Why ‘Girls5eva’ star Busy Philipps chose QVC to make her return to late-night TV

Date:

Share post:


Busy Philipps is, as they say, having a moment. She stars in the Tina Fey-produced musical comedy Girls5eva as a member of a ’90s girl group hilariously trying to bring the band back together. The show’s been receiving rave reviews while growing a cult-like following after Netflix released the third season in March. (Critics are talking Emmy nominations.) And now the former host of E!’s Busy Tonight has a new late-night gig.

In May, QVC and HSN’s streaming services (QVC+ and HSN+) launched Busy This Week, a late-night talk show (10 p.m. ET on Wednesdays) that follows the traditional format—host chat, (wo)man-on-the-street bits, and celebrity interviews—along with a healthy dose of product promotion. It may seem like an odd venue for Philipps. But the actor is known for following her instincts, wherever they might take her.

For most of her life, Philipps wanted to act. But in 2016 the star who first made her mark as a teen on Freaks and Geeks and Dawson’s Creek discovered there was something else she enjoyed—and was good at. Having just rolled off six seasons of Cougar Town, Philipps was experimenting with Instagram’s newly released “Stories” feature when, to her surprise, the snippets of daily life she posted started attracting hundreds of thousands of views.

“She has a wicked sense of humor and a lack of shame about being herself,” Philipps’s Dawson’s Creek costar and bestie Michelle Williams told The New Yorker at the time. All this dovetailed with the emergence of influencer marketing. Suddenly brands came knocking with partnership deals.

Seeing potential in the star’s relatability, a producer asked what she wanted to do next. In a moment of inspiration, Philipps suggested a late-night talk show. (“I love talking and having conversations,” she told an interviewer in 2022.) A call with E! led to Busy Tonight, a critical success that was nevertheless canceled after eight months in 2019 (along with a slew of other such shows, some led by women). But Philipps and her producing partner Caissie St. Onge (Rosie O’Donnell, Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen) were determined to find another way into the genre.

“One thing that people look to late-night television for is cultural commentary,” Philipps told a podcaