To me, hosting a talk show [Style Network's Isaac
, weekdays at 7 pm/ET] is like watching a baseball game. You know the basics of what's going to happen — someone's going to hit the ball and run around the bases — but you don't know who's going to win. It surprises me every day how different each show is from what I've planned. So I'm still learning how to be a good host. Here's what I've figured out so far.
1. When you're doing a cooking segment, make sure your appliances are plugged in. I was doing a cooking segment with chef Cat Cora, and we couldn't figure out why the blender wasn't working. We looked down — and there was the cord, just sitting there on the floor.
2. No music? No problem! Musical accompaniment is always at your fingertips — that is, if you're the one and only Dolly Parton. When I had tea with her in her hotel room, we were talking about writing music. The next thing I knew, she started to sing a cappella and play a little song on her long acrylic fingernails like they were a percussion instrument. It was brilliant, spontaneous and just a quintessential Dolly Parton moment.
3. Being a good talk-show host is more about listening than talking. When you let a conversation take its natural course, you never know where it will lead. Take Sela Ward, for example. Here's this gracious Southern woman — and suddenly she comes out with a rather detailed story about a photographer wearing a chastity belt. I have to admit, it made me sweat a little.
4. Chatting about even the most frivolous topics can lead to deeper discussions. You might start out talking about someone's skirt, and they end up telling you about how they were a fat kid (like me!) and how they struggled to find an identity for themselves.
5. Don't make over — demystify. Fashion, home decor and cooking can intimidate people, but when you make them entertaining, you demystify them. That goes for me, too. I may be the one teaching Keira Knightley how to walk in high heels or raiding an audience member's closet, but I'm also learning along the way. Chef Lidia Bastianich taught me how to make a sausage-and-pasta dish that's become one of my absolute favorites. I actually make it at home now all the time.
6. The show goes on, even when you're off the set. I have a segment on the show where people in the audience ask my advice about a style question. I was recently out shopping and a woman approached me with her clothing dilemma right there in the middle of Fred Segal. She actually seemed surprised that I didn't have a pad and marker on me!