How ‘The Drew Barrymore Show’ Became TV’s Goofiest, Quirkiest and Most Viral Talk Show
Seasons come, seasons go, but celebrities’ belief that they will be great daytime talk show hosts is evergreen. Some, unquestionably, are. The Rosie O’Donnell Show ran for nearly 1,200 episodes and racked up five Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Talk Show. Gabrielle, as in Beverly Hills, 90210’s Carteris, only lasted one season. (It’s okay: she had other career highs ahead of her.)
One current daytime success story is The Drew Barrymore Show. Having broken out, at six years old, in E.T., Barrymore had been a major movie star for close to 40 years when she debuted as host of The Drew Barrymore Show in the fall of 2020 — a time that might have broken a lesser performer, but as those of us who’ve followed her through her turbulent tween and teen years know, Barrymore’s survived a lot worse.
From the very first promo, in which adult Barrymore interviews her 7-year-old self, it’s been clear that The Drew Barrymore Show’s headliner has no qualms about goofing around. The show has become part of the cultural conversation, whether Barrymore is eliciting scandalous Jennifer Lopez stories out of co-star Jane Fonda or pissing off all the right people by interviewing trans activist Dylan Mulvaney or taking a moment to acknowledge a menopausal hot flash on live TV.
Helping to make The Drew Barrymore Show appointment TV are her talented writers: Chelsea White, Liz Koe and my former TV critic colleague Cristina Kinon. Late last month, I caught up with Kinon, The Drew Barrymore Show’s co-head writer, to discuss what has made Barrymore stand out in the crowded daytime landscape; how she gets celebrity guests involved in the show’s quirkiest bits; and what The Other Two got right about daytime talk-show fandom.
Was the vision for The Drew Barrymore Show always for it to be the version that has aired? In daytime, lots of different forms and formats are possible.
The people on our show who had lots of daytime experience also knew that Drew is such a unique personality that they really wanted to let her do her thing, and let her shine. I remember on the pilot, one of the first things she said to the audience was like, “You think you know who I am. You do know me. I am who you think I am.” And she truly is.
It was tough in the beginning because it was the pandemic. We couldn’t have a studio audience. The writers — and a lot of the producers — couldn’t even go into the studio. It had to be a bare-bones crew. Drew really was there by herself. She was talking to an American Girl doll, Courtney, because she didn’t want to be alone. She really does thrive around other people and feeds off their energy. So it was tough, but as we figured it out, and as we were allowed to have more and more bodies there, and guests and all of that, it came into its own quirky, fun little package.
Were there other shows that people had in mind as touchstones?
I don’t think there were a lot of other shows in the discussion, because it really was, “Oh my God, we have Drew Barrymore hosting this show. How can we showcase her history, her personality and the things that she’s really good at? She has topics that she’s really passionate about, like stain removal, so how do we incorporate that into a daytime show?”
I’ve worked for a lot of shows. I walk in on the first day and they say, “What’s our ‘Carpool Karaoke’?” I hate that question. But our question is just, “How do we show Drew in the best light?” Because people always just want to be around her and listen to her and see what she’s up to. How do we make that shine? The best example is that Instagram that she posted of her just running in the rain — it resonated so much with people because that truly is just her doing her thing.
Sometimes celebrity guests are only there for the interview, but others will do games or comedy bits. Do you ask them, or do they volunteer?
It goes both ways. Someone will come to the table and their publicist will say, “So-and-so really wants to play.” Or: “They’ve seen the show, they know what you guys do. What can we do together?” We’ll pitch out a bunch of ideas. Sometimes it might take a little convincing, but people feel really safe with Drew and they know that it’s never going to be a “gotcha” moment, or that they’ll feel embarrassed or put on the spot.
The M3GAN interview with Alison Williams: that was really very special.
People are surprised at how much she really does commit to the bit, because it could go either way. Once that eye starts wandering, she could back off a bit, but she really does go for it. And that is what makes it so fun.
Guests keep mentioning Little Girl Lost so I finally bought a used copy. Drew talked to Jennette McCurdy about her book, and I’m curious to see how their two stories are in conversation.
That’s the other thing: People who have those experiences and stories to tell, they always feel safe with Drew because she’s like, “Yep, I’ve been there.” It’s hard for someone to come on the show and tell a story that Drew can’t relate to. She’s had such a long and varied career.
That’s what was so great about the interview recently where Lily Tomlin said, “I met you at a party when you were seven years old,” or whatever it was.
Yeah. Some of the stories, I just sit there with my mouth open: “Wait, what? You were where when you were nine years old? Whose apartment? Studio 54?”
In your spare time, you’ve written two short films, one of which you also directed. What can you say about them?
One of the short films, Jackpot, was something that I wrote, and then I worked with a friend of mine, Josh Ricks, who directed it. When we were talking about it, he asked, “Do you think that Drew would do a part in it?” There’s a little part in there that had a newscast in it. I approached our executive producers, who were really supportive, and then I brought it to Drew. She was like, “Yeah, absolutely. Let’s do it.” I felt so grateful for that opportunity and to have her involved in it. It’s out to some festivals now that we’re hoping to hear back from soon. It would be great if that got some legs. If it did, I don’t think it would be, in small part, because of Drew’s appearance in it.
The other one, Ladies Room, was something that I wrote and directed last hiatus. We had the summer off from the show, and I didn’t want to waste it. I had felt so inspired by Drew and everything that she had said about directing Whip It and producing Charlie’s Angels and starting Flower Films when she was 19. I’d been writing features for a while and trying to get those off the ground and feeling really frustrated, because you get so close and then it goes away. If I could learn how to direct, then maybe I could take the reins of my own stuff that I write. So I took a filmmaking class last summer, an eight-week intensive at New York Film Academy, and Ladies Room was my final film for that course.
They haven’t shown us any writers on Season Two of The Other Two, but otherwise, how accurate would you say its portrayal of a daytime talk show is?
Oh my God. Yeah, that show is so funny. The intensity and the engagement that Molly Shannon’s character Pat has with her audience: I feel like that was very realistic. If you ever come to the show, you’ll see, in between segments, Drew is talking to the audience, and they’re opening up their hearts to her. Every day there’s tears. It’s so touching that people can feel so comfortable with her and will just open up and talk about anything. She’ll engage with people and wants to hear their problems and follows up with them afterward to make sure they’re okay. It’s incredible. I don’t know how she does it every day.