Alright, I’ll admit something. When I was asked about interviewing legendary ad executive Donny Deutsch about his upcoming tv show on USA Network called Donny! I was a little skeptical. I didn’t think I’d really like the show, which SEEMS to be centered around an exaggerated version of himself. Great, another annoying white guy-centered TV show, because we’re in desperate need of those these days.
So, I started researching him to prepare for the chat. Off to Wikipedia, as one always does, where I learned that Donny Deutsch is an incredibly outspoken Feminist. Nice, that won me some points, but, how good could this show be?
Let me tell you: it’s incredible. Seriously, I was so pleasantly surprised that Donny! is everything I never thought it would be. It’s female-centered. Yes, the show is named after Donny and you think the show is about him, something Donny echoed to me when we talked, but it’s not actually.
It’s about his fierce executive producer Pam, played by Emily Tarver, and his three assistants played by Hailey Giles, Jessica Renee Russell, and Meera Kumbhani, and his teenage daughter played by Fiona Robert.
The show is so much more than that white-guy centered TV show, I assumed it would be. It’s thoughtful, it’s laugh out loud funny, it’s Donny making fun of himself in a way that only he could, and it’s the feminist show you never knew you wanted.
Understandably, after watching the show and discovering what I did, I became excited to talk to Donny about his show, working with the incredible and legendary Christie Brinkley, who shows up in tonight’s episode, and everything else Donny Deutsch.
Chelsea Perrotty: I was pleasantly surprised when I watched the first episode/Tuesday night’s and saw just how empowering the show is for women. What inspired you to create such an awesome, woman-centered show?
Donny Deutsch: Because that’s my life. Not literally what’s in the show, but in my life I actually think women are superior to men. I wrote about it in one of the chapters in one of my books. In my ad agency, most of the senior partners are actually women.
My mom was a strong woman, my sister, and my amazing assistants in real life; two of my best friends are very powerful women District Attorneys.
I just have always been surrounded and supported by amazing strong women and I wanted to show that and put it on display. Let the women rule, that’s where the world is going!
It’s a kind of surprise, because you go “okay, this is a show about this idiotic guy,” but guess what it, it’s not. It’s a show about empowered women.
CP: The Donny on the show is a sort of caricature of yourself. What’s your favorite part about playing an exaggerated version of you?
DD: Well, I get to make fun of myself! We all laugh at ourselves. I’m able to look in the mirror and go ‘okay, here are the few good things about me and here are the really idiotic things about me.’ (laughter) Then I get to completely inflate them and poke at them and hopefully just demonstrate some of the kind of labels we all have in every day lives.
The kind of inspiration for the show is that I’ve met so many on-air personalities and that go, oh I know this great person and then you meet them off-camera and they’re idiots. The reality is that we’re all going through the same stuff every day. Rich, poor, old, young, black, white, famous, not-famous: we’re all struggling with the same stuff.
CP: You had no formal acting training prior to this show, yet I was impressed with how naturally it came to you! Was there any aspect of it that you found challenging?
DD: No because I co-wrote the show with a fantastic writer, Angie Day, and so the words kind of came from me, so it was easier in that sense. Plus, we did a lot of improv. You know, we would write scripts and then improv often with the actors and then rewrite.
You know, I’ve been on TV for years. When you’re doing hours and hours of live television, whether it was for the CNBC show or Morning Joe, you’re kind of improv-ing all the time. So, yeah I had some training whether I realized it or not.
CP: I love the hilarious ads mid-episode that randomly run, are those shout-outs to your ad exec days? Was it fun to record those?
DD: Yeah that was kind of an inside wink to my old self, plus I’ve kind of always been that guy. It’s also a really fresh way, because they’re paid ads. Advertisers really have to get creative and really embrace the content and become a part of it and who better to introduce that stuff than me?
CP: Tonight’s episode features Christie Brinkley, what was it like playing her boyfriend on TV? Many men would kill for that opportunity!
DD: This is when we know it is FICTION. That would probably never happen. You know what’s fun, we were shooting a bedroom scene in my room and I’m laughing to myself thinking that if someone had told me when I was growing up in Queens that I would eventually film a bedroom scene with Christie Brinkley I’d crack up. I enjoyed every moment of it. She is delightful and, honestly, funny as hell. She really, really is.
CP: Your three assistants, Zoe, Violet, & Jackie, combined with your producer Pam are hilarious and you have such a great dynamic with all of them. How did you choose them for the roles? Did the three assistants come about because they were all amazing in their auditions?
DD: Well, in life I do actually have three fantastic women who I’ve worked with for years and years and years. So, we cast them and each one of those women were fantastic and somehow they all gelled together and you can’t predict chemistry, but it was just there. They’re just all spectacular. Meera Kumbhani, Jessica Renee Russell, and Hailey Giles, they’re just fantastic. A brilliant woman named Emily Tarver plays my Executive Producer and they’re just all fantastic.
CP: In the show, you have a teenage daughter and a younger son, however, in real life you have three daughters of various ages. What made you switch it up for the show?
DD: I didn’t want anyone to think it was a reality show and I didn’t want anyone to think that anything that happened to my kids on the show was actually happening in real life. I wanted to protect my kid’s privacy.
That’s why I didn’t really mimic it, because let’s say I do something with my daughter on the show, I didn’t want someone to necessarily think that someone was going through that with my real daughter. This kind of gave me the creative freedom to do what I wanted.
CP: Being a single father raising three kids, how do you find a good work/life balance between filming and everything else you currently work on?
DD: You know, I have them half the time. I’m 57 and I’m not at the beginning of my career so I have a little more flexibility. I think it was early on when I was building my ad agency it probably would have been much tougher.
While we’re on this call, my kids come home from school, I try and be here and I’m able to at this stage in my life. I’ve built the business already, I’ve sold it, and I have a lot of projects and a lot going on, but I have a little more flexibility. I just love being a Dad.
CP: There are going to be a lot of celebrity cameos from Kathy Lee Gifford to Christie Brinkley to many more on the show, who surprised you the most while on set?
DD: Regis Philbin shows up a little bit later and he’s so damn funny. Everybody did, you know? Everyone came to play from Mika & Joe [From Morning Joe] to Russell Simmons to Billy Bush, you know all these people are just great performers. They were able to play different versions of themselves.
CP: Did you have a favorite episode of the first season that you walked away from filming being really excited for fans to see?
DD: You know each one is great, but I think tomorrow night’s episode might be my favorite cause I get to be naked with Christie Brinkley and what can top that?
CP: Finally, in your own words, why should our readers watch Donny!?
DD: It’s fresh and different in that it is a very, very unique combination of, like the Donald Trump of television. Donald Trump is this kind of amalgamation of reality and scripted and news and information.
This show is a blur of scripted comedy, reality, advertising, talk show, news and information all bundled into one. It’s really light. Most of the higher-minded TV today is very heavy. In this day and age, especially, it’s too sad. It’s a very high-minded lighter version of TV.
Donny! airs on USA Network Tuesday nights at 10:30 PM ET/PT with tonight’s show featuring the incredible Christie Brinkley!
[Headshot via Ben Fink Shapiro.]