Set visit: The Marilyn Denis Show

Took in a live studio taping of The Marilyn Denis Show Friday in Toronto. The buzz I’d been hearing was that Denis’ daytime talk show got off to a shaky start this season so I was curious to check it out for myself. I’d heard some kvetching that the loft-like set looked cheesy or that the guest list was less than stellar. Didn’t sound like the Marilyn I remembered. Was something lost in the CHUM to CTV transformation?
The excuse to hit the studio was an appearance by New Orleans’ 88 keys master Harry Connick Jr. A buddy in Brampton who is an award-winning piano prodigy himself, Carmen Spada, had met Connick in Boston, found him gracious and encouraging and came away an even bigger fan of the musician. CTV publicist Matthew Almedia was nice enough to arrange for a couple of choice seats in Marilyn’s completely redesigned 299 Queen West playpen and down we went.
The first thing I noticed was that we were the only two dudes in the joint. Marilyn’s show ain’t exactly Off The Record. The second was that CTV had opened up the access to the shoebox-like store-front set. Walls were knocked down in the hallway and a cloak room installed. The way in was that much more civilized.
The space inside the street-side studio–Breakfast Television shot there for years when CHUM/City was the tenant–has always been severely limited by a lack of height. Seating is all on one flat floor level and sight lines are further limited by pillars. The studio audience sits on stacking chairs. (There are plans, apparently, for this to change.) Denis and her celebrity guests sit up on a riser in front of a brick back corner. It was described to me as a loft look but it seemed more like somebody had just scrubbed out a Jack Astors.
A floor director advised the audience that at two different points in the busy show people would be asked to stand up while seats were re-arranged to allow for a runway segment. Shut off the cell phones and spit out your gum, we were told. A dude with a great big garbage can made the second task a cinch.
The show started fast and got faster. Denis led first guest Connick directly to their seats and the two warmed up what could have been a cold opener. Denis is such a pro at making guests feel comfortable and at ease while at the same time covering all the bases. The two had such a casual, friendly catch up you hardly noticed the plugs for Connick’s latest CD, DVD and upcoming Broadway show.
It helped that Connick is all charm and knows how to size up a room and own it in an instant. A lot was crammed into seven minutes, yet it never seemed rushed.
Connick hustled out the door and onto his next Toronto promotional stop (he signed CDs at a downtown record store over the noon hour; catch him on Canada AM Monday). In came Denis’ next guest, always put together Clinton Kelly from What Not to Wear.
I’ve encountered likable Kelly before on press tour. He and his well-tressed co-host Stacy London once mingled with critics and critiqued what we wear. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel!
I couldn’t believe the dude walked on Marilyn’s show wearing a bright red and white checked shirt with a checked tan blazer but on him it worked. I try to pull that off and I look like Red Green’s idiot nephew.
Marilyn’s crowd were into him Friday, hanging on all the fashion tips (it starts with the shoes; never wear oversized clothing you’ll only grow into them; V-necks work with just about everybody) and enjoying the breezy banter.

Kelly was in Toronto to hand pick new wardrobes for three women who won trips to the city in a “Marilyn, Make Me Over” contest. The three were Kristi Klassen  from Surrey, B.C., Korin Johnston from Lanigan, Sask. and Kendra MacDonald  from Halifax, N.S. (above with Kelly and Denis).
The ladies were paraded out for their “before” moment and all three looked like they’d just been dragged through a key hole. Over the next 40 minutes, teams of hairstylists, makeup artists and dressers transformed them right before the studio audiences eyes. There was real hair all over the floor like in a barber shop or at Donald Trump’s house. Eyebrows were drawn and glitter dispensed.
Even Kelly was impressed. “I’ve never seen anybody try to do a makeover show live before,” he said. Even more ambitious, the studio itself had to undergo a big makeover, with audience members asked to stand twice during commercial breaks as chairs were rearranged by every staffer in the building. Cables were pulled, lights and cameras swung into place and the show charged ahead without a hitch.
By the end of the hour, all three women looked like a million bucks. Husbands and boyfriends were Skyped in for a sweet sound bite. It would be hard to imagine a more ambitious attempt to produce an hour of live television.
The contest winners each got to take home $2000 worth of wardrobe hand-picked by Kelly as well as other goodies. Each member of Denis’ studio audience (not there as a press guest) got bags full of Connick CDs and salon goodies.
Denis’s celebrity guests earlier this week included Elton John and JWoww. Next week she has Bob Geldof, Jordan Knight (New Kids on the Block), Nicole Sullivan ($#*! My Dad Says), Joannie Rochette, Mike Holmes, Lynda Reeves and Jeanne Beker lined up. Is Marilyn back? That would be yes.

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