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Continued: Nate Berkus gets thoughtful, playful

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 12, 2012 - 9:30 PM

If Nate Berkus had it to do all over again, would he jump into the daily talk show meat grinder? The answer to that and many other questions are thoughtfully delivered here by Oprah's favorite designer. I caught up with Berkus when he was the headline speaker at his alma mater Talmud Torah of Minneapolis' annual benefit held at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka. We had several playful moments. One was about his socks, which I believe to be worth millions. However, I didn't have room on my startribune.com/video for another involving his love of jewelry and his eager curiosity when told that I knew a good place to find jewelry. He just had to laugh when he realized this was a reference to goldenwearonline.com -- his mom's business. Berkus also surprised me with the information that somebody had told him I formerly worked for Oprah. Interesting imaginary resumé entry but not true; I have done several paintings of Oprah, however.

Q What do you think went wrong with your TV show?

A Good question. I think that for me it probably wasn't the best decision to do a daytime, hourly talk show every single day. Design is something I think is elective. It's something a lot of people feel is a luxury. It's not must-see TV. For me, design is really important, but in order to do a show every day you have to talk about a lot of other things. You have to talk about cooking, fashion, style.

The truth is I'm very grateful that I had two full seasons -- the show is on until September. It takes a long time for a show to gain traction and to find its viewership. I had a very loyal audience on Facebook, on Twitter, posting and tweeting about how they loved this recipe or the talented people my producers and I found and made a part of the show. The audience was very loyal from the beginning but the audience didn't grow by leaps and bounds. That's the goal with a daily syndicated show. The ratings for my show were decent. We had a lot of viewers, a lot of people who had seen my work on "Oprah" and I think they expected the same from a daily show.

Truthfully, I was on "Oprah" about every six weeks for 10 years. The production that went into every single time I was there took weeks and weeks and weeks to do. You can't replicate that magnitude when you are doing something every day. Would I do it again? Probably not. I learned a lot from that experience. I think the most important thing that I took away were the relationships that I have now; the producers [with whom] I worked. It's almost like being in summer camp together. You're in sort of the trenches every single day and as soon as you finish a show you've got another one coming right up the pipeline. It's like a column. It was definitely a wonderful experience for me, but I learned it's probably not what I was meant to do and that's OK.

Q I'm pretty upset because your exit means Bethenny Frankel is now getting a talk show. I'm blaming YOU!

A No comment. No comment. No comment. [Smiles and laughter.] Sorry you feel that way.

Q Has Oprah ever made her Love Sandwich for you?

A No. I have not ever had the Love Sandwich. Since I live in New York City and Oprah lives in California, it would take a lot of planning for that sandwich.

Q Is Oprah one of those friends on whom you can drop in unannounced?

A Yes. I'd call first.

Q Then you've announced yourself.

A I wouldn't even go to my sister's apartment without calling and saying, "Are you home? Are you busy?" I have the same relationship with Oprah.

Q Whose socks are you wearing?

A I am wearing very expensive designer socks. No socks actually. I think the first time I wore socks on the "Oprah" show, Oprah actually stopped the show to point out that I had socks on because I usually don't wear socks.

Q Whenever you make a TV appearance, could you please have someone post a photo disclosing what shoes, pants and shirt you are wearing? You and Ellen wear the most comfortable clothing and I'd just like to know where I can get them.

A Thank you.

Q I was stunned to see your name among the producers of the movie "The Help."

A So was I. I had never produced a film before and never thought that would be an industry that I would be interested in. It was a very organic situation. The writer of the book, Kathryn Stockett, I had known, and Tate Taylor, who directed the film, was also a friend. They asked me to read the book before the book was published. They were looking to raise some money so they could write the script and, if the book became successful, which it did obviously, they would be ready to go with a script because they thought it would make a terrific movie.

I invested in it very early on because the first time I read that book, I knew that it was a story that I wanted everybody else to hear. It was one of those things.

I didn't set out to become a movie producer by any means. A group of friends got together. I could introduce them to some people, help with a little bit of money in the beginning to get the product underway. It became what it became and I'm very, very proud. I feel really lucky that that's the first movie I produced. I was sitting at the Oscars this year and we didn't win, but Octavia Spencer won and that was enough.

Q You got all your money back from "The Help"?

A I made a little money. Worked out OK for everybody. That doesn't really happen in Hollywood.

Q Can we expect to see your name on other movies?

A Yes.

Q What are some of your non-design hobbies?

A I have a lot, actually. They all sort of relate back to design for me though, which is sort of weird. I don't, like, knit but if I did I probably would make pillows for my own house. I really love to travel. I read an article in the New York Times recently about Thin Places. It's a term a writer has coined talking about places where you feel very connected, magical. Places like Cambodia. Just spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia. I spend a lot of time exploring other cultures. I have sort of an anthropological and sociological interest in things like that. Not only the people but the food and the crafts and culture. What's made in different places has always been interesting to me. I love jewelry. I think jewelry's fascinating.

Q Oh, I know where you can get some good jewelry. One Nancy Golden of goldenwearonline.com.

A [Big smile and a laugh] Exactly, my mother. Of course.

Q Are you getting tired of strangers who want to run their fingers through your hair?

A No one's ever really run their fingers through my hair -- without me [being] on a date. No, I'm not tired of that, at all. I actually think that it's sort of sweet.

C.J. is reachable at 612.332.TIPS and cj@startribune.com; viewable Fox 9 Thursdays.

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