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Gen-X Cinderella has the knack


Ricki Lake knows what it's like to be way outside the norms of beauty, and she knows what it's like to be down and out. And that's a large part of her talk-show appeal.

February 28, 1999|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,Sun Staff

"I don't even have cupcakes. Oh, and they had quotes from me. It was absurd," says Lake, who doesn't remember which tabloid accused her. "I barely looked at it. I just threw the thing down. It serves me right for reading it."

Lake implicates herself for the media obsession with physical appearance -- she's concerned with it, she talks about it -- so she won't slam the supermarket scribes who crucify her.

"It's fair game. If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen. I clearly made this for myself," says Lake, "I'm not complaining. It just goes with the territory, and that's all right. I deal with it."

She admits that her show contributes to the pervasive voyeurism that both oppresses and sustains her. But she also feels her show, whatever critics might say, has integrity.

"This is not curing brain cancer or anything, but we have our own sort of rules that we follow," says Lake, who admits she's addicted to newsmagazines, reality-based shows and, of course, talk shows. "And I've always taken great pride in the show that we've done. I've never felt icky or weird about anything we've ever done."

On Lake's shows, the troubled guests are often referred to professional services for rehabilitation and counseling. On one show, featuring young teens determined to have babies, the wannabe mommies were required to care for virtual babies for a day.

No Springer-esque staging on her show, she says, not that she condemns Springer for his style.

"I think it's great that he's on the air, that he's as popular as he is," she says. "Because obviously there's an audience that is hungry for that type of show."

When Lake's show began, it quickly became second in the ratings only to Oprah, and spawned nearly 50 one-name-host shows striving to win over the young audience "Ricki" so successfully courted. Most of these shows, "Carnie," "Tempestt" and "Gabrielle" to name a few, have been buried in the great talk-show cemetery.

Currently, according to Nielsen Media Research, Lake is third in the ratings behind Jerry Springer and Oprah for women 18-34 years old, adults 18-49 and adults 18-34.

The birth of Milo has given her program more personal resonance, particularly in shows featuring headstrong young mothers with offspring but no husband.

"On my show, hearing about these children being neglected or mistreated in any way, it's just like a knife in me." she says. "I'm a very different person now. I'm so sappy now. Everything is from a mother's perspective."

And while Lake does take Milo to work with her, because she thinks it's a healthy thing, don't expect to see him in front of the camera.

"He's never been on television, and he won't be until he's old enough to decide for himself," she says.

And by the time he is old enough, Lake herself may no longer be on television. She says she could see herself as a schoolteacher. Or maybe getting her college degree. Or even being a midwife.

"I don't want to stay famous," she says as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. "I have other things I want to do with my life."

Pub Date: 02/28/99

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