To know what Katie Puckrik wants, you must know this about the former Pet Shop Boys dancer:
She will tell another straight woman, "You're sexy!" and mean it. Her voice will pitch from Scarlett O'Hara bossy to Barry White sultry in a business meeting. She is an ex-BBC star who didn't hesitate "one jot" when a start-up cable TV network she had never heard of asked her to move to Los Angeles from London, her home of 16 years--a city in which she was recognized at every turn. (She wasn't hard to miss, with fire engine-red hair, a tailored men's jacket in lime green and canary yellow trousers).
What the 37-year-old Virginia native wants is to entertain, to express her inner chick self, to hang out with the girls. What she wants to do now is to play the way she has always played--and do it on her upcoming TV show, "Pajama Party," for the upstart company, Oxygen Media.
"Pajama Party" is scheduled to debut in February with the launch of the new cable network Oxygen. The network's brain trust includes former Nickelodeon guru Geraldine Laybourne, the principals of Carsey-Werner (producers of "Roseanne" and "3rd Rock From the Sun") and Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Entertainment Group.
In July, Puckrik arrived from London alone, without her boyfriend, a freelance journalist, who will join her soon. In Los Angeles, she's staying with friends, looking for a place to live, tooling around in her Volkswagen bug, trying to find a yoga class and wondering if it's uncool to eat pancakes alone at DuPar's. Not to mention trying to piece together a show from scratch.
"To begin with, it's terrifying, and then ultimately, of course, it's empowering," Puckrik said. She cupped her hands to the heavens. "The big guns are there going, 'Fly free, little bird!' So they trust me. So it's up to me to do a fantastic job. I'm very much aware that this is one of the handful of original shows that's starting up the network."
Established in England
In England, she hosted a live comedy show for the BBC from 1995 to 1996, and earlier this year, performed with a cast that included Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett in "The Vagina Monologues," a stage production calling for an end to sexual violence. Also, Puckrik had hosted "Pajama Party" for one season in 1996. Most recently, she had been on a book tour, promoting her memoir "Shooting From the Lip" (Headline), and auditioning for Broadway musicals in London.
Puckrik, who owned a flat in London, had been thinking about moving back to the States at some point. She was visiting her family in Virginia when Oxygen executives tracked her down.
"My first thought was, 'They've called the right person!' " Puckrik said. "It's perfect that they called me. . . . It was a completely magical, serendipitous occurrence.
"Everything that I do has some aspect of the celebration of being female. I'm just one of those women that just looooves being a girl. I like to get dolled up and put on some lipstick and fluff my hair up. I also like being appreciated for any wit or intelligence that may or not pass through my lips."
She is used to spinning from one life to another.
Her father, a U.S. Air Force colonel who worked for the diplomatic corps, and her stay-at-home mom moved their four kids around the world to countries including Russia and Germany. Puckrik, the youngest child, was a cutup in a family of cutups. As a kid, she took ballet classes and later modern dance.
In 1983, she moved to London to follow a boyfriend. The relationship ended, but her career as a singer and dancer took off, leading to a stint in 1991 with the British dance-pop group the Pet Shop Boys. After the concert tour, she beat out 5,000 people for a job hosting what became a cult TV show, "The Word." Other TV and radio programs followed, but Puckrik had an idea for her own show, "Pajama Party."
"Some of the most fun I've ever had in my life," she said, "is insalubrious get-togethers with my girlfriends; no boys around. It gets a little too frisky for words."
The Oxygen scouts went after Puckrik after seeing her work by happenstance. It didn't matter that Puckrik hadn't heard of the network; it was enough for her to hear the names of the players. Puckrik sent them tapes of "Pajama Party," which she had developed and hosted for an independent TV station in England. Three months later, she walked into a Studio City office alone, with nothing but a desk and computer.
Now, Puckrik and Todd Yasui, her co-executive producer, are interviewing potential writers and sidekicks, and drawing up celebrity guest lists. A pilot is expected to be shot later this year.
For now, Puckrik and Yasui spend their days in motor-mouthed banter, cooking up segments for the show. The set is under construction, with the help of Carsey-Werner productions.
It's so much fun that Yasui sometimes looks at the door and wonders who's going to squelch their silliness.
"Is a grown-up gonna come in?" he will ask. "No, Todd," Puckrik will say happily. "We're the grown-ups."