Host and Hostess Twinkies
Deep inside you want them to be evil incarnate. You long to hear backstage screaming matches or see evidence of between-taping animal sacrifices. But no matter how much you dig around Soundstage 25 on the Sony Studios lot — where Donny & Marie is camped out — all you come up with are shovelfuls of gooey goodness. Inside the fledgling talk-show duo’s pastel-colored offices, producers, writers, and crew frolic like G-rated cartoon characters, occasionally dipping their hands into ubiquitous candy bowls overflowing with Skittles, Lemonheads, Life Savers. ”Hi there! Isn’t it a beautiful day?” offers a perky receptionist, showing signs of sugar overload. A producer walks by, grabs a bag of M&M’s, and smiles. ”He’s just the greatest guy in the world!” says the receptionist. ”Everyone here is!” In other words, don’t bank on seeing any burnt offerings today.
Satisfyingly sweet or nauseatingly saccharine? Whether viewers will take to Donny & Marie or chuck it like a stale Gummy Bear is one of the big questions of the fall TV season. With stiff competition in the daytime talk world from rookies Roseanne and Howie Mandel — not to mention daytime staples Oprah, Rosie, and Jerry — the one-two punch from a little bit country, 38, and a little bit rock & roll, 40, is far from a sure thing. ”It’s such a great format,” gushes the preternaturally positive Marie, who prefers to be the pair’s spokesperson. ”We’re only limited by imagination, creativity, and anything we want. There’s no way to know how things will work out, though.” Especially since we’re not exactly dealing with the hippest kids to come out of the platform-shoe decade. ”My memories of them were that they’re Mormons, they’re very, very, very sweet people, they smile a lot, all those kind of soft and fuzzy things,” says Russ Krasnoff, executive VP of programming at Columbia TriStar Television, which syndicates the show. Indeed, when Krasnoff & Co. first mentioned Donny and Marie to stations, he says, ”the most common reaction was laughter.”
The sister-brother team isn’t exactly unaware of its straitlaced Stepford image. After the prime-time Donny and Marie, which ran from 1976 to 1979, went off the air, the two steered clear of TV to get some distance from their cutesy on-air personas. ”We were so young on that show,” says Marie. ”I look at it as an education, going to school to see what I really wanted to do.” Over the past 19 years, Marie — who’s married with six kids and recently bought a house in L.A. — has toured with The Sound of Music, created a lucrative empire out of her line of handcrafted dolls (she’ll be selling porcelain Donny and Marie figurines on QVC in October), and starred in one of the most desperately titled sitcom failures in recent memory, ABC’s Maybe This Time. Meanwhile, Donny, married with five sons and still based in Salt Lake City, made an ill-fated attempt at a rock & roll comeback (remember 1989’s ”Soldier of Love”? Thought not). He starred in a successful touring production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and also provided the singing voice of the noble warrior Shang in last summer’s Mulan. ”We’d been approached to do a show together back in the early 1980s but we needed to separate and pursue our own individual careers,” says Donny. ”Now we’ve done that.”