Daytime Divas knows its audience. The new VH1 show, based on Star Jones’s book Satan’s Sisters—which was based on Jones’s experience as a former panelist on The View—is chock full of tongue-in-cheek references to the universe in which it exists. There’s an Elisabeth Hasselbeck mention in the first five minutes; Barbara Walters comes up by the episode’s end; The Real host Tamara Mowry makes an appearance. But in order for a show like this to really work, it’ll have to give us more than a lightly fictionalized, highly dramatized look at the world of daytime television—it’ll have to say something else.
It’s not clear from the premiere episode, which aired Monday night, whether Daytime Divas is up for being anything more than not-quite-campy-enough fun. Episode 1 was a rollercoaster: Maxine (played by Vanessa Williams) is in the role of Barbara Walters, the creator of The Lunch Hour, doing an iteration of the character she was beloved for on Ugly Betty; we see her as a sometimes cruel, sometimes benevolent leader who is always looking out for number one, with some exceptions. Her fellow tablemates are Mo (Tichina Arnold), the Joy Behar/Loni Love/Whoopi Goldberg of the group; Kibby (Chloe Bridges), the Raven Symoné; Nina (Camille Guaty), the Meredith Vieira/any one of the reporters they’ve got on The View right now to whom I frankly have not been paying attention; and Heather (Fiona Gubelmann), the Elisabeth Hasselbeck/Candace Cameron Bure. Quickly, we see that Maxine’s cohosts are dying to try to jostle each other out of position and into “the left chair”—but outside of this base work drama, there are already infidelity, sexual harassment and domestic violence issues brewing.
In many ways, Daytime Divas is a lot like UnREAL, Lifetime’s fictionalized look at The Bachelor; a show within a show, one that grapples with the tensions between fact and fiction. But while UnREAL is intent—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—with breaking down the mechanisms behind the drama and asking bigger questions, it’s not clear that Daytime Divas is attempting much more than just another way to do drama. Which is fine, but doesn’t exactly set it apart as particularly worthwhile viewing. The preview for the rest of the season suggests they will continue this tack—Kelly Osbourne will make an appearance, as will Star Jones herself, among others. That’s nice and all, but the problem is is that the show seems to be sitting between parody and critique, unclear which world it wants to occupy. So, in essence, it doesn’t give us more than we already can get elsewhere. Books have been written about the drama at Today. The New York Post relentlessly covers the machinations behind the scenes at The View. If you want to fictionalize all that, you need to make it better than the real deal.
A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Omarosa will appear on Daytime Divas.