I dreaded this assignment.
When I received gentle nudging from my editor to write about one of her favorite shows, Oxygen network’s Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood , I joked that in order to get through this mission -- watching 10, hour-long episodes of the show -- I’d need some major margarita action. At the very least.
One of the reasons for my dread is that I’m not into reality programming. Hate it actually. Hate the self-consciousness. Hate that the line between how much is real versus how much has been manipulated by behind-the-scenes producers is never clear. Plus, as a writer, I like to watch shows that have been crafted by fairly paid fellow writers, not shows which exploit people whose antics are no doubt influenced by the fact that they need their programs to remain on air, and that the “stars” sometimes (oftentimes) ramp up their behavior to absurd lengths to snag must-needed ratings.
But, that being said, I did my duty. And sat. For hours. And watched Tori Spelling and her husband Dean McDermott. And took notes. And, following my Tori & Dean-athon, found myself obligated to then drag myself to a local bookstore and buy Tori Spelling’s autobiography, sTory Telling, which came out this spring and was the focus of much of this season’s reality show because she had to promote it. I e-mailed my editor and told her this column would be a tad bit late because I had to devour the 271-page volume before I felt as though I could render a fair verdict.
Now I’m done with the book. I’ve viewed Spelling’s official web site . Her MySpace page . Her program’s web site. I did NOT go to the Home Shopping Network web site to glance at Spelling’s jewelry biz, but I did visit her mother Candy’s web site . (Spelling is estranged from her mother, about whom she wrote with brutal honesty in her book.)
And after spending all this time in ToriLand, I’ve discovered that I have a newfound respect for the woman, whom I chiefly knew from her Beverly Hills 90210 days (I was a closet 90210 fan) and from the tabloids’ salacious coverage of the demise of her first marriage and quick marriage to McDermott. Today, Tori Spelling’s the mother of two children under the age of two. A few years ago, she started an inn with her husband, a reality TV show, a jewelry business and became pregnant with baby number one. She then wrote her New York Times best selling book (with Hilary Liftin), went on a book tour, continued to make appearances to promote her bling, soldiered on with her third season of her TV show and parented baby Liam (with the help of a baby nurse), much of that occurring while she was pregnant with baby number two. She also moved to a new house (the one she and McDermott were renting in LA was being sold) and had it renovated just weeks before giving birth to her daughter Stella. She’s now working on another book. (No word yet from the Oxygen network about a new season for the reality show.) No one can accuse Tori Spelling of being a spoiled lay-about.
In a recent Tori & Dean episode, before she’d had her baby girl and in the midst of the renovations to their new home, she and McDermott learned that they had to apply their toddler son to pre-schools -- pronto! -- or else they’d never get him into any place “decent” in LA. Spelling was stressing out but keeping things under control. (I would’ve been having dry heaves, but that’s just me.) Looking at the camera, she quipped: “Feed baby. Wipe off barf. Change stinky diaper. Kiss your husband. Sign your best selling book. Just another typical day in the life of a mommy.”
But for every time I rolled my eyes at this show – at the crazy over-the-top parties, the pricey items the couple bought when they said they were absolutely strapped for cash, the getaway they took to a FOUR SEASONS resort just after moving and after Stella was born, the irony in her husband announcing that the family was “going green” while they drive around in an Escalade – I cannot deny that Tori & Dean is entertaining, that Spelling’s story is compelling, that she seems sweet and genuine and that she’s trying to live as “normal” a life as she can . . . “normal” for a woman who was raised by parents with gobs of money, dressed her up for Halloween in heels and an opulent Marie Antoinette costume when she was a grade schooler and whose childhood home consisted of a compound the size of an entire block.
After reading about the twists and turn in the 90210 alum’s life – having a boyfriend blow her 90210 earnings, spending as if her credit card bills were being paid by her now-late father (they weren’t), nearly going broke and being $200,000 in debt – and after watching her on Tori & Dean, I’ve come to see her not as a role model for mere mortal mothers such as myself (after giving birth and completing a costly renovation, I cannot, in my wildest dreams, imagine heading off to a five-star resort, and staying in a SUITE no less), but maybe she could be a role model (the infidelity aspect of how she got together with McDermott notwithstanding) for moms for whom money is no object. Or for moms who simply want to be entertained by the unrealness of the life of Tori.
If there’s one thing Tori & Dean seeks to prove, it’s that Spelling’s one hard-working Mama. When she wasn’t shown in her reality show planning a soiree (birthday party, daddy shower, housewarming party) or picking out fabrics for the new house, this season she was shown schlepping to New York for book signings, having to maintain her cool under tough questioning while being interviewed by countless journalists, working with the Home Shopping Network about her jewelry and hopping on a tour bus (after pregnant Spelling was grounded from flying by her ob/gyn because of pre-term contractions) in order to make it to a book-related event in San Francisco. She eventually had to put the book tour on hold when she realized she’d never be able to adhere to all her commitments if she didn’t take an airplane, especially with a toddler, pregnancy and a big move all in front of her.
If it was anyone else other than Tori Spelling who had a year like that, doing all of those things and not screwing them up, people would be calling her a Supermom. But because of the tabloid tales told about her, Spelling, I think, doesn’t get enough credit for pulling her life together. I won’t go so far as to say I’m DVRing future Tori & Dean episodes or that I’m going to recommend the charming show to all my friends, but I’m not going to trash them either. After spending all this time with Tori, she’s begun to grow on me.