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Queen Latifah Ready to Push Envelope on Daytime
Queen Latifah Ready to Push Envelope on Daytime: Only a couple of weeks before Queen Latifah makes her return to a daytime talk show, ET catches up with her to talk about The Queen Latifah Show and get a tour of the set.
Queen Latifah debuts her new daytime talk show Sept. 16 on CBS. / Kwaku Alston / USA WEEKEND

Queen Latifah just needs a second.

She’s scrolling through her gold hardware-encased iPhone, trying to locate a quote that articulates this moment surrounding the debut of The Queen Latifah Show Sept. 16.

“Can I get it for you? Do you mind?” she says.

There it is. Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them. — Bruce Lee

After more than two decades in show business, honesty from the team surrounding her has been a valuable commodity for the rapper/TV star/movie star/talk show host/Oscar nominee. Especially now, as her brand-new syndicated talk show is ramping up.

This show — the one that The Queen Latifah Show 12 years ago did not turn out to be — requires all of her bandwidth.

Post-Oprah Winfrey Show, a successful talk show in today’s market — like those hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, Wendy Williams and Dr. Phil McGraw — is nothing to sneeze at. It’s tough territory, even for the chatting pros. Ricki Lake failed on relaunch, Jeff Probst’s talker tanked, Anderson Cooper got canceled in daytime, and Katie Couric is restaffing.

Multiple production companies chased Latifah as the Oprah show powered down, eager to build a talk showcase around Latifah’s trademark gregariousness, her unique blend of fun and street cool, her Cover Girl glam, her “realness.” These are sticky qualities in any daytime show. Latifah turned them down.

It was Will and Jada Pinkett Smith who made the difference. The Queen Latifah co-executive producers go back decades with the star: Will Smith toured with her in their teens, Jada danced at one of Latifah’s first shows in Baltimore when she was 17.

Together, the Smiths approached Latifa, 43, with Sony Pictures TV to create an hour of talk she hopes will be “a breath of fresh air,” with an emphasis on fun, new music and inspirational stories, along with celebrity guests. “Also, I’m hoping I can bring a sense of realness, a down-to-earth quality, a relatability that I think is missing a bit in television,” she says. “I watch a lot of TV. So I’m not just a person who makes money off film and television and music. I’m a person who loves (it).”

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The first time Latifah attempted the syndicated talk market was in 1999, and the show ran just two seasons. “I don’t know if I knew how much work it would be to try to achieve the idea and how difficult it could be to get the right idea across in the right way. I’m not used to having so many cooks in the kitchen,” she says.

Indeed, a talk show is a living, breathing operation: field teams and segment producers are required to pull off successful hours, along with revolving producers and heads of production.

“This (show) is a true reflection of who Queen Latifah is,” says executive producer Corin Nelson, who has helmed The Rosie O’Donnell Show, Chelsea Lately and The Nate Berkus Show. Nelson says Latifah handpicked her staff, from her comedy writers to her lead filmographer, who last worked as a documentarian for President Obama. “She’s used to taking the stage singing, she does movies, she does television, she inspires people, she loves fashion and style,” Nelson says. “She even loves interior design.”

Born Dana Owens in Newark, Latifah has been steering her own ship since she burst onto the scene as a young rapper with 1989’s All Hail the Queen. By age 24 she had become a brand, a powerful feminist figure in hip-hop and on television, with a successful sitcom, Living Single, that was No. 1 in African-American households.

As her career grew, Latifah launched Flavor Unit, a production company with her partner, Shakim Compere, determined to have ownership in her own brand. Today that company is a content provider for Netflix and VH1 (Single Ladies) and a production house for films, including an upcoming crime drama based on the story of Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill.

“I’ve always been able to make my own decisions and create ideas from A to Z and control that creation,” she says.

In the past decade she has balanced interests, releasing music (2009’s Persona) and spawning both box-office hits (Beauty Shop, her Oscar-nominated role in Chicago, Hairspray) and disappointments (Joyful Noise, Just Wright, Taxi).

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Today, The Queen Latifah Show arrives on the heels of what Latifah calls “a series of wake-up calls” that began after shooting 2006’s Last Holiday.

She began to slow down and reprioritize.

“It’s really hard when you feel so young at heart, sometimes you have to realize, “OK you’re young at heart, but time is going on. And so I do have responsibilities and I do have family members that are younger than me that I have to look out for. And I have bills that need to be taken care of.”

Having children remains important to her. “A family is not going to just appear out of nowhere. If I want it to happen, I’m going to have to make it happen, like I did everything else in my life.”

But right now, The Queen Latifah Show has her full attention. Sitting in the interviewer’s seat is something she’s working on.

“It’s an adjustment, and I’m learning,” she says. “I want to grow. I don’t expect to go on television and just be perfect.”

But how real to get? Viewers have peeked inside DeGeneres’ home life with her wife, Portia De Rossi. Cooper spoke for the first time about about his brother’s suicide on his show. Even David Letterman, who is notoriously private, mentions his young son on his Late Show, occasionally.

But Latifah is careful to protect family and friends. Venturing into her personal life, she says, is not a prerequisite for daytime talk.

“I don’t want to share everything in my life with the world. I want to share the things with the world that I relate to. Or that I feel comfortable sharing. That’s it.

“There is a line to be drawn. I don’t feel the need to put my whole life out there.”

It’s a stance that hasn’t discouraged the tabloids, which for years have speculated about Latifah’s sexuality. She rarely reads them, “because lot of it is very inaccurate. And if I really draw myself into that I might get my feelings hurt. I got thick skin, but I’m human.”

As for her show, “I want to be the place where people come to break their latest records, to tell the truth about something that’s going on in their lives, to share some incredible story, to be inspired, to learn. I want to be that place on television for as long as I can be.”

Andrea Mandell is a reporter for USA TODAY.

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