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So What Do You Do, Robert Verdi, Logo TV Host?

The fashion fiend reveals why he got into broadcast and how he landed his own reality TV show deal

By Diane Clehane - February 3, 2010

-Photo by Fadil Berisha
"It's been a series of fortuitous events," says Robert Verdi about a career that has taken him from the selling floor of ABC Carpet & Home in Manhattan to various studios in Los Angeles as a cable television headliner.

While the former freelance event producer and jewelry designer isn't exactly a household name yet, he's one of the most recognizable faces in fashion. (He's the guy that interviewed Meryl Streep's character, Miranda Priestly, in the final act of The Devil Wears Prada) Having logged plenty of time on cable's small screen doing shows he loved (Surprise by Design, She's Got the Look) and at least one he hated (E!'s Fashion Police), Verdi is inching closer to his dream of becoming a "gay cable TV superstar" and having his own network (no joke) with the premiere of The Robert Verdi Show on Logo this month. The reality-comedy series will follow Verdi in his tireless quest for total media domination of all media and hopefully in the process, he says, give young gay men and women someone to watch who reminds them of themselves. "That's the mission I've given myself," he says.

Name: Robert Verdi
Position: Host, The Robert Verdi Show; President of Robert Verdi Inc.
Birthdate: August 28, 1968. "But on Facebook, I'm 28."
Hometown: Maplewood, New Jersey
Resume: Began as a personal shopper at ABC Carpet & Home in 1998; the same year, broke into television as on-air fashion reporter for the cable access show Party Talk; reporting/critic stints with Full Frontal Fashion and E!'s Fashion Police from 1999 until 2005. Co-hosted Surprise By Design on Discovery from 1999-2003. Judge for TV Land's She's Got The Look. Helms Robert Verdi Inc which includes an interior design business, a celebrity stylist division (Eva Longoria and Mariska Hargitay are longtime clients), and an event planning operation centered around Luxe Lab, the chic New York City space where he hosts Twitter parties for companies looking to connect with the glitterati.
Education: Fashion Institute of Technology, associate degree in jewelry design
First section of the Sunday Times: "The Style section."
Favorite television show: "Hoarders. It's a mirror for me in many ways because everything I do is about stuff. I'm not a banana peel, empty bottle keeper hoarder, but I definitely have way too much stuff in my life. I find that show to be fascinating."
Guilty pleasure: "My Louis Vuitton collection that I started when I was a kid. I don't collect women's handbags. I collect lots of hard luggage."
Last book read: Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

Did you always know you wanted to be in fashion?
I did. As a kid, it was the only thing that separated me from the rest of the world. I wasn't a great athlete. I wasn't the hot, good-looking kid. I wasn't a great student. I knew early on somehow fashion was a manipulation and an invention. I always knew that fashion was fake -- that you could dress as a cowboy one day and a Wall Streeter the next. I remember thinking as a child, 'I'm going to dress like this.' I also was a bit of an entrepreneur and always selling things. My first grade teacher was so frustrated with me. She told my mother, 'You should just open a store for him because all he wants to do is make money.'

When did you start thinking about wanting to be on television?
When I was 25, I moved to New York. I grew up as a member of the MTV generation, but I didn't have MTV. When I did [get cable], I was riveted to the really raw programming particularly the programming that mirrored me. There was a show Inside Out that was a single-topic show, like Donahue for the gay community. There was another show called Gay USA that was like a Primetime Live kind of thing and there was another one called Party Talk which was an Access Hollywood of sorts. They were all cable access shows.

Party Talk had a straight female reporting on fashion on a gay show. I called and told them, 'I think it's strange that gay men are so prevalent in fashion and you would have a straight woman reporting on fashion to a gay audience on a gay show.' I wound up getting on and reporting on men's fashion. For me, being able to work on television was cathartic because growing up, I had these feelings and there was nothing in society that acknowledged that. With television, if somebody had been out there like me I could have found somebody who could have made me believe it was okay. That's why I wanted to get involved in TV.

How have you managed to hopscotch from one television gig to the next, particularly at a time when the competition in fashion television was so fierce?
I was always aware of not what made me like other people, but [what] made me different. What I did see was there was this whole lifestyle industry that was blossoming. I realized that the way I dressed was similar to the way I decorated and the way I entertain. I don't think that I'm that unique in that way, so I recognized it was smarter to have a through line in all of these areas rather than live in the ghetto of one.

