real fun.

Which did you watch with your grandmother growing up? 

It was always the soap operas. My grandma used to have two TVs – she’d have the TV with a soap opera and the other TV with the game show. That’s another thing I want to host: a game show.

Which talk shows served as an inspiration to you?

When I was growing up, I was watching Ananda Lewis because she was speaking to young people. I would watch her on BET. And then I loved the woman with the big glasses, Sally Jesse Rafael. I have always loved talk shows. I remember I called in sick as a legal secretary to be on Oprah’s show, so I actually was on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” [laughing], and I just remember Oprah would hug everybody and that always stays with you.

Oprah paved the way for more diversity in daytime television. What do you think about the current landscape?

There’s been more and more, and this season we’re getting a Sherri show, we have Jennifer Hudson, we have Tamron Hall. I’ve been a friend to the Tamron show and I love Tamron. And we’re all very different. We all have different flavors. I’m not worried about competition because I am in no way like Tamron or Jennifer, and they’re not like me. There is something for everybody.

On the note of women supporting women, is there anyone that has really served as a mentor to you or given you advice in the talk show space?

Oh baby, you know Oprah is up there! I talked to Gayle [King] because I had Gayle come to see me do stand-up and I brought her in the green room and all the comics wanted to come in, and I was like, “Can I help y’all?! Close the door. I’m talking to Gayle!” I peppered her with questions. I said, “You know you’ve got to call your friend because I’m trying to reach Oprah.” I also want to talk to Issa Rae because she helmed her own show and she had to worry about a lot of things and I want to know what she went through. I talked to Rosie O’Donnell – I love Rosie because Rosie helped me negotiate my salary for “The View.”

How did your time on “The View” prepare you for now having your own talk show? 

I really learned to know exactly what I brought to “The View” and to really hone in on it – for me, if you wanted the fun, if you wanted the laughter, if you want that girl that’s gonna be your girlfriend that you go to a bar with and hang out, that’s Sherri. I learned to look at ratings, I learned what works and what doesn’t, I learned to not take the weight of the world on my shoulders. But the biggest one was to handle criticism. I learned that you can’t apologize for everything. Like Bill Geddie [“The View’s” longtime executive producer] said, “If you keep apologizing for everything, this is going to become the apology show.” You can’t do it. You have to let it go.

Have you missed being on daytime TV every day? 

I’ve been on [a comedy] tour in front of between 9,000 and 12,000 people, making them laugh, which is my first love. But I love being in chair. When something happens, I will text my executive producer, Jawn Murray, and I’ll go, “God, I wish I was in the chair right now.” Also, with Jawn on ‘Sherri,’ I have a Black, male executive producer on the show, and aside from tWitch, who was a producer on “Ellen,” I don’t think there’s any daytime talk show that has a Black, male executive. That kind of diversity for me is so important.

When you guest hosted on “The Wendy Williams Show,” you did Hot Topics. Will you still be doing Hot Topics on your show?

I love hot topics. I did our brand of Hot Topics with Jenny McCarthy on “The View.” I do pop culture every single day of “Dish Nation.” And so, whether or not I was filling in for Wendy, there would be some form of Hot Topics on my show because I love pop culture. What I want to do is make it fun and friendly because I never want anybody to feel worse because they watched me talk about them, because I’ve been on the receiving end of that. I’m always coming from a place of love and joy and fun. That’s my motto for life. So, you won’t see me doing anything where the person’s feelings are going to be hurt and they’re going be upset. I really want people to go, “Sherri’s show talked about me today! I was one of her Hot Topics!” So yes, I will be doing that. It’ll be a continuation of what I do on “Dish Nation,” what I used to do on “The View” and what I do on my podcast “Two Funny Mamas” with Kym Whitley. I want it to be very celebrity-friendly because I love celebrities. On “The View,” I got to meet every person from Prince to Janet Jackson to Julia Roberts. I’m a super fan of so many people, and this is the way I meet them.

Who are the celebrities on your interview wish list?

I’m going to give it to you on a first name basis: I want Lenny, Zendaya, Lizzo, Julia, Sandra. I want Megan Thee Stallion to show me how can I do all of that twerking without my knees hurting! Bring me on some experts to show me what the heck am I doing wrong – bring me some experts to show me how this dating thing works.

It sounds like your show and is going to be light and fun. How would you describe the tone of “Sherri?”

Absolutely. My first love is comedy. We’re in a day and time where people are going through it – every time you turn on the TV, it’s doom and gloom, so I want people to feel better and that’s exactly what I’m going to give them. You will get some really fun stuff. But also, I’m a woman of faith, so I’m going to inspire you. There are a lot of women who don’t feel safe, who want to reinvent themselves, who don’t know how to start doing that thing – and I want to show you how to start doing that thing. How do you get up and go to the gym at five in the morning? Let’s do it together. I want to show people what it looks like to rise up from the ashes. If you are going through something painful, how you can get up and make it better. I want you to be inspired and I want you to be motivated and I want you to feel challenged, but through the lens of having a good time.

Many talk shows are pre-taped, but your show is live. Do you like live TV?

It’s really great that I’m inheriting Wendy’s staff because I’m going into a machine where the staff knows exactly how to get behind a vision, and now, their creativity gets to be let loose. I’m very, very, very fortunate that I’m going into the show with people who know exactly what they’re doing because live TV is no joke. That’s another thing that “The View” prepared me before – we went live every single day. There’s an excitement about doing a daytime talk show live with no net. I’m stepping into a situation where they’re already in a groove. We’re just going a different direction, but the group is there. It’s been a real blessing of being able to fill in, and it’s such a symbiotic relationship going now. So, I’m very excited for people to see the new things we got in the store.

Is it daunting to step into the time slot that was previously occupied by Wendy?

I think that you start getting a little bit in trouble when you start comparing yourself to someone else. If I take all that pressure, like Wendy is leaving, Ellen is leaving, I am going to go crazy. All I can do is focus on who Sherri is and what has gotten Sherri to this place where she is right now, and it has been nobody but God and me, so I cannot compare myself to Wendy. I’m very, very different from Wendy. If you love Wendy, I am really hoping that you love parts of “Sherri,” and I’ll step out to try to prove it to you. And I’m hoping that if you love “Ellen,” you’re going to love “Sherri.”

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