EW Staff
January 19, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

IN HER FRANTIC New York talk-show-host mode, Ricki Lake is getting ready to tape two shows back-to-back at the Ricki Lake studio on East 37th Street in Manhattan. She listens to the Now and Then soundtrack in the hair and makeup room as she gets a quick trim of her mod third-season bubble cut. A publicist announces, ”The Dutch are here.”

”Are you serious?” Lake asks. She drops her cockapoo, Dudley, and rushes down the hall to a conference room jammed with 10 reporters. As the heavily accented questions begin, she’s utterly poised.

What made her want to do a talk show? ”I wanted a job,” she says, smiling.

Is she worried about the competition? ”I wish them the best of luck, as long as we’re number two.”

On the eighth floor, the audience for the Ricki Lake show is waiting for the woman who will guide them through an hour that virtue scribe William Bennett and his conservative pals have labeled, along with other talk shows, as cheap, demeaning, exploitative, perverted, divisive, and immoral. While Lake gets ready, psychology student Monique La Barbera and her mother, Francine, sit in the risers, excited. They’ve come from Brooklyn to see the show. ”She’s the sweetest,” says Monique. ”I find her the most sincere.”

Supervising producer Stuart Krasnow runs onto the stage and reminds the crowd that it’s supposed to be ”the loudest audience in television history!” Lake’s fans roar on cue as she bounces in wearing pancake makeup, red lipstick, a white turtleneck, a brown jacket, leggings, and clogs. ”Go, Ricki!” chants the crowd.

”How many of you came here today to get on TV?” she asks. They whoop.

And now for the important social issue of the day: ”Surprise! I Want You to Be the Father of My Baby!” leads off with a pretty young woman who wants her best girlfriend’s boyfriend to impregnate her. ”Lorraine, what kind of cockamamy idea is this?” asks Lake from the aisle. ”You want his sperm?”

In the wings, executive producer Gail Steinberg, a small, no-nonsense woman in her late 40s who created the show with former TV boy wonder Garth Ancier, scrawls questions in black marker on sheets of cardboard and holds them up. Lake largely ignores them. As five young men are paraded out to be stunned by each woman’s announcement, the audience is caught up in the drama. So, it seems, is the breathless, ever-empathic Lake. ”There are other guys out there who would make great fathers,” she earnestly tells one crestfallen woman.

”If I were you, I’d be freaked out,” she says to one Alaskan hunk.

”I am freaked out,” he replies.

At show’s end the would-be couples line up. ”My husband and I have been married a year and a half,” Lake informs the group, ”and we are still not ready to have kids.”

”Go, Ricki!” chants the audience.

”CHEZ RICKI,” says the door to Lake’s office, a tiny room cluttered with posters for John Waters’ Hairspray (her 1988 debut film) and Melrose Place. But before you enter, you can spy, on the anteroom floor, a stack of labeled videotapes that display the show’s confrontational topics: ”Back Off, Boys, I’m a Lesbian — You’ll Never Have Me!”; ”Yeah, I’m Only 13, But I’m Going to Have a Baby!”; ”You Have No Friends and Today I’ll Tell You Why!”; ”You Think It’s Okay to Hit Me, But Today the Abuse Must Stop!”; ”Today I Nominate You the Worst Boyfriend in America!”

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