TV Junkie Interview: Joan and Melissa Rivers

Joan and Melissa Rivers have a new reality show on WeTV: "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best" on Tuesdays at 9pm

Joan Rivers and her daughter Melissa have a reality show series that premiered last week on WeTV: "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best" on Tuesdays at 9pm. The mother-daughter duo have returned to the scene in a big way over the past year with the release of the excellent documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work that we saw in the theater as well as on Showtime last week (it's out on DVD/Blu-ray now as well and we suggest you give it a viewing). That movie provides a huge amount of insight into how Joan Rivers' career began and her many trials and tribulations over the past 40+ years. The movie also gave us the beginnings of what you will see in their reality series on WeTV: unscripted, informal, real interactions between a mother and daughter that have been working as a team on television over a decade and a half.

For all the complaints we've been seeing about how bad red carpet interviews have been so far this awards season, it's a testament to how good this team has been and how their absence has been felt. The duo started up again last Fall with E!'s "Fashion Police" which we watch religiously even though we couldn't care less about fashion. Their reality show was shot when Joan moved from New York to Los Angeles to begin working on the weekly "Fashion Police" and chose to live with Melissa while looking for her own place. The Rivers tell us that unlike most of the "reality" shows out there, "Joan & Melissa" is completely real, nothing scripted or set up by producers, etc. Just their real relationship and how they work.

It was fun to speak to them both via conference call as they finished each other's sentences and laughed about some of the situations that they were in during the time that this show was filmed. They also provided me with some insight on how they make their relationship work (therapy) and I forced them to think back to the early 1970s when Joan Rivers provided her voice for some kids programming. I was happy to survive a Rivers tag-team but am not sure that I would be able to do it in person [stylists with time and clothes to donate, please contact me]. There are many reasons why this is one of the few reality shows I'd ever recommend checking out: I love what they do on "Fashion Police," I think that they have a great history of working together, and then there's the incredible persona that is Joan Rivers with a work history that no female comic, and only a handful of male comics can measure up to - I really want to see how somebody who is so funny starts out her day and how a daughter, who has had to put up with such a funny person, deals with Mom in her kitchen.

LAist: Fill us in on how "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best" came about.

Joan: It all starts when I move in with Melissa, she has a very different lifestyle than me - I'm coming from New York to LA and it's not what I'm used to.

Melissa: It's about my Mom coming out and deciding to live with me until she found her place out here.

Joan: I decided to come out to LA and move in with Melissa and everyone thought it was a terrible, terrible idea and guess what? I'm coming in here - too bad! It's really about two very strong women moving into the same house, and it's the juxtaposition, she's ruling the roost instead of my ruling the roost.

Melissa: It's about anybody who has a parent moving in with them. It's now my house with my rules. Our big joke around the house lately is, will she say "You're grounded.... in your own house"?

Joan: Or "You're grounded, you don't get your cars tonight." It's just so stupid. And yet we work together, we do "Fashion Police" (E! on Fridays at 10pm) together, we live together and sometimes we end up in situations where we aren't happy.

Melissa: My Mom lives a lot more formal lifestyle than me and I live a much more casual lifestyle.

Joan: And she's living with a young man, and in my day: you got married!

Melissa: It's different generations.

Joan: It's a very big generational gap.

Melissa: Plus the mother-daughter dynamic.

LAist: I love you guys on "The Fashion Police" even though I really have no interest in fashion, you've made it funny and interesting.

Joan: It's fun, t's really not about fashion, it's really about the jokes.

LAist: Do we get a bit of insight about how you work on that show?

Melissa: A little bit, we were in pre-production with "Fashion Police" when we were shooting the reality show. "Fashion Police" going into a weekly format is one of the reasons why my Mom was moving out here and how the reality show started. We'd be doing the reality show all day while doing pre-production on "Fashion Police" as well as getting our Emmy special going. It was more than double-timing.

Joan: I was also coming off of my tour with my documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work, where I already had the experience of cameras in my face from the moment I got up in the morning. I was used to the cameras around me which I think Melissa found a little difficult in the beginning. You can't sneak off and have that piece of cake because they're coming with you.

LAist: That's a great movie by the way, I don't understand why and how it wasn't nominated [at the Golden Globes, Oscars, etc.]. Was that because of a release date or some issue like that?

Joan: We won an award at a documentary festival in London and the head of the festival told us we wouldn't get nominated in the US because they want "socially relevant" topics and that ours "wasn't socially relevant enough."

Melissa: But Waiting For Superman, which is a very hot documentary with huge social relevance also didn't get nominated, so you never really know what it's about.

Joan: [With sarcasm - in the voice of a film studies professor ] My advice to all future documentarians is to always carry an ethnic crippled child no matter what you do [your film about].

