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The Dish on Christmas at The White House | Mrs. Howard Stern and the Social Swans

LunchAtMichaels

With yesterday’s monsoon a not-so-distant memory, an SRO crowd of the usual suspects at Michael’s showed up at 55th and Fifth today. There was the requisite gathering of ladies who lunch perched at Table One (including Peggy Siegal and Beth Ostrosky Stern amid a sea of blondes) with a smattering of power brokers (Bob Barnett) and TV types (Bill Hemmer, Felicia Taylor) scattered around the room. ‘Tis the season!

Diane Clehane and Loren Ruch

Diane Clehane and Loren Ruch

I was joined today by Loren Ruch, vice president of programming partnerships and special events for HGTV, DIY Network and Great American Country. He oversees many of the networks’ high-profile specials, like the annual broadcast of White House Christmas and many popular series, including Flipping the Block, Brother vs Brother, HGTV Dream Home, HGTV Smart Home, HGTV Urban Oasis and the upcoming Sharing Paradise. I met Loren (where else?) in this very dining room a few weeks back when he was lunching with PR maven extraordinaire Judy Twersky, who always introduces me to the most interesting folks, and we decided our own “Michael’s lunch” was in order.  With White House Christmas 2014 premiering on HGTV this Sunday at 8 p.m., it was perfect timing. Everywhere you look these days, it seems an HGTV show or personality is being obsessively talked about. The Property Brothers aka the telegenic twins Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott, recently got the full People magazine treatment. Hillary Clinton frequently cites Love It or List It as one of her favorite shows and everyone I know watches House Hunters, although it’s always a bit disconcerting to realize that for what you paid for your modest East Coast home, you could buy an entire block in other parts of the country. ”House Hunters is absolutely a part of pop culture. We’re in the attainable, aspirational space,” said Loren, who explained the network’s multi-generational fan base this way: “We’re one of the few G-rated networks left on TV! We hear a lot about families watching our shows together.”

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Barbara Walters, Willow Bay I Going to Great Lengths for Breast Cancer Awareness

LunchAtMichaelsThe power-lunch season is in full swing as the overflowing Wednesday crowd poured into Michael’s. There were plenty of  hard working PR mavens (Peggy Siegal wielding not one — but two — cell phones at once, while she waited for her date to arrive) and famous faces (Barbara Walters and the ageless Willow Bay) among the sea of usual suspects.

I was joined today by Ouidad (Yes, she goes by one name like Madonna and Cher) the renowned hairstylist whose celebrity clients include Minnie Driver, Sean Lennon and Jordin Sparks. The tireless and incredibly exuberant industry icon is considered the “pioneer of the curl” among beauty business insiders since she launched her eponymous business in 1984. Ouidad tells me she’s “all about the curl” — while shaking her own impressive tresses for emphasis – whether she’s cutting and styling clients at her Manhattan or Santa Monica salons, training stylists (600 in all!) across the country on her signature techniques (the “rake and shake”), or formulating her own product line designed to enhance the health and appearance of the manes of her curly-haired customers. ”There is such freedom in letting your hair be!” she told me referring to the fashion set’s obsession with the flat iron (guilty as charged). “This is all about empowerment. I love helping women be free to be who they are. It’s my mission,” she said.

Diane Clehane, Leslie Stevens, Ouidad and Kate Boothby

Diane Clehane, Leslie Stevens, Ouidad, Kate Boothby

Ouidad’s other deeply personal mission is her commitment to raise breast cancer awareness and funds. A breast cancer survivor who lost her own mother to the disease, Ouidad told me the experience was life changing both personally and professionally. After her bi-lateral mastectomy in 2002, she had a newfound respect and understanding for women struggling with the disease and felt deeply connected to her clients who came into the salon facing the difficult diagnosis. “Before I’d try to tell my clients, we can try different wigs, do different things,” she recalled. “Now I’d never say that. Being behind the chair listening to them and having had my own experience, I tell them, ‘Yes, this is awful, but it’s not a death sentence. We’re going to get through this together.’”

