“This abode is so vast!” says Chelsea Handler, about breaking into a Mary Tyler Moore–like circle central an abandoned soundstage on the Sony lot.
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“There’s so abundant allowance to maneuver!” In a few weeks, carpenters will activate architecture on the set of her accessible Netflix allocution show, appointed to activate alive in 190 nations on May 11. But for now, on a balmy February afternoon in Culver City, as Handler takes in the 16,000-square-foot amplitude for the aboriginal time, all she has is her imagination.
“I’ve never absolutely been in actuality before,” she says. “I’ve alone apparent area the blooming allowance and the bedfellow apartment are activity to be. And”—she pauses for effect—”where they’ll be putting the bar.”
If all goes according to plan—and things usually do in Handler’s world, alike if she insists she never has a plan—the 41-year-old actor actor angry E! arrangement brilliant angry alive avant-garde will be spending a ample block of the abutting several years central this soundstage. The exact contours of the appearance are still actuality formed out by Handler’s agents of 50 producers, writers, editors, and researchers. What’s assertive is that the program, alleged Chelsea, will beck three nights a week—Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays—and affection interviews with a array of guests about generally bad-tempered topics: “abortion, parenthood, the balloter academy . . .” she says, by way of examples, additional a approved dosage of Handler’s bawdy, transgressive humor. It will affection taped acreage reports—mini versions of the four hour-plus Chelsea Does documentaries that debuted on Netflix aback in January. There will be a alive admirers and lots of wild-card elements; beforehand in the day, Handler captivated auditions for a adolescent contributor (“I’m attractive for a 10-year-old with attitude,” she says). All of this will be arranged into a active time of 30 minutes, added or less. In the apple of alive video, cipher is watching the alarm too closely.
Right now, she’s in the average of a alternation of artistic meetings. “People arise and angle me ideas,” she says, gesturing vaguely against area a apathetic Susan–style date she’s proposed ability go (“There’ll be a area if I’m interviewing three or four people, the way Dick Cavett sometimes did, and addition if I’m interviewing one of the show’s correspondents,” she explains). “That’s how I’ve consistently worked. Accord me options. I’ll acquaint you what I like and don’t like. I apperceive what the appearance is. I aloof can’t put it in words. But it won’t be regimented. You’re not activity to about-face it on three nights a anniversary and accept an aperture monologue, a guest, and a band. It’ll be absolutely different.”
In one respect, it already is: It’s on Netflix.
Talk shows on advertisement airwaves accept censors, bartering breaks, and nightly ratings. Allocution shows on basal cable—such as Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, on TBS—get abroad with racier conversations but still accept to cut to ads (and accord with afraid advertisers). Alike pay-cable allocution shows, like John Oliver’s, on HBO, chase about acceptable formats—a guy abaft a desk—and abide aural an ancient accumulated bureaucracy. But a allocution appearance that runs on a alive service—especially one that prides itself on giving aptitude about absolute artistic freedom, that is absorbed on rewiring the examination habits of the accomplished world, and that has a $6 billion account with which to do all of this—can be appealing abundant whatever its host wants it to be. On Netflix, there are no ads, no ratings (the aggregation has never arise how abounding bodies watch its shows, abundant to the acrimony of its competition), and no arrangement notes, at atomic none that Handler can recall. The aggregation “is amazing,” she says.
Netflix’s laissez-faire attitude against aptitude has resulted in some groundbreaking programs, including Beau Willimon’s presidential soap opera, Abode of Cards, and Jenji Kohan’s women’s bastille dramedy, Orange Is the New Black (as able-bodied as a few stinkers, like the contempo Full Abode reboot, Fuller House). Alike so, Handler’s appearance will mark a above departure. For one thing, the aggregation that affected affair examination will be absolution episodes in a radically ancient way: one at a time. Anniversary will go alive at 12:01 a.m. and abide on servers indefinitely, for subscribers to beck as they please—but it’s as abutting as Netflix has anytime arise to acceptable arrangement television.
What’s alike added abnormal for Netflix is that the appearance will be accoutrement accepted contest in some amount of absolute time. This is a move that CEO Reed Hastings and arch agreeable administrator Ted Sarandos had hinted at during an balance alarm aftermost October. “On the account side, we are absolutely actuality added adventurous,” Sarandos told reporters, somewhat cryptically. Aback Hastings responded by allurement Sarandos, “What’s the likelihood that we attempt with Vice in the abutting two years?” Sarandos answered, “Probably high.” The Internet anon lit up with allocution of Netflix’s admirable new plan to aggrandize into news, and the alive account bound backpedaled. In a aftereffect email, a accumulated agent attempted to analyze these animadversion by cogent reporters, “We’ll leave the account business to association like yourself.”
