Just a few years ago Rene Syler was at a crossroads in her life. She had lost her lucrative position as an anchor for CBS’ “The Early Show,” which is now defunct. She had a preventive mastectomy as the daughter of two breast cancer survivors. And she lost her hair after a bad relaxer. (Talk about black girl blues!) However, she turned a corner in her journey when she wrote “Good Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting” in March 2007 and created her website www.goodenoughmother.com from the book. From there, she nurtured her online presence through blogging and social media. Eventually Magic Johnson’s new network ASPiRE, launched a year ago today, took notice and asked her and four other African-American women (Journalist Angela Burt-Murray, Actress Malinda Williams, Comedian Erin Jackson and Writer/Actress Issa Rae) to be the hosts of its first original weekly talk show series “Exhale.” The eight-episode show debuted last night at 8 p.m. EDT. After the premiere, new episodes will begin July 10 in its regularly scheduled time slot on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EDT.
I spoke with Rene at the Atlanta premiere for the groundbreaking television show. “I think the biggest lesson I learned is that I took an untenable situation and made something of it,” Rene said. “I realized I had to save myself and have a career rebirth. I’m excited, energized and looking forward to the next chapter in my reinvention.”
I, along with other media professionals, bloggers and members of the entertainment community in Atlanta where the new network is based, were invited to watch the first episode which featured guests Judge Lynn Toler, host of “Divorce Court,” actress Tichina Arnold who starred in the hilarious “Everybody Hates Chris,” Celebrity Matchmaker Jasmine Diaz and Dr. Nicole LaBeach, a life coach.
From this first episode, which focused on relationships (a topic always guaranteed to get women talking like no other), I learned that each woman brought a unique and interesting perspective to the talk show. Actress Malinda Williams, who I adored in “The Wood,” interviewed Judge Toler about divorce as Malinda revealed she is a two-time divorcée. During the interview, Judge Toler talked about how her television. program prevented her own marriage from ending. I spoke with Malinda as well. “I’m an actress, mother, sister and friend and so I bring those points of view and perspective. People may see me as a celebrity, but I’m just like everyone else.”
Also during the first show Issa Rae, the witty and sharp creator of her awesome web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” lamented about her belief that black women and Asian men are the bottom of the dating totem pole to the laughter of the audience. As the lone member of the cast under 30 years old, she is able to offer the 20-something angle. “Since I am from a different generation, I have a different viewpoint. I’m here to learn.”
As a journalist, I am familiar with Angela Burt-Murray, a former editor-in-chief of ESSENCE magazine and now creator of CocoaFab.com, which features celebrity interviews and urban pop culture stories. Although Angela said she is typically guarded about her personal life, she disclosed during the first episode that she and her husband have been to therapy for marital issues. “For 15 years, I have been telling the stories of African-American women and now I have a different platform to tell their stories.”
Comedian Erin Jackson was also tapped to be a co-host on “Exhale.” Interracial dating was a topic of discussion during the first episode. Erin said that she dated a Hispanic man, NOT a white man (as many typically assume that an interracial couple is a black person and a white person). “Since I’m a stand-up comedian, I bring a lot of sarcasm and my ‘mom eyes’ although I’m not a mother,” Erin said with a laugh as she widened her eyes for me to see.
Aside from relationships, the women will also discuss other issues that elicit and warrant in-depth conversation. From HIV/AIDS in the black community to the objectification of black women, the show promises to deliver a diverse amount of content. In the faith and religion episode, they will speak with DeVon Franklin, Columbia Pictures executive and “Produced By Faith” author, R&B artist Kelly Price, Pastor Beverly Crawford and Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, atheist and author of “Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and The Value Wars.” Controversies such as homosexuality in the black church and the increasing number of black atheists will be conversation topics.
As a talk show connoisseur who cut her teeth on the long-running “The Phil Donahue Show,” “The Jenny Jones Show” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the show and the mix of personalities hosting “Exhale.” When I first heard of the show, I wondered if the show would be a “’The View’- esque” type of show, but other than multiple women hosting the show, the show is markedly different. This talk show offers FIVE BLACK but varied vantage points.
“Exhale” Executive Producer Lynne Robinson said, “’Exhale’ is a show that features five amazing hosts, who will open up and talk about everything that is on the minds of women today. In each episode, they share intimate, spirited and honest dialogue to make you laugh and sometimes make you cry. We are thrilled to bring these provocative, enlightening conversations with these dynamic women in a compelling new series to life on ASPiRE.”