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Woody Johnson, Jared Kushner and a Haute New Hollywood Handbag Designer

LunchAtMichaelsSince so many media mavens and talking heads have headed to the West Coast for Oscar week, my lunch today with designer Michelle Vale was particularly timely. Just a few days ago, Michelle sent off several of her handbags to LaLa land in hopes that a certain Best Actress nominee will walk down the red carpet carrying one of her creations come Sunday night. If the actress, whose name for the moment is top secret (“But she’s a big Oscar person!”) utters Michelle’s name when she is asked the million dollar question of the night — “Who are you wearing?” — by E!’s Giuliana Rancic, that could mean very big things for the designer. “You never know what’s going to happen,” Michelle told me. “An actress can pick a dress and change her mind at the last minute. She can look in her suitcase and pick up something else. I won’t know until I see her on television.”

Diane Clehane and Michelle Vale

Diane Clehane and Michelle Vale

No stranger to the celebrity scene, Michelle’s collection of sophisticated, versatile designs that allow women to customize their bags by selecting a variety of  different hardware and straps  — all made right her in New York City — have been worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, Cameron Diaz, Kate Bosworth and Kate Beckinsale. Michelle also managed to score valuable television exposure on Gossip Girl, a favorite of fashionistas everywhere where posh Upper East Siders played by Blake Lively and Leighton Meester toted around the Amex Black cards in Michelle Vale handbags.

While fashion was part of Michelle’s DNA — dad was a senior vice president of Sasson Jeans, favored by aspiring disco divas everywhere in the 80s, and mom once owned a boutique, she never planned on going into the business as a career. “I used to go to Studio 54 with my father,” Michelle told me. “It was such a big part of my childhood that I wanted to something completely different, so I got a master’s in counseling  children which, as it turns out, has come in handy in this business.” It was when the accidental designer got pregnant quickly after getting married that she decided she wanted to do something that allowed her to stay at home with her newborn son. “I literally started the business with my son in my lap,” she said.

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Last Lunch of the Year: Huma Abedin, Rikki Klieman and the Media Mob

LunchAtMichaelsThe artic temperatures and snow (It’s not even Christmas and we’re over it already!) couldn’t keep the faithful from 55th and Fifth today as the towncar set squeezed in the last Wednesday power lunch of 2013.

The usual contingent of media mavens (Connie Anne Phillips, Gerry Byrne), spin meisters (Tom Goodman) and fashionistas (Fern Mallis, Jaqui Lividini and LaVelle Olexa) were well represented, as there was plenty of air-kissing and glad-handing behind every poinsettia. After our own head-spinning schedule of sitdowns with A-listers of every description for our regular Wednesday confabs this season – along with a few “special” lunches (We’re still recovering from last week’s double bill of  “The Cosmo 100″ and a Thursday lunch with Downton Abbey executive creator Gareth Neame), I decided to go solo today after my date came down with the flu.

Diane Clehane with Michael McCarty

Diane Clehane with Michael McCarty

Making the rounds in the dining room gave me the chance to catch up with a lot of folks I’ve spotted as they’ve sailed past my table over the past few months. I just had to go over to Marie Claire editrix Anne Fulenwider‘s table to find out what she was wearing. “It’s Alberta Ferretti,” she told me as she petted her fabulous faux fur shrug. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d say Anne’s upped her own personal fashion quotient quite a bit since ascending to the top spot at the Hearst title. Well done!

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Paul Caine Sounds Off on Radio’s Next Act

LunchAtMichaelsIt was wall-to-wall mavens and moguls at Michael’s today with EICs of those swanky design books (Architectural Digest, House Beautiful and Veranda) holding court in one corner of the dining room (I guess living well really is the best revenge), while the usual bold-faced names and social swans exchanged air kisses in the other. I was joined today by Paul Caine, CEO of audio content syndicator Westwood One, one of the nicest and most successful guys in the media biz (and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you just how rare a description that is around here). Paul has had himself one heck of a year having joined Westwood One (back when it was known as Dial Global — more on that later) in March from Time Inc., where he was EVP Chief Revenue Officer and Group President.

Since joining the newly christened Westwood One, Paul has been doing what he does best — positioning his brand in the best possible light for prospective advertisers. It was clear from talking to him he’s found a new calling as an audio content advocate. I had to begin by asking Paul why he left the Time Inc. mothership after 23 years and ahead of Time Inc’s planned spin-off  after having had such a successful tenure and largely considered one of its rising stars. He had been responsible for global ad revenue for all of the company’s magazines, including People and Sports Illustrated, while spearheading new initiatives to roll out new ad products across all platforms. His name had been floated in several published reports as a possible successor to Time Inc.’s former CEO Laura Lang (coincidentally the man who got the job, Joseph Ripp, was seated on the other side of the dining room), but Paul told me that when he was first approached in January about his current job, “Initially, I wasn’t interested. I was not looking to leave.”

