Power Struggles, Catfights, and Cocktails: VH1’s Daytime Divas Ring Nasdaq’s Opening Bell

VH1 rang the Nasdaq opening bell to celebrate its new scripted series, Daytime Divas. Nasdaq’s Rob Phillips welcomed the stars of the show to the podium, along with Maggie Malina, senior vice president and head of scripted for MTV and VH1.

Phillips praised Viacom’s “innovative and imaginative programming,” noting how much buzz the show has been generating. “We are honored to have Viacom as part of the Nasdaq family,” said Phillips. “Viacom truly represents what it means to be a Nasdaq company—the visionaries, the game changers.”

Watch the ceremony:

Daytime Divas is based on Star Jones’ novel, Satan’s Sisters. The book and series follow the women behind a long-running talk show called The Lunch Hour. On screen, their quirky personalities shine and their friendships seem genuine. Backstage, it’s a world of backstabbing, blackmail, and botched plastic surgery (luckily, these antics were not present on the podium at Nasdaq.)

But for a drama about a fake talk show, the plot points couldn’t be more real. Daytime Divas tackles ageism, sexism, transgender issues, sexuality, spousal abuse, addiction, sexual harassment in the workplace…and that’s just in the pilot.

Vanessa Williams stars as Maxine, the alpha diva. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Maxine is “formidable, powerful and decisive, a person who fears being put out to pasture.” Maxine hides her insecurities, however, like a true diva (a term which, in Daytime Divas, can be seen as a positive attribute of a female executive rather than than the conventional stereotype of a domineering woman in show business).

“Tell the network I won’t be going to the corporate retreat,” Maxine confidently announces in the beginning, addressing a slew of production assistants. “It’s a boy’s club. I won’t be paraded around as the token female in a leadership role.” While Maxine’s tone can be interpreted as abrasive, it is a vehicle expressing the frustrations of many women and minorities in corporate America.

Of course, Maxine doesn’t spend too much time waxing poetic about gender inequality in the workplace before cutting her (female) cohosts down. Still, many viewers shocked by Maxine’s conniving, catty antics will likely relate to her struggle with ageism. Maxine’s “brand” is her seemingly natural, ageless appearance—an illusion she goes to extreme lengths to maintain. In the pilot [spoiler], she falls into a coma while going under the knife in secret. Maxine’s friends and family have to grapple with keeping her clandestine chin-tuck out of the gossip mags, in addition to praying for her recovery.

Then there’s Kibby (Chloe Bridges) a child star-turned-drug-addled-felon-turned-reformed-cohost. Kibby’s struggles are ubiquitous in Hollywood, but Bridges shows an earnest desire to recover, especially when motivated by her role model and boss, Maxine. In fact, she’s one of the only women on the show not embattled in drama throughout the pilot.

Tichina Arnold plays Mo, the self-proclaimed “funny one.” Mo may sabotage her costars and boss in order to make it in show business, but finds herself the victim of somebody else’s cutthroat power move. Mo’s fierce attitude and ruthless scheming may make her a bit less loveable than her costars, but her character embodies, as Maxine puts it, “the every-woman.” All the characters on Daytime Divas are flawed, yet it’s Mo who does the least to hide it. And that makes her shine.

Nina (Camille Guaty) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who makes it obvious her work as a daytime diva is beneath her. Still, while Nina’s arrogance and lack of gratitude can be galling, it’s clear she’s grappling with more than career calamities when we find out she’s struggling to conceive a baby with her politician husband.

Perhaps the most captivating character is Heather (Fiona Gubelmann), a former pageant winner and evangelical Christian, modelled after Elizabeth Hasselbeck.

“As the saying goes, ‘Modest is hottest,’” quips Heather when prompted to take off her sarong onstage during a bathing suit segment. But Heather isn’t just being modest; she’s covering bruises on her legs—presumably left by her abusive husband.

Later in the pilot, VH1 throws another twist into Heather’s persona—her son is transgender. However, instead of taking the predictable role as a pearl-clutching Christian, Heather is accepting of her son’s gender fluidity.

“She has said she’s a girl since the day she understood the word,” Heather tells her husband. “It’s God’s will, and God doesn’t make mistakes.” It’s a shocking sentiment coming from a character who, until that moment, seemed to fit a conservative religious stereotype. However, Heather says this with such conviction that it’s clearly not an attention-grabbing stunt.

The pilot was packed with enough clubbing, gossip, and catfights to fill a year’s worth of Us Weekly. And that matches perfectly with VH1’s new tagline as “the place where pop culture comes to party.”

Chris McCarthy, president of VH1, MTV and Logo, called Daytime DivasThe Devil Wears Prada meets daytime talk,” in an interview with Variety. McCarthy’s goal with such programming is to produce “an experience our audience wants to share in.” Daytime Divas certainly fits this bill. Not only do we want to be part of The Lunch Hour, we’re eagerly awaiting the next chance to watch it unfold on Daytime Divas.

As the daytime divas opened the morning market on Nasdaq, they continued a tradition of VH1 and Viacom stars ringing the ceremonial bell (Viacom trades on the Nasdaq stock exchange under the VIA and VIAB tickers). In February, VH1 launched their new series, The Breaks, by ringing the bell and temporarily re-naming the adjacent  corner of Seventh Avenue and 44th Street  “The Breaks Way.” Last fall, members of VH1’s Save the Music Foundation closed the market, and other brands including TV LandParamount and Nickelodeon have celebrated premieres by ringing the historical bell.

Watch the pilot on VH1.com, and watch new episodes of Daytime Divas Mondays at 10 p.m.

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