"TV has gotten really niche. Oprah Winfrey has her own network. It's only a matter of time when personalities who are big enough will have their own branded entertainment division."

Where did the idea for the new show come from?
It very much goes back to my initial reasons for wanting to be on television. What I didn't know about television is you become something to people because TV tells people that's what you are. I was not able to be in any area of television other than fashion and design. The greater problem was that gay men had become America's minstrels. We're the court jesters to the nation and that includes all of us that are on TV. It's Carson [Kressley], me, and Jay Manuel. We're not seen as people who have an opinion on politics, education or health. Nobody thinks of Anderson Cooper when they think of who gay men are. They think of Isaac Mizrahi, not the greatest anchor on television. I didn't want to live a life where the only thing that mattered was what heel height or wall color or dessert plate people were using.

I had given up on selling shows. I was trying to sell a show that would be the transitional show for me. I didn't want to be on another makeover show, and I hate being on the red carpet. I'm over it! I had met with all these television executives, and I couldn't break through because they just saw me doing one thing. I had 30 show treatments. Every one of them was a variation on one idea. They all used what people expect me to do, but there was much more personality built in to them that was hopefully going to be the bridge to another aspect of my career. I was not able to sell them.

I got a call from my agent who wanted me to meet with this producer, Jo Honig, over at True Entertainment. She had done some things, but they weren't incredibly successful. I said to my agent, 'I can't chase the dream and live the nightmare anymore.' He said, I think you should meet with her.' My theory about this is that I wasn't counting on it, so my energy was different. She asked, 'What do you have?' I do the same thing with every producer. I asked her, 'How many shows should you really pitch?' She said 'One good idea is all you really need. If you have two, I'm willing to hear two.' I said, 'Great. I have 30.'

You actually went in with 30 ideas? How do you do that kind of pitch?
How I pitch is different than how most people pitch: I have a one sheet that outlines the show. I create a false ad for that show where I put it on a network where I think we should be shopping it and make it look like what you'd see if you were opening the pages of Us Weekly. I have a graphic designer in my office who came up with a logo for each show idea.

They're all really good and provocative. I laid them all out and said, 'Pick the two you want to hear about.' She listened and said, 'They are all basically the Robert Verdi Show.' What show do you really want to do? I said, 'I actually don't want my own show. I want [to have] my own network and produce all these shows for my network.' She said, 'Are you joking? Do you think that's a reasonable goal?' I said, 'TV has gotten really niche. Oprah Winfrey has her own network. It's only a matter of time when personalities who are big enough will have their own branded entertainment division.' She couldn't tell if it's a joke or if I really believed it. It's both. It's going to happen and I would like it to be me, but most people in TV hate me.

Why do they hate you?
Well, most executives who I've met don't love me because when you're in the talent area you're not supposed to have ideas.

Until you're a big deal.
But even then the successful ones don't. Let's call Ryan Seacrest successful -- do I think Ryan's ideas would be better than mine? I don't. He's a puppet. I'm very New York in the way I handle things. If I don't like something, I say I don't like it which is not very L.A. You're supposed to love everything and call your agent and let him fight with the executives. I always made enemies because everybody thought I had a big ego. In these situations, I didn't. I was trying to have a dialogue about fashion by saying things like, "I don't think we should shoot a weekly series called Fashion Police shot in Pasadena at PF Chang's. When I live in New York, the epicenter of fashion.' They built this stupid studio that they spent a million dollars on, and it was a bad idea. They didn't get it.

I love She's Got the Look. Will there be another season?
We're shooting season three right now. There are a couple of replacements. Kim Alexis was replaced by Brooke Burke and Roshumba Williams replaced Beverly Johnson.

Tell me about the Twitter parties you're having at your space, Luxe Lab.
I'm trying to find an editorial outlet for myself. This way I can give the information I want and let people disseminate my opinions. I come up with great gift ideas and approach the companies. We charge them to produce the event but they're not paying what they normally would -- $15,000 or $20,000 for a party. They're paying $1,000 to $2,500 to be part of a group event. They're not paying for my endorsement because for that they would go through an agent and it would be a bigger deal and I would make much more than I do. We come up with a list of products and have popular Tweeters and bloggers come over and show the stuff to them. We Tweet them live, let them Tweet and Retweet and we give the product away. It's very new to us, and it's fun. I'm always looking for new ways to grow the business.

Diane Clehane is a contributing editor to FishbowlNY. She writes the 'Lunch' column.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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