LAist: [Laughs] That's good advice! I saw your film at one of the screenings on your tour and I know it was very well received there. So I was shocked to not see it in nominations list, even at something like the Independent Spirit Awards.

Joan: We were in shock that they did a theatrical release which translates to a successful documentary. So I mean, everything has been such a win for us, this has all been just icing on the cake. We went into Sundance and we didn't have a deal with anybody - the film was made with the money of the girl who directed it. Everything was a plus coming from there.

Melissa: I'm kind of surprised at the Independent Spirit people too, by the way.

LAist: It made no sense to me, it was such a good movie, it's a failure of the system.

Melissa: Just like for that other non-nominated movie, Waiting For Superman - we should run them as a double-feature.

LAist: In the documentary, as well as many times in the past, we get to see the Joan and Melissa team in action. In "Joan & Melissa," do we get down to brass tacks on how you put together your shows, do we get some insight?

Joan: You get to see some of that, but in this first season -

Melissa: It's all about Mom moving in. It's looking behind the curtain into what it's really like. We actually have a really good relationship for people who live in extraordinary circumstances. I think people will have fun seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly of this relationship. We have a real relationship.

Joan: All the warts of a real relationship. It's not all huggy-kissy "ohhhh, we love each other." There's one episode where we have a major fight and I went back to New York and they kept the cameras rolling, which was great.

Melissa: Jimmy Kimmel was great [the other night when Joan was on] he said "First of all, stop torturing your daughter! I felt like this was all some giant prank on Melissa, who does this? Who moves in with their daughter?"

LAist: Joan was saying that these cameramen are in your face, right when you get up, which reminds me of Lisa Kudrow's "The Comeback" which is in reruns right now on Sundance.

Joan: I thought that was such a good show and it got such short shrift - I don't understand it.

LAist: It was so ahead of its time, it was pre-Kardashian, etc.

Melissa: It was two years too early.

LAist: Are we going to see some Spanx in the closet? Do you wear Snuggies on the couch?

Melissa: Oh yeah!

Joan: You will see it all.

Melissa: There's a lot of bathrobes.

LAist: Since we see you on red carpets and "The Fashion Police" [and other formal situations]. Do we see a side to you guys that is more relaxed?

Melissa: Absolutely.

Joan: But also more tense! The response we've been getting from everybody is that this is about what goes on between mothers and daughters. With all due respect to the other shows that are on, where everyone goes from being all lovey-dovey to "I hate you bitch," we have a very realistic show.

LAist: There are other reality shows about families out there, how is your show going to be different?

Joan: That this is [all] true - nothing is made up. The network was calling us and saying, "C'mon, you made that up!" And no we didn't, it's reality, it's a real reality show.

Melissa: How is it going to be different other than our relationship and personalities? That is what makes it different. People back in the day kept trying to do the next Joan and Melissa. Why don't you hire Joan and Melissa? "No, no, no, no, we want to find the next Joan and Melissa." There was going to be another one on the red carpet, another one with a talk show. People don't understand that the dynamic between us works. It's not something you can replicate. Why is it different? It is different because of our personalities.

LAist: You have a team that we've been seeing for almost a decade and a half. That's a long professional relationship, you don't see something like that very often.

Joan: It has made many a psychiatrist rich.

Melissa: My therapist has twins and he's not even worried about graduate school.

LAist: You do this work with each other and yet you sound so friendly with each other and so happy. It gives me hope for my relationship with my mother.

Joan: It goes both ways.

Melissa: Believe me, there are days, because we do work together, that I would go upstairs and into my closet and close the door because that was the only place I could get away.

LAist: Did the cameras follow to outside your door?

Joan: No, because Tom Cruise wouldn't allow it.

LAist: Joan, I've been hearing your voice since I was a little kid in the '70s, hearing you do "The Adventures of Letterman" on "The Electric Company."

Joan: I loved doing that and they never called me again. It was Gene Hackman, Zero Mostel, Morgan Freeman, and Joan Rivers - those were the voices.

LAist: I knew it was your voice but I didn't know about those others, that's incredible.

Joan: It was an incredible group.

LAist: Melissa, did you watch that?

Melissa: "It's a word! It's a plan! It's Letterman! Faster than a rolling O! Able to leap a capital T in a single bound!" I can't believe I remember that!

LAist: That's amazing, that's so great you remember that. Joan, at the time, did you feel like you were doing that for your daughter?

Joan: I loved doing that because she was part of the Sesame Street generation and it made it that much more fun. You know, it's like my grandson, the first respect I ever got from him was when I was in Shrek, Shrek II. He finally realized that this old lady is OK.

Melissa: Now if we could just get her on a professional football team.

Joan: Oh! If I could be quarterback! That would be it.

"Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best" airs on WeTV at 9pm on Tuesdays. See the promo for tonight's episode below.