Drew Barrymore on Her Talk Show’s Evolution, Keeping Her Home Life Private & Exploring the Journey to True Happiness

Elizabeth Wagmeister
·10 min read

Drew Barrymore has been exploring her own talk show for years. But never in a million years did the star of “The Wedding Singer,” “50 First Dates” and “Never Been Kissed” imagine that when the day finally arrived, “The Drew Barrymore Show” would air during a pandemic.

“I have worked really hard on a lot of things in my life that didn’t manifest, and I know those all ended up being building blocks for something else, so I tried to keep that discipline that I don’t think anything is a waste of time,” says Barrymore, who serves as host and executive producer of the show. “The harder you work and the more you apply yourself, somewhere, it will pay off.”

Back in 2016, Barrymore was in early conversations with Warner Bros. TV about the possibility of a talk show. Three years later, in mid-2019, Barrymore shot a pilot for a daytime talker with CBS TV Distribution, the venue that would end up becoming the home for “The Drew Barrymore Show,” which premiered in September.

The year in between shooting the pilot and launching the show was anything but normal. As if the long haul to selling a nationally syndicated show market-by-market wasn’t enough of a grueling journey, Barrymore had to construct her show as most daytime hosts had started broadcasting remotely from their own homes.

By the time Barrymore was ready to make her big debut, “The Drew Barrymore Show,” which hails from her production company, Flower Films, had been through so many iterations and creative changes, the newfound talk show host wasn’t sure if she would ever make it to air.

Two months after launching, Barrymore’s show has become defined by her signature carefree charm, goofy authenticity and a never-know-what-you’re-going-to-get kind of vibe — even spawning its own “Saturday Night Live” parody — and emerging as a departure from the heavy news cycle of a presidential election and pandemic.

Here, Drew Barrymore talks about how her talk show changed during the pandemic, and what kept her going when she wasn’t sure what the future would hold.

The show has been in development for a while, and then a pandemic hit. Was there ever a time that you said to yourself, “This is not going to happen?”

I was absolutely not certain. Even today, I’m certain of nothing.

Do you think that the tone of the show — the carefree wackiness — actually works better now because people are looking for an escape?

I am lucky that my insane desire was to be the antidote, because I think I would have tried to do something different at different intervals of my life. And it seems like this year, there was a part of me that was very nervous it could be the biggest failure.

From a production standpoint, there is a lot that you can’t do these days, due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Was there anything that was a “must” for you?

I fought really hard to be live. I thought it’s an appropriate to be doing this where I can speak to the moment. I just didn’t want to risk being a day or two old because that type of energy when the show came out could be totally unattached. I’m so glad my bosses trusted me with a live show because I think when you go live, there is a lot of desire to be political and newsy.

How do you balance staying up-to-date, but not delving into the hard news of the world, while keep the light tone of your show intact?

I’m just so relieved that they trusted me that I wouldn’t do nothing but talk about everything crazy that’s happening. But I didn’t want to ignore everything that was happening. I’m trying to walk a very honest line of how I’m taking all of this in and processing this, too. I hate soap boxes — god, I hate them so much! — and growing up in Hollywood, there are a lot of soap boxes. I thought if this show makes me want to run away, it probably feels like that to a lot of other people, too, so I just kept thinking about trying to be honest and current and true to myself.

Is the daily grind of a show challenging?

We’re not the same people throughout one day, let alone every day. Where is all that color of the mood board of our life? We have different relationships, we go through different experiences and passions and hobbies. Things happen in the world. I love pop culture. I love the inundation of social media because it’s the urgency of that currency, and I feel like we’re living in a very spinning world — and I want to keep spinning, but I kind of want to un-dizzy myself; but then, I want to spin and get dizzy; and then un-spin.