Diane Clehane and Paul Caine

Diane Clehane and Paul Caine

It was only after talking to advertisers when, during conversations, the question ‘What about radio?’ came up time and again that Paul began to seriously consider making a move.” I had a great time at Time Inc.,” he told me. “The brands are fantastic. (Time Inc. editor-in-chief) Martha Nelson is fantastic and I’m optimistic about their future.” As far as the prospects after the spin-off: “What I know from afar is that they are uniquely positioned to succeed. Print is healthy.”

But audio content is what the future is all about, says Paul, and Westwood One has got over 225 million listeners a week to prove it. “We spend one third of our day listening to audio content — music, talk radio, sports, news.” The company is the only broadcast medium with exclusive rights to the NFL, NCAA, the Masters and EPL (English Premier League soccer) as well as serving as home for the radio broadcasts of John Tesh (who just celebrated ten years with the company), Charles Osgood, Dennis Miller and Billy Bush.  Read more

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. Read more

Joe Kernen, Andrew Ross Sorkin and the Skinny on Jessica Simpson’s New Role at Weight Watchers

LunchAtMichaelsNeither rain nor snow (not yet anyway) or a meltdown on Metro North’s Connecticut line (don’t ask!) can keep us from our appointed rounds on Wednesdays at Michael’s. Who else would tell you which talking heads (Star Jones, Joe Kernen, Andrew Ross Sorkin) were holding court in the dining room while pointing out the random sighting of a former beauty queen and even some titled ladies and lords? (Read on and you’ll find out.) We, not of the town car set, braved a very crowded train from Westchester (Note to fellow passengers: garlic on your breakfast isn’t a good thing!) to bring you all the earth-shattering goings on at 55th and Fifth today so you can eat at your desk while searching for Internet spoilers on Sunday’s series finale of Breaking Bad.

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Andy Amill and Diane Clehane

I was joined today by my intrepid Greenwich neighbor Andy Amill, VP of Media Sales at Weight Watchers. I’ve been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers since my days heading up Danskin’s PR department (just try having to wear spandex to work) and wanted to get the skinny on all the incredible innovations the company has implemented over the past year. Have you seen Jennifer Hudson lately? Exactly. Andy tells me that Jennifer has been “an inspiration” to Weight Watcher members. The dynamic multi-media campaign featuring the brand ambassador which launched in 2010 has helped attract plenty of new members. I am also fascinated by the technology behind the company’s barcode scanner app, which members can download to their smart phones. It lets the user zap the UPC of thousands of products in the supermarket and instantaneously get the Weight Watchers PointsPlus value. What will they think of next?

When I mentioned that the Weight Watchers center where I attend meetings had undergone a pretty dramatic makeover a few months back, Andy explained that many stores have been redesigned in the past few years with a contemporary look and feel. “They’re all uniform so members can find a center anywhere and they all look the same,” he tells me. “It really helps them stay connected.” Read more

Joanna Coles, Wendy Williams and the Inside Story on the New JFK Book

LunchAtMichaelsForget about having to dig out a coat for the first time this season to ward off this morning’s chilly temps, the real sign of fall here is that the power lunch scene is back in full swing at Michael’s. Today the dining room was full of famous faces (Al Roker and wife Deborah Roberts at separate tables, Wendy Williams, Star Jones); entertainment bigwigs (Tad Smith, Nick Verbitsky); social swans (Margo Nederlander and pals); and more spinmeisters than there are Kardashian tabloid covers on any given week. You get the picture.

Fall also means the launch of a plethora of “important” titles and made-for-gift-giving books. I was joined today by Steve Koepp, editorial director of Time Home Entertainment, the book publishing division of Time Inc., who gave me the inside story on the company’s impressive and incredibly diverse fall list. He came toting three books to illustrate the point: the just-published Zoom: Surprising Ways to Supercharge Your Career by Daniel Roberts, born out of Fortune‘s compulsively readable “40 Under 40″ annual list and featuring original interviews from headline-making top execs, including Marissa Mayer and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank; LIFE‘s bookazine The Wizard of Oz: 75 Years Along the Yellow Brick Road; and JFK: His Enduring Legacy (published by Time as both a book and bookazine).

