Donny Deutsch, TV’s rogue prince, satirizes the media in his soft-scripted comedy, Donny! premiering Tuesday on USA Network. The media mogul, author, former TV host, and current TV business commentator and general raconteur plays a hyper-fictionalized version of himself and casts a satirical eye on the media, wealth and modern romance. Deutsch calls the Curb Your Enthusiasm-like series “a real blurring of entertainment, news, talk, reality and advertising.”
“My hero is Larry David,” he admits. “I think he set the tempo for this whole genre of television that’s somewhere between real and scripted. You watch his show and go, ‘OK, I know that’s him in there. But it’s not really him.’”
Deutsch describes his TV persona as “this Dr. Phil-type character — not Dr. Phil, but somebody who has a show like that — who is this wonderful, loving person on the air, and gives fantastic advice. But off the air is a complete hypocritical idiot who does all the things that he tells people not to do.” It’s a wry critique of humanity’s elevation of media figures to godlike status and the regularity with which they fall from grace.
“What I love about the format,” reveals Deutsch, “it always starts out in the talk show. You take any salacious daytime talk show subject and you use that as the launching point and how it reflects into all of our lives. Whether it’s sexting or sexual identity or race, we cover a lot of stuff, and how I stumble through these things.”
Check out the show’s wickedly funny trailer
Deutsch laughs that the impetus behind the series is a desire to turn the media’s presentation and the public’s perception of celebrities on its head. “I’ve met so many people in the media, that have this wonderful image that they’re the nicest people, when they’re real schmucks. When somehow my image in the media has always been this kind of rogue-ish guy, but I actually am a pretty nice guy.” But unlike real-life, nice-guy Donny, fictionalized Donny stumbles onto situations that expose him as a boor, a chauvinist, and an inadvertent bigot. And he’s also charming, hilarious, self-aware and prone to the foibles of an everyman — although one who has celebrity friends and a fantastic, six-story, 15,000 square foot Manhattan townhouse (which features prominently in the series).
When blurring the line between fact and fiction, Deutsch wanted one aspect of his life to maintain its sanctity. “I’d like to think I’m a really good dad in real life and I wanted to stay a good dad on the show,” says the single father of three daughters. “Everything else was fair game.”
Leave it to the ad whiz to completely reinvent the acting process when he explains, “We map out the basic beats of the episode. And we have a very base skeleton of a script and we call actors in, and we read it once or twice. Then we throw it away.” He continues, “But then the day of shooting, we improv — because I’m not an actor — I can’t be bothered. If it was said to me, ‘line, line, line, line, line,’ I couldn’t do it. It made sense to say, ‘OK, Donny, just pretend like you’re an idiot and explain why this is not sex, it’s something different, and explain it.’”
And although he’s acting, Deutsch doesn’t consider himself an actor and says of writing and starring in a TV comedy, “I feel like I’m playing centerfield for the Yankees!” Deutsch gets help from a whip-smart roster of talent including Emily Tarver as Donny’s long-suffering producer, and Hailey Giles, Meera Rohit Kumbhani and Jessica Renee Russell as his trio of assistants. “Donny!” also features riotous appearances from a few famous friends. “We’ve got Kathie Lee, we’ve got Regis Philbin and Maria Menounos and Billy Bush and Christie Brinkley and Joe [Scarborough] and Mika [Brzezinski], Reverend Al [Sharpton],” he brags. “Russell Simmons is in an episode about race; I see something really stupid and Russell — he’s my friend — comes on to bash the @#$% out of me,” he laughs.
So how does Deutsch, a man who is larger than life, present a version of himself that is even more outspoken? “You make fun of yourself,” he laughs. “That’s what you do. You’ve got to make fun of yourself and make fun of what people perceive you to be.”
Donny! > USA Network > Tuesdays at 10:30pm ET/PT beginning Nov. 10
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