By Rory Winston
Photos by Dimitrios Kambouris/ Getty Images
The dope, the skinny, the lowdown, the dirt… Ever since antiquity, we’ve been consumed by a need to know ‘what’s going down’ with those who are ‘higher up.’ We want hearsay confirmed, laundry aired, scandals unearthed, calumny dispelled; we hanker for a behind-the-scenes look at our celebrities, craving access to exclusive realms. We want to be privy to the private lives of public figures. And – more than anything – we yearn to unveil the inner workings of the very legends that we have so painstakingly shrouded in mystery. Having deified and worshipped mortals, we, paradoxically, wish to see them undone – exposed as the sordidly ordinary human beings they are. In an age devoid of belief in the supernatural, the deconstruction of celebs has become a means of transcendence. Building gods with planned obsolescence, we take pleasure in replacing them, proving again and again that they are no better than us. In this world of fleeting rapture, the gossip columnist is high priest.
When it comes to celebrity news, verifiable information is often as indistinguishable from hype as history is from myth in the bible. Facebook, Twitter, and websites run amok with press releases, sound bites, speculations and fabrications. While each messiah is surrounded by ardent disciples and a core team of apostles – fan base and publicist, respectively – they also bear the cross of having an equally determined horde of detractors, rumor mongers and skeptics. Caught between those who would hail them as saviors and those who wish them crucified, our ephemeral heroes await judgment from the masses; this while the masses wait to be informed by unbiased opinion. The contemporary name for a revelation capable of shifting public opinion is ‘a scoop.’ As for the sacred cabal who make such revelations, they are gossip columnists – investigative reporters whose reputations rely on their ability to research events, dig up facts, corroborate stories, verify sources, and beyond that, to deliver news in an eloquent and entertaining manner.
Although televised celebrity news has been overrun with presenters who do no more than aggregate and announce, in May of 2013, VH1’s executive producer Shane Farley reinvented the genre – his nuance, ironically, being an ‘old school’ formula: having the show’s researchers and writers double as hosts. The result: The Gossip Table – a hit show newsworthy enough to defend its daily morning timeslot. With witty banter to accompany genuine exposés, the show is no blurbathon. Instead, it presents celebrity insights and socio-political observations in the unassuming guise of – to borrow a refrain from the Man of La Mancha – “A little gossip, a little chat, a little idle talk of this and that.”
Upon learning that a rendezvous had finally been scheduled with four of the five GT cast members, I muse: Why not turn the table on my guests by having them respond to a few startling discoveries about their own lives. How hard could it be to unearth the odd indiscretion? Though far from my own area of expertise; the George Plimpton ‘get-in-the-ring-with-them school of journalism’ feels like a worthwhile endeavor.
Since Chloe Melas – Senior Entertainment Reporter at HollywoodLife.com – was the one member that would not be present, I could forget about confronting her with dredged up secrets. That left: Marianne Garvey, Confidential columnist for the Daily News; Noah Levy, Senior News Editor at In Touch Weekly; Delaina Dixon, Cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Divagalsdaily.com; and the British born linchpin, Rob Shuter – an entertainment columnist extraordinaire who was not only the former executive editor of OK Magazine – taking it from a floundering rag to major contender – but someone who been a power publicist representing Alicia Keys, Bon Jovi, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Naomi Campbell, P. Diddy, Estee Lauder and Esquire Magazine.
Realizing that Garvey and Shuter are regular Huffington Post contributors, I decide to call a Huffington blogger I know. Dead end. No insights gleaned. Suddenly, it dawns on me: an ex-colleague from my time in theatre had been slated for a part in Harmony – the stirring new musical by Barry Manilow and his lifelong collaborator, the legendary lyricist Bruce Sussman. And Sussman is – drum roll! – Shuter’s spouse. I call. Though we are both enamored by Sussman and my source extols the production, there is not much in the way of insider information. Six degrees transgressed and still no gossip on The Gossip Table. Celebrity newsgathering is not for sissies. You need feelers and spies everywhere. It is a specialized form of investigative journalism that takes street smarts, precision, unlimited endurance and years of devotion.
On first impression, the idiosyncratic quintet known as The Gossip Table appear like highly charged quirky personalities that are, oddly enough, harmonic as a unit. The flamboyantly charismatic Naughty but Nice Rob Shuter careens into my field of vision, giving way to a grand conductor’s bow that tapers off in a half-hearted curtsey, followed by a waltzed retreat. The ensuing repartee only reinforces the Marx Brothers atmosphere: “We’re not some artificially constructed cast of models – although I’m very good looking,” quips Rob, “we’re actually friends who’ve known and worked with one another since, well, even before we started lying about our age.”
“Rob was my mentor and sponsor at OK magazine,” Delaina chimes in.
“As I said, we’ve known for a very long time,” reiterates Rob, “Marianne for 15, Noah for 12, Delaina for – gosh I’m old – 20.”
Noah turns his head as if for a profile shot, and coquettishly adds: “We have no secrets from one another. Everyone here knows exactly what I look like with my mask off at 7am. Our on air personality is what we really are but amplified by a hundred – it’s a better version of ourselves”.
“Actually, I think I’m a better version off air,” interjects Rob, “On air I’m relaxed. In real life I’m far more obnoxious.”
Our Algonquin circle is in full swing. Marianne – an underdressed Indie version of Dorothy Parker – explains why Delaina is their delegated “eulogy girl” and why she herself has been expressly forbidden to discuss the dead or dying. Rob admits that Delaina does indeed ‘give great eulogy;’ while Marianne is the funniest.
“I was runner-up as NY’s funniest reporter,” Marianne proclaims in a demure beauty pageant style, “but only because Judith Regan was judging …the bitch.”
As any ballerina knows, it takes a lot of hard work to make something look this easy. While the group does have fun on air, moments after the show ends they’re back on the beat hunting stories. By nightfall each has at least 3 original items to pitch, which then gets edited down to six favorites. “We never regurgitate,” Rob insists, “we break news daily.”
Noah is certain that a big reason for their growing fanbase is their ability to share their process of discovery. Deliana agrees it’s their journalistic integrity that made sources like Diamond, the stripper, come to them with her Justin Bieber story.
Always on the job, when Marianne saw an Olsson Twin spit her gum onto a table in a Chelsea bar, she went to the trouble of retrieving it. “DNA – just in case the celeb wants to deny the story and sue for slander.” While Rob admits they won’t ameliorate the truth when celebs smell rancid or simply have bad skin (Brad Pitt), they do love both pop culture and celebrities as much as the average viewer: “We are our audience – not stars, not Mean Girls bitching, not talking heads; but simply regular people who feel so extraordinarily lucky to be doing what we love that we pinch ourselves before every show. Imagine, being in the TRL studio overlooking Times Square; living in the center of the universe, the most thrilling city in the world – a city that I especially chose to come to 20 odd years ago.”
“As far as New York goes,” adds Marianne, “the constant noise, the people, the breakneck tempo…I need those distractions. I hate being in my own head. And with everything going on here, there’s always gossip and gossip means communication. In reality, everyone loves to connect over what celebrities are doing – even the most educated.”
Noticing I had no gossip on them, Noah took pity and offered: “Okay. The biggest story here…? Someone at The Gossip Table is pregnant and I’ll give you a hint: it’s not me or Rob.”
Although reluctant to admit it, the members of The Gossip Table are slowly becoming celebrities in their own right. If that’s true, there’s little doubt left that even celebrities can’t get enough of celebrity gossip.