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Barry Diller, David Zaslav and the Exclusive on Star Jones’ TV Plans

LunchAtMichaelsIt was business as usual at Michael’s today, which means it was wall-to-wall moguls (Barry Diller, David Zaslav), EICs (Liz Vaccariello, Alison Brower) and TV newsers (Ron Insana, Felicia Taylor and Lynn Sherr) – and plenty of other famous faces. I was joined by Star Jones, one of my favorite regulars at 55th and Fifth, who I met when I was one of the first reporters to cover the freshman season of The View. Suffice to say there’s been plenty that’s happened in Star’s professional and personal life since then, and she’s come through it all wiser, funnier and more determined than ever to forge her own path. Sitting at Table 1 today, nibbling on her kale salad with a side of salmon, she practically glowed with happiness.

She was excited to tell me about her role as chief development officer and national spokesperson for the National Association of Professional Women, where she is serving as a passionate advocate for members on healthcare and equal pay, which, she said, has become a tent pole issue. With most of NAPW’s members in middle management and plenty of entrepreneurs in the ranks, Star is all about “stiletto networking,” as she told me, which involves developing programming for the membership that will help empower them to reach their goals. “This is an opportunity for me to use all my experience and not just be in one box as an attorney, talk show host or author. Women’s lives are comprised of so many difference facets; it’s exciting to act as a advocate for NAPW, as I’ve done with my work for the American Heart Association, for causes that I’m passionate about.” She has also created the NAPW Foundation which, in addition to AHA, supports the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Dress for Success and Girls Inc. Star also brings another valuable skill to NAPW:  finding the right benefits and services to offer to its members. “You know I’m good at getting perks for the sisters!”

Michael Cominotto, Diane Clehane, Star Jones and Katherine Butkevich

From left: Michael Cominotto, Diane Clehane, Star Jones and Katherine Butkevich

Ever since she forged her age on her driver’s license (upping it from 15 to 16) so she could get a job at McDonald’s (“The statute has run out on that crime!”), Star has been creating unforeseen opportunities for herself that have defied expectations. In the early 90s, she went from the Brooklyn DA’s office to the small screen when she was tapped as a commentator for Court TV and Inside Edition, covering high profile cases like William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial and The OJ Simpson case. By the time she left her seat at the table with Barbara Walters on her ABC chatfest, she was one of daytime television’s most famous faces. Of her run on The View: “They were the best eight years of my life,” she said before adding with some laughter, “But I was on for nine years and that last year was a little rough.” But, like they say, time heals all wounds, and Star reports her relationship with Walters is better than ever. “Johnnie Cochran was my legal mentor, and Barbara has always been my broadcasting mentor. We’ve had our ups and downs, but no one has been more supportive of me than Barbara.” The two women have forged something of a blood bond having both undergone heart surgery in 2010 within months of each other. “My surgery was in March and Barbara’s was in May — and both our surgeries were on our aortic valves,” said Star. “So, of course we reached out to each other.”

Her old boss has even invited her back on The View to talk about her latest venture: her new line of stylish, affordably priced sportswear for QVC — Status by Star Jones. “It’s exciting to go back as a designer on the show.” (She tapes the segment next week.) And lest you think that Star just lent her name to the venture, think again. “I wanted to be able to say I designed the collection. I picked every zipper, every button; I wanted the chiffon scarf on this jacket to come attached because I know that women like me don’t want it to fall off when you sit down,” she said as she opened the beautifully cut teal jacket from her fall collection she was wearing this afternoon (trust me, it looked a heck of a lot more expensive than its $69 price). “I tried to think of everything because I’m designing this for every woman and a lot of women I know are single, so things like having side zippers on dresses and blouses you can do without help was important to me.” Above all, said Star, she wanted clothes that fit all sizes, so her line runs from size 0 to 26 W. “I didn’t size up one design for big girls and size down the clothes for smaller ones. The 8 is an 8. The fits are true to size.” Best of all, the fabrics are so good, she said, “it’s like Spanx you can wear outside.”

Celebrity talent wrangler Michael Cominotto concurred with Star’s thoughts on her relatability: “Star is the professional woman, the aspirational woman, the working woman. QVC isn’t going to give airtime to people who they don’t believe in — they believe in Star.”

After cramming for her first QVC appearance by watching the network nonstop for three days (“I tweeted that this homework was expensive — I bought a pair of five-pocket jeans and some Joan Rivers earrings!”), Star made her network debut last week in three different segments and loved it. “People have seen me go from a size 16-18 to a size 6 publicly, and I have had to look good at every size. I understand that every woman no matter what her size wants to look good,” she told me. “One of my dreams has been to design my own collection. Growing up I had a mother and eight aunts, so there was no shortage of clothes and high heels for dress up. I’ve always loved fashion. When I was in the DA’s office making $22,500 a year and $75,000 in debt from law school, I would buy a suit at Lane Bryant, and then go to Chinatown and buy the fake Chanel buttons and sew them on my suit. Everyone thought I was prosecuting cases in Chanel!”  Today, she’s thrilled to be able to wear her own designs — and did so on a recent trip to the White House. She’s also making sure her high-profile friends will be spotted around town wearing something from Status by Star Jones. “Barbara’s birthday present was the ivory sweater with the detachable jewel collar.” And in keeping with Star’s personal connection to the American Heart Association, each collection will feature one piece designed in red with a portion of the proceeds from sales going to the organization.

Just before the end of lunch, we got to talking about television. (Imagine my surprise when not one person at the table watched Downton Abbey!) When the conversation circled back to daytime television, Star told me it had been a few weeks since she’d last appeared on Today as part of the panel that weighs in on “Today’s Professionals,” but chalked it up to the usual tinkering that goes on with morning television. When I asked her who she thought was at the top of her game, she praised the interviewing accumen of Matt Lauer and Bryant Gumbel (“the greatest interviewer ever — bar none”) and offered an interesting assessment of daytime that led to the scoop of the day. “I don’t think the single-host format will be successful any longer. The time for those shows has passed,” she said. “I think people want to tune in and see a group of people with some real diversity and that are relatable.” Does that mean Star has a new talk show in the pipeline? Yup. “I can’t say much, but I can tell you exclusively I shot the pilot on Sunday and it’s multi-host – the opportunity came to me when I was in the middle of a million things — and I’m more excited about this than I’ve been in long time. It’s right in my wheel house.”

I had just one more question for her before we said our good-byes. How does she find time to do it all? “I’m a Jamaican Renaissance woman because I have 16 jobs!” Amen, sister.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Star Jones, Katherine Butkevich, chief financial officer of National Association of Professional Women, Michael Cominotto, Shadow PR founder Brad Zeifman and yours truly

2. Eva Mohr, Tonya Lee (Yes, Spike Lee’s wife) and Nikki Haskell 

3. John Sykes and a serious-looking bespectacled fellow we didn’t recognize. Anyone?

4. Barry Diller and Luke Janklow.

5. Calvin Klein and The Harlem Village Academy’s Deborah Kenny

6. Dr. Gerald Imber, Michael Kramer and Jerry Della Femina

7. Mrs. Martin Bregman

8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and a well-heeled gent we didn’t get to meet

9. Author Wednesday Martin and haute tot designer Caroline Zapf whose luxe children’s line is a favorite of the mommies of Upper East Side and Greenwich.

10. Reader’s Digest EIC Liz Vaccariello and new EIC of Dr. Oz’s upcoming epynonomous magazine, Alison Brower, whose jammed packed CV includes a recent stint at The Hollywood Reporter as well as positions with Redbook and Glamour. Alison tells me when it was first announced she’s be helming the hotly anticipated Hearst title, she received a note from Liz, who she’d never met, offering to have a friendly lunch to dish about life atop the masthead. Having met Liz myself in this very dining room, I can attest to her warmth as well as her enthusiasm for magazines and all that goes with it. Nice.

11. CNBC’s Ron Insana and CNN’s Felicia Taylor

12. Marshall Cohen, HeadButler.com’s Jesse Kornbluth and Clear Channel’s Wendy Goldberg

14. Marie-Josee Kravis and Vartan Gregorian

15. Politico and marketing man Robert Zimmerman and Leccia Eve of Verizon

16. United Stations Radio Networks’ chairman Nick Verbitsky, enjoying some Sancerre with some business types

17. Peter Price and Lynn Sherr

18. Discovery Communications’ CEO David Zaslav

20. Joan Gelman and Sandy Pearl

21. Producer Beverly Camhe

22. Andy Wing

24. Jordan Ringel

26. Author Pamela Keogh — Long time no see!

27. Investigation Discovery’s head honcho Henry Schleiff and David Johnson

28. Quest Magazine‘s Sara Beth Shrager

29. Scalamandre’s president Steven Stolman, fresh off a whirlwind book tour for Haute Decor, with social swan Gillian Miniter, who happens to be chairing the upcoming Autumn in Central Park gala. Tonight, Steven will be feted here in town in the first of a series of soirees at Stark (Swifty’s catering — yum!). It all sounds so glamorous, doesn’t it?

81. Producer Francine LeFrak

Diane Clehane is a contributor to FishbowlNY. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Please send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM. 

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