I like being in a state of optimism, but I just don’t love that, “I’m just happy all the time!” Like, happiness is hard. It’s a big battle that we fight. It’s a really incredible reward, but it is not easy. We don’t always wake up with it. That bullshit happiness just drives me crazy. I love the happiness that is earned by trying to figure out what being a good person is and being good to each other and earning that happiness is because so many times, I’m not happy in life, and usually, I can only blame myself, and if it’s something that’s external, I think, “How can I overcome that and fix that to be a happier person?” I always find my way back to life is good and it’s worth it and we are worth it and it’s all worth it. But it’s a long way around to that revelation and that’s not always available in the snap of a finger. That journey fascinates me, so I really want to talk about self improvement and all of that stuff, too. How do we get there? That road is interesting to me. It’s not just happy happy joy joy.

Did you always know you’d be filming from a set, or was there ever a conversation about doing the show remotely from home?

I basically kicked and screamed and said, “I will do this show on a street corner with a camera and me and one person. I’m not doing a home show. I don’t want to do it. I don’t like watching them.” I love what Jimmy Fallon did with his, and I thought a lot of people really rose to the occasion and did some extraordinary things. But the reason a lot of the home shows were so exciting to watch is because they were well-established. I was scared that if I started a home show, I would stay stuck there. It terrified me.

Why did it terrify you?

I was too afraid to mix that up with my kids. I keep my kids off of social media. I don’t show them. I’m very protective of them. I was honestly very anxious. I would never want to do a television show about me and my home and my children. I was really scared because there was a lot of talk of, “That’s the way it’s going to end up being, and you don’t really have a choice in the matter,” and that actually just made me a lot more convinced to go the exact opposite direction. I really thought, “What is the modern television show right now, and if you could never changed, you would still be happy with it?” That is the show that I was lucky enough to be allowed to launch and have my vision enabled by my bosses.

The premiere episode featured a “Charlie’s Angels” reunion with you, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz, except she was actually beaming into your NYC studio from L.A. The technology is so crazy. Are you surprised at how realistic these remote interviews look on TV?

It’s so flawless, it’s so insane. I still don’t understand how they’re doing it. It’s freakish. People don’t think that person is not sitting in here. We are now incorporating shots of the green screen because nobody was even getting that this was even happening.

You don’t want the show to feel like it’s a Zoom show. Are you satisfied with the technology beaming in guests from L.A?

As many people that can come do my show in person would be ideal, but I love the L.A. studio virtual situation so much that I could easily keep going that way. What if we never go backwards from this moment? I’m really just trying to look forward and incorporate the futuristic possibilities. It will never replace a human in the room, but when those things are not possible, what is the next best thing? Moving forward, the more people that can come and play in front of the camera, for me, is the better. We are lucky. We do have a lot of people coming in right now, which is really exciting. I’m always really excited when somebody comes.

As an executive producer, you were very hands-on about the look of the show. You didn’t want it to feel virtual, so how did you help design the set to achieve that?

I’m still navigating the Zoom, but I’m like, “It can’t look like a Zoom! No boxes! Let’s have things borderless!” I’m very particular about the arrangement of how all the screens are because I don’t want to hang out with my friends on Zoom. I love working on Zoom, but that’s it, and I don’t want the show to feel like something you work it. It should feel like a departure from your work life. But it should also talk about your work life, ironically.

What’s a normal day like on set? How often are you getting tested and how often is your team getting tested for COVID-19?

Everyone goes through a clinical nurse virtually before coming on set and then everyone is tested multiple times per week. There is actually a lab here in the CBS Broadcast Center that they’ve set up. It’s been really efficient and really diligent. Everyone wears masks and social distances. It’s extremely respectful. But, I will say we’re also having the best time. It is so fun. We’re all really happy, and all that I care about is that everyone feels good because everyone deserves to feel good. It matters so much to me, the vibe and the energy on set, and it’s been so positive, but real. We like to work hard together, we like to talk about our families, there is no bullshit. It’s very real, which is exactly what I want the show to be — joyful, but real.

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