Handler, of course, isn’t a newsperson. But allocution shows are by attributes tethered to the belief of the day, and accepting her on the air discussing them marks a about-face for Netflix, transforming the media aggregation from a simple alive service, such as Hulu or Amazon Prime Video, into a living, breath allotment of the account cycle. “It doesn’t accept to be ripped from the account every episode,” Sarandos says of the show’s content, backpedaling a little bit more. “If Chelsea is acrimonious the appropriate topics, the chat is activity to be about for a few weeks. But, yes, it’s absolutely added contemporary and appropriate than what we usually do.”
There are risks for Netflix. Afterwards all, the aggregation is putting its money and acceptability (and 90 account a anniversary of bandwidth) abaft a button-pushing, controversy-prone actor who already dressed a little actuality as Adolf Hitler to bless Germany’s Apple Cup win, whose aciculate argot has fabricated enemies of anybody from Angelina Jolie to Nick Cannon, and who has acquaint added topless photos of herself than Vladimir Putin (which may explain some of her 5.8 actor Twitter followers and 2.1 actor Instagram followers). Talk-show hosts action as casting identifiers: Jimmy Fallon is in abounding means the face of NBC, aloof as Jon Stewart was for Ball Central. Placing an capricious force like Handler abaft a talk-show board (even if she doesn’t end up accepting a desk) could put Netflix in awkward situations.
At the moment, though, Handler is aloof attractive for a abode to sit down. Afterwards ambagious through hallways and demography some devious turns (“Is this an office?” she asks afterwards aperture a aperture into what looks like a closet), Handler assuredly finds the alone allotment of the soundstage with furniture—a ample backstage lounge with a brace of old sofas apparently larboard abaft by a antecedent tenant. As the brilliant settles into a couch, the assembly abettor asks if he can aback her a canteen of water.
“No,” she says, deadpan. “Just accompany us a condom.”
Ted Sarandos was chatting with his wife at the Vanity Fair Oscar affair in February 2014 aback Handler comatose their conversation. “She asked me if I was the Netflix guy,” recalls the exec, who’d never met the actor before. “She asked a lot of questions. She was absolutely adamant about it. She basic to apperceive how things worked, how Netflix was different. It was a absolute abysmal dive. It was about as if she was on a fact-finding mission.”
Which, in fact, she was.
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At the time, Handler was in the average of her seventh year hosting Chelsea Lately, the entertainment-news approach E!’s accepted five-day-a-week, late-night allocution appearance in which she affianced in communicative badinage with Hollywood celebs and poked fun at her little-person sidekick, Chuy. The gig had fabricated her affluent (the arrangement reportedly paid her amid $8 actor and $12 actor a year) and acclaimed (each adventure drew advancement of a actor viewers) and alike article of a groundbreaker: the aboriginal changeable banana to accomplish at late-night-TV hosting, article not alike Joan Rivers was able to do. Reruns of her appearance aired so abounding times a day that it sometimes seemed like the alone affair on the network. There was alike a spin-off, Afterwards Lately, a semi-fictitious absoluteness alternation in which the casting and aggregation of Chelsea Lately was apparent argument and agreeable in added backstage shenanigans. That drew a actor admirers per night as well.
But afterwards taping added than 1,000 episodes (and interviewing about as abounding Kardashians), Handler was afflicted and accessible for a change. She was annoyed of celebrity gossip, afraid at the audience’s ache for it, and, best of all, fed up with actuality on the arrangement that produced programs like Leave It to Lamas and Bridalplasty. “It was abundantly frustrating,” she says. “You’re a absorption of the aggregation you keep, and I wasn’t afflicted with anybody. The bodies I was alive with on the arrangement side, they never could anticipate big. I aloof basic to leave, to be about else.”
Handler has trusted her instincts anytime aback she was a kid in burghal New Jersey. “I never absolutely accept epiphanies,” she says, “I aloof accept thoughts and act on them. I’m impulsive.” Her dad was a used-car salesman and Jewish; her mom, a German-born homemaker, was Mormon. (“We acclaimed both Christmas and Hanukkah, but I accede myself Jewish,” she says.) The youngest of six children, she was aloft afterwards abundant supervision, and it acutely larboard her with an absolute streak. Afterwards about “10 minutes” of association college, Handler says she larboard for L.A. to become an actress, affective in with ancestors who had nine children, three dogs, and a parrot. Active in what she calls a “disgusting” environment, she waited tables amid auditions for commercials and ball parts, growing added and added restless. “I aloof basic my activity to begin,” she says. “I basic aggregate to start. I basic my break.”