Steven Koepp and Diane Clehane

Steven Koepp and Diane Clehane

Between bites of Cobb salad, Steve told me the book business is, in fact, thriving over at Time Inc. thanks to the company’s multi-pronged approach to reaching all different readers with books that often connect them back to those people and eras that “resonate” and seem to grow more iconic over time. This is certainly true with The Day Kennedy Died from Life, which Steve described to me as “magisterial.” Certainly sounds like it. Due out Oct. 15, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the book is full of fascinating reporting, artifacts and images from Nov. 22, 1963. In fact, there is so much material that has been thoughtfully assembled that the book comes with a magnetic closure to hold a full-size exact replica of the issue of Life published immediately after Kennedy’s assassination as well as a gatefold with the entire Zapruder film — all 486 frames — published for the first time. Reporting includes the “centerpiece” of the book: a narrative by Dick Stolley, then the magazine’s Los Angeles bureau chief who flew into Dallas after the shooting and recounts his experience covering the event that made the world stand still. Read more

Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey Celebrate Women in the World

In her opening remarks on the second day of The DailyBeast/Newsweek Women in the World Summit, former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton called women’s rights the 21st century’s “unfinished business.”

“The world is changing beneath our feet, and it is past time to embrace a 21st-century approach to advancing the rights and opportunities of women and girls,” Clinton said. “Technology, from satellite television to cell phones, from Twitter to Tumbler, is helping to bring abuses out of the shadows and into the center of global consciousness.”

Clinton’s remarks framed the morning session of panel discussions at the Summit. Clinton’s daughter Chelsea, a board member at The Clinton Foundation and a special correspondent for NBC News, was the morning’s first moderator, steering a panel about women’s roles in science, math and computer programming. The morning’s other moderators included ABC News anchor Cynthia McFadden, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown and CBS News anchor Norah O’Donnell.

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Ed Rollins Talks Presidential Politics; The 1 Percent Toasts the Good Life

1003_mockup.gifWe’ve gotten so used to the celebrity circus that has dominated Michael’s lately that we did a double take when we found the dining room populated mostly by suits, well-heeled ladies and dandies who prefer to let their bank accounts (not publicists) do the talking. Aside from the usual boldface names (Star Jones) and fashionistas (Fern Mallis) in attendance, there were a lot of folks at lunch today who I’d never seen in the dining room before.

I just had to go over to Table One and introduce myself to the couple who was working furiously to glam up the table with flowers and pretty trinkets before their guests arrived. It turns out Kelly Langberg was celebrating her birthday with her husband Jeff Langberg and a few of her nearest and dearest BFFs. Jeff told me all these ladies are the better halves of some of Manhattan’s most powerful couples.  The impeccably dressed gals all toasted Kelly, who calls herself  ”The Makeover Queen,” with a lovely rose  in the lounge before moving to their table to celebrate. When I was chatting with Kelly about her makeover business (she refers clients to cosmetic dentists, plastic surgeons,  hair colorists and other professionals essential to living the good life in Gotham),  I couldn’t help but notice the dazzling bling that adorned her ears and wrists. When I complimented her on it, she told me the pieces were from her own line of fine jewelry. Where does she find the time?

I also got  to chat with politico Ed Rollins who specializes in a different kind of makeover. He was assistant to President Ronald Reagan and managed his reelection campaign. Earlier this year, Ed stepped down from his post as Michele Bachmann‘s campaign manager. I just had to ask what he thought of  the results of yesterday’s primary. “Santorum is for real,” he told me. “I expect Romney will get the nomination, but it’s going to be a slugfest right up until the end.” Having seen him on PBS’ recent documentary on President Bill Clinton (“I’d take either Clinton right now!”), we also chatted about the HBO political drama Game Change, based on the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. “I liked the book better. The movie had a deliberate purpose. That’s not the John McCain I know,” he told me. ” (Ed Harris) was too soft and fuzzy.” He did characterize Julianne Moore‘s depiction of Sarah Palin as “very accurate,” though. Ed gave the film high marks in one respect: “It caught a lot of the pace and excitement of a political campaign.” Speaking of campaigns, what does he think of President Obama‘s chances come November? “Presidents often get too much credit and too much blame for what’s happening. Right now, he’s paying the price for promising a lot of things he couldn’t deliver.”

Michael's restaurant in New York City
The scene in the Michael’s dining room

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

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