"The most interesting dinner parties and events that I go to are the ones that mix up people from different worlds," said NBC newscaster Maria Shriver. "I don't want to go to a dinner party with just people from TV. I would love to be sitting at a dinner table with Lyle Alzado, Sinead O'Connor, Richard Bransen and Kirstie Alley. That's what I am trying to with this show."
"This show" is "Cutting Edge with Maria Shriver," airing Tuesday at 10 p.m. on NBC, the first of four prime-time specials for the network. Described as "a spirited, fast-paced interview and magazine program, presenting stories about people," Tuesday's installment features interviews with hot Irish singer Sinead O'Connor, former football great Lyle Alzado and his attempt to return to the NFL at age 41, and Richard Bransen, the brains behind Virgin Records and Virgin Airlines.
From the outset, Shriver, 34, wanted "Cutting Edge" to be different from most interview shows. "I wanted to do a show that mixed up people from different worlds," she said. "I thought it would be great if you had someone from music next to someone from business next to someone from sports. The other goal was to try to simplify TV--from that I mean to get away from the hotel set with flowers in the background and fancy lights and makeup."
But Shriver discovered that's easier said than done. She learned there's a reason why most interviews take place in one location. "It doesn't take much time and it's painless for the people," she said. "We discovered that what we are doing takes a lot of time and patience on the part of the person we were doing. It's a risk for them because we hang (out) with these people."
Originally, Shriver wanted to do the program with unknowns. NBC talked her out of it. "Everybody said to me, 'You want to do a style that is raw and simple, you want to use totally unknown people. Meet us a little bit. You can't do all totally unknown people. You have to put in a name so people will tune in.' "
The program does eschew lights, sets and makeup and only uses a wireless microphone and two cameramen. "We start rolling and only stop to change tapes," she said. "It's a camera-dependent show because they have to shoot all the time. There are cameras and mikes in the shots. There is no lighting on your face, no hair or makeup people. I wanted to get rid of the baggage which had become a part of prime-time shows."
Shriver is already working on her next special. "The game plan is four over the year but game plans change," she said. "If it bombs I probably will be doing one more, and if it's a huge hit I probably will be doing 10 more."
But one thing Shriver won't be doing is shuttling back and forth from her Pacific Palisades home to New York every weekend to anchor NBC News' "Sunday Today" and "NBC Nightly News Weekend Edition." Married to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shriver gave birth to their first child, Kathleen, in December. She intended to return to full-time work, but changed her mind during maternity leave.
"I had her Dec. 13th and they (NBC) called me Jan. 2 and said 'When are you coming back?' I said the beginning of February and then I kept pushing it back."
Shriver said she became emotionally distraught about the situation. "I wanted to stay (in Los Angeles)," she said. "You can't fly with a baby and then I thought 'What am I doing?' There was no other person before me other than Jane (Pauley). She had done "The Today Show," which was easier to do with a kid. You go to work and go home and you are not traveling. I started thinking there must be a way to keep my hand in here and have a kid."
The four specials fit the bill. "I like it this way," she said. "This is something that keeps me mentally active. I love to create visually."
Shriver also believes she has paved the way for other women newscasters, especially Connie Chung, who recently announced she was forgoing her weekly series in order to devote more time to having a baby. "I think that's good," Shriver said. "The next wave of women don't have to hem and haw."
Still, Shriver said, she vacillates back and forth about quitting working entirely. "I think if I start leaning more that I shouldn't be working, I have no qualms dropping out of it," she said. "But if someone told me I would have felt this way eight months ago, I would have told them 'You are a lunatic.' "