It came soon, in the absurd anatomy of a DUI conviction. On the eve of her 21st birthday, while active home from a bar with an appropriately bashed friend—”midway through [singing] the additional choir of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody,’ ” as Handler describes the adventure in her 2008 acknowledged account (the additional of five), Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea—she was pulled over by the police. Afterwards a night in jail, she was bedevilled to DUI classes, and it was there, while regaling adolescent offenders with the capacity of her arrest (like how she alleged the white cops who bankrupt her “racists” and drunkenly complained about actuality “racially profiled”), that she accomplished her calling. “You affliction to do stand-up,” her DUI classmates told her.
“Stand-up was my entrée into the ball world,” she says. “I didn’t accept to act out somebody else’s words. I could aloof angle there with a microphone and cipher would arrest me. It’s the best egotistic affair you could apparently do.”
Within about six years, she had landed development deals with Paramount and NBC. She denticulate her aboriginal approved role, on an Oxygen arrangement sketch-comedy affairs alleged Girls Behaving Badly (sort of an estrogen-infused Punk’d), and started accepting invitations to arise on the E! network’s “countdown” reports, in which assorted comedians riff on account and celebrity gossip.
Ted Harbert, who was afresh the arch of the Comcast-owned network, spotted her and saw potential. In 2005, he offered Handler her own sketch-comedy program, The Chelsea Handler Show, which tanked. A year later, he approved again, giving her Chelsea Lately. About this time, Handler began a accord with Harbert (now administrator of NBC Broadcasting) that had E! advisers chattering about watercoolers for four years, until they bankrupt up. “Now that I attending aback on it, it was actual odd,” she admits. “It was tricky. But my mom had aloof died. And he was the admiral of the network. He was this earlier guy who anticipation I was the greatest affair in the world. So I alternate the favor.”
As she says: She has thoughts and acts on them.
Handler did so afresh in March 2014, a ages afterwards chatting up Sarandos at that Oscar after-party, aback she absitively to leave E! and bankrupt the account to her administration in a way that alone Handler ability anticipate was a acceptable idea—by all but announcement it on The Howard Stern Show. “E! has aloof become a sad, sad abode to live,” she said on the air. “They don’t apperceive what they’re doing, they accept no account . . . aggregate they do aloof is a failure.” Handler says she was afraid aback E! advisers affected it was a artifice for a fatter contract. “Because I acquainted unhappy, I aloof affected that they knew,” she explains. “But they anticipation I was negotiating. I told them, ‘You don’t accept to accord me added money. It’s not about that. I don’t care. I don’t appetite to be on this arrangement anymore.’ ” An E! agent says, “Chelsea alleged E! home for seven years, and it’s black that she continues to criticize the arrangement that launched her career.”
Handler’s abutting move became a accountable of acute belief in the TV world. That spring, the late-night airwaves were in flux. At CBS, Letterman had arise his retirement from Backward Show, and Craig Ferguson’s arrangement with The Backward Backward Appearance was about to expire. Already Handler larboard E!, rumors began to broadcast that she was afterwards one of those jobs. An Instagram photo that she acquaint assuming a packet of affidavit with the CBS logo on them and a explanation account “business meeting” didn’t do a lot to allay this talk. But Handler was alone active the pot. “Those were aloof affairs that bodies basic to take,” she says. “I was offered several jobs. I was offered alliance late-night shows. But they were all conversations that didn’t get far, because there was no point. I was never interested. I didn’t appetite to footfall into somebody else’s shoes. I didn’t appetite to be on some added late-night appearance accomplishing the aforementioned bits again.”
What she was absorbed in—and why she approved out Sarandos at that party—was Netflix. “House of Cards was on, and I aloof anticipation it was cool,” she says. “I anticipation they were smart, that they knew what they’re doing, and that I could do article altered there. I thought, I appetite to assignment at that table.”
She asked her manager, Irving Azoff, to set up a affair with “the Netflix guy” at the alive service’s Beverly Hills headquarters. (Azoff did annihilation to dissuade her. “He never tells me what to do—he knows better,” she says.) Sarandos, who abounding the meeting, alternating with Netflix’s VP of agreeable acquisition, Lisa Nishimura, and VP of aboriginal content, Cindy Holland, was “stunned that Chelsea hadn’t active with one of the CBS shows,” he says. “But it wasn’t like we were attractive to accomplish a allocution show. It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s acquisition a host.’ She came in, and we met, and it was added like one of those we-don’t-know-if-we-should-do this-because-we’ve-never-done-anything-like-this-before affectionate of things.” Turns out those are Netflix’s admired types of meetings. “We’re all about experimenting,” says Nishimura. “And the timing was terrific.”
Although Netflix didn’t do any academic crunching of Handler’s numbers—there were no focus groups or analyses of her ratings on E!—the aggregation had detected signs that the alive admirers was acceptant to a Netflix allocution show. “Anecdotally, if you attending at what’s accident in backward night, added bodies appetite customer control,” says Nishimura. “Whether it’s agenda clips of Fallon’s celebrity lip accompany or [James] Corden’s singing with celebrities in cars, you’re starting to acquisition that consumers aren’t watching backward night as arrangement TV.” Admitting Netflix is a bankrupt system, it affairs to allotment video clips via YouTube and its agreeable channels to drive admirers to the show.
“Near-live,” is what BTIG Research analyst Affluent Greenfield calls this new anatomy of ball consumption. “People adulation the late-night conversation, but they appetite to watch it on their own terms. And Netflix wants to be a allotment of that.” Near-live programming, he explains, fits with the company’s advance to accumulate bodies advantageous $7.99 a month. “That’s the best important affair for Netflix. They don’t affliction about nightly ratings—they affliction about subscribers advancing back. And with Chelsea Handler, they see a aptitude with a amorous fan abject and a actuality who knows how to use agreeable media to drive awareness.” Aback Handler isn’t announcement risqué photos of herself (“I anticipate dishabille is funny, abnormally aback it’s inappropriate,” she says), she’s tweeting out a avalanche of zingers, put-downs, and comedic observations. “I begin a allotment of pretzel in my underwear this morning,” she tweeted recently. “Conclusion: I was intoxicated, unsupervised, and abstinent.”
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Surprisingly, Handler says agreeable media doesn’t arise artlessly to her. “Would I do these things if I wasn’t famous?” she ponders. “No. If I didn’t accept article to promote, I wouldn’t. It’s aloof article you accept to do appropriate now. But already I got the adhere of it, it has been fun to collaborate with fans. As asinine as it sounds, it feels acceptable to do it.” It additionally makes acute business sense, assuredly accouterment advantage in negotiating with, say, above alive companies. In June 2014, Handler and Netflix active a accord reportedly admired at $10 million—or bristles times what John Oliver is said to be paid by HBO—for the show, the docuseries, and a actor appropriate for Netflix (Uganda Be Kidding Me Live, arise in October 2015). Afresh she acted on actuation again, announcement that she’d be demography a break. She didn’t arise aback for 18 months.
Handler is lounging poolside at her Bel Air home, accepting high. And afresh accomplishing leg squats.
She’s filming one of her allocution show’s acreage reports, this one absorption on a claimed trainer who believes that inhaling marijuana afore a conditioning enhances the exercise experience. He’s brought complicated-looking vaporizing devices, which Handler needs advice operating—”I’m added of a drinker,” she says apologetically, afterwards coughing up a lungful of cannabis—as able-bodied as some brutal-looking sports equipment. A camera aggregation is capturing it all, as Handler’s two bristling mutts, Block and Tammy, watch with weary disengagement from the added ancillary of the pool.
Handler has attempt a cardinal of these mini docs, not all of them in the abundance of her alluringly busy home—which happens to be Esther Williams’s old mansion, adapted with abreast conveniences, including a bedfellow bath with an cyberbanking toilet ascendancy console so high-tech you charge a amount in physics aloof to flush. Aftermost week, she had aureate to Moscow (“a abhorrent place,” she notes, authoritative a face) to do a articulation on adolescent girls in the Russian figure-skating program. Abutting week, she’ll hop over to Las Vegas to watch a hypercompetitive adolescence baseball tournament. There will additionally be segments on a articulate drillmaster who teaches auto women how to complete added feminine and a appointment to the home of a bedmate family. Judging from what’s activity on about her pool—Handler, aerial as a kite, accepted a kettle alarm so clumsily it’s a admiration she doesn’t accidentally actuate herself into the pool—these taped segments will be appealing hilarious.
But like her four heavily answer Chelsea Does docs, which premiered on Netflix in January, they’ll aim to be added than alone amusing. One acumen Handler was fatigued to Netflix was that she could accurate a smarter, added intellectually analytical ancillary of her personality. “When we were on the network, I can’t acquaint you how abounding times we had to booty jokes out because of advertisers,” she says. “It was connected argument aback and forth. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. There was no artistic license.” But with Netflix, if she wants to get aerial and do push-ups, it’s not a problem. If she wants to absorb 30 account discussing presidential politics, that’s air-conditioned too. If she wants to booty an ballsy aperture afore starting the show—traveling the world, affairs a abode in Spain, and accepting a abrupt cast with a aggregation affiliate aboard a ship—nobody is activity to complain.
“I sat bottomward at Netflix and told them I appetite to booty [time] off, and afresh I could arise aback and do some documentaries, if they would angle me up with some of [the filmmakers] they had admission to,” she recalls. “And they were like, ‘Great!’ ”
The Chelsea Does docs—about racism, marriage, drugs, and Silicon Valley—were Handler’s idea, but from Netflix’s point of appearance they were a adeptness segue into a allocution show, a accent analysis for a new array of Chelsea. They’re not absolutely Ken Burns–level productions, but they are absolutely added able and absorbing than annihilation Handler anytime did on E!. In the Silicon Valley episode, she ventures to the tech basic to “talk to them about their algorithms—and acquisition out what an algorithm is.” She rides a hoverboard, interviews an AI apprentice (“Are you aggravating to abrade me?” it asks her), and pitches her own app, an iPhone affairs that fakes an admission alarm or argument so that you can bastard out of affairs (Gotta Go! went on auction on iTunes the anniversary the doc was released).
“The docs gave us the befalling to try a new format,” says Sarandos. “The account style, the roundtables, the alfresco segments—all of those are things that will be in the allocution show.” As Handler puts it, they “served as a abundant bridge. I basic to appearance bodies that I’m demography a absolute big jump into article new, that I was reinventing myself.”
To abide that change on the allocution show, Handler has enlisted Bill Wolff, the ambassador who, in 2005, apparent an abstruse Air America Radio host called Rachel Maddow and angry her into MSNBC’s No. 1 brilliant (he larboard in 2014 for The View). “Chelsea and Rachel are absolutely agnate people,” Wolff says, “smart, funny, hard-working, and transparent. Aback you accommodated Chelsea or Rachel, they’re aloof as they arise on TV.”
Handler batten with several abeyant producers afore abutting with Wolff. (“We met at a auberge bar for one drink—and that became 10 drinks,” she says.) Wolff for his part, accepted Handler’s artistic instinct. “The eyes was about in place,” he remembers. “She told me that she basic to put calm a appearance in her voice, but that was about the broader world.”
The action of creating a allocution appearance is consistently the same, Wolff says, whether the host is a wonky Rhodes Scholar with an Elvis-like ‘do or a association academy dropout (who says she reads 75 books a year and who has accounting bristles best sellers of her own). “You absorb a lot of time together,” he explains. “You acquisition out what she’s absorbed in, what she brand to do, the things she finds funny. And over the advance of weeks and months, you allotment calm a able anatomy for her self-expression. You try to accomplishment the things that accomplish that actuality special.”
What’s catchy about Handler is that the actual things that accomplish her unique—an aptitude to advance buttons and a adventurousness about offending—aren’t ancestry about associated with talk-show schmoozers. Netflix has agreeable deals with added stars—Adam Sandler, the Duplass Brothers, Brad Pitt—but the actuality the aggregation has called to axle into subscribers’ bedrooms, night afterwards night, in 190 countries, happens to be the one able of calumniating absolute nation-states with a distinct bang (she still hasn’t apologized to Serbia afterwards an abrupt acknowledgment about that country actuality a “disappointment” sparked a civic avoid of her E! show).
Still, Chelsea—and Chelsea—may be a action account taking. “Neflix is about extensive all four quadrants,” explains analyst Greenfield. “Fuller Abode is actual altered from Abode of Cards, which is actual altered from Orange Is the New Black. And Chelsea is different, as well, which is what Netflix wants. If you anticipate about what a video bundler does,” he goes on, “it provides a little bit of aliment programming on a aliment channel, a little ball on a ball channel, a little drama, a little bit of everything. And that’s what Netflix is accomplishing with Chelsea Handler—it’s accouterment a absolutely altered blazon of content. Because, remember, Netflix doesn’t absolutely appetite to be a network, it wants to be a video packager. Its ambition is not to alter HBO. It wants to alter Comcast.”
That benumbed woman by the pool, lurching about with a kettle bell? She is alone its latest abstruse weapon.