Phil, Oprah, Geraldo, take note: Mo Gaffney is not after your jobs. She vetoes business suits and cringes at hatemongering guests. But your viewers and ratings? Your nationwide appeal? She'll take those in a heartbeat, thank you very much.
Gaffney bursts onto an already crowded talk-show circuit this week on the Fox network with "The Mo Show" (weekdays at 11 a.m. on Channel 11).
By being more willing than most hosts to express opinions--and being quick with the one-liners--Gaffney hopes to create a niche for her program. No newcomer to talk shows, she has hosted Comedy Central's "Women Aloud!" since 1990.
"I couldn't ever be a \o7 real\f7 talk-show host. I just have to be the \o7 me\f7 talk-show host," she explained in an interview at her office on the Fox studio grounds. "It'd be nice if I could just be a mediator, but I'm not. I also have to say what I feel."
It will take viewers all of 30 seconds to discover that she has something to say about everything. Example: During a recent taping, she took offense when a male audience member made a disparaging remark about women. Without missing a beat, Gaffney reminded him that "chicks are birds--\o7 not\f7 women."
With so many talk shows on the air, Gaffney knows she has lots of company. Even so, she insists that the competition is not on her mind.
"I think there's room for everybody in the world. I see competition as when you're actually playing a game of some kind, and I'm not playing a game.
"I'm not out to bump anybody off the air by any stretch of the imagination," she continued, pausing as if to launch a new joke: "Like those 'Late Night Wars,' why \o7 do\f7 they set those up like that . . .?"
As one of three executive producers, Gaffney has an active role deciding what will be discussed on her show.
"We don't do any sleazoid stuff," she insisted. "I don't care about Amy Fisher . . . . I don't want Heidi Fleiss on the show."
Gaffney's standards have impressed more than a few of her colleagues at Fox.
"I've worked with Geraldo, Donahue, Joan Rivers . . . a lot of established hosts," said executive producer Dan Weaver. "I'm at this point a little tabloid-ed out, and a lot of the things that Mo talks about really hit home to me."
Gaffney credits her family for giving her the comic training her peers received doing stand-up routines. "We were a gigantic, crazy Irish-Catholic brood. A lot of hideous things happened, and a lot of really funny things happened."
She got her professional start in San Diego, where she founded a feminist comedy troupe called Hot Flashes. But it was "The Kathy and Mo Show" in the late 1980s for which she is best known. A collaborative writing and acting venture with partner Kathy Najimy ("Sister Act"), the long-running Off-Broadway comedy nabbed an Obie Award and was later adapted for TV by HBO.
Gaffney and Najimy have continued to work together, and are in the process of fine-tuning their Hollywood Pictures screenplay "Bus Plunge," a "dramedy" about a reunion of accident survivors.
Even with a new talk show and a movie in the works, Gaffney shudders at the suggestion that she is on the "fast track."
"Up and coming? . . . I'm 34 years old. I might be up and coming for a minute, then be down and going."
And she added:
"I know that if it's good and people watch it, I'll continue to have a job. If not, I've got other things on the burner. I'm movin' and shakin' . . . . I've got an in at a yogurt hut--I can work the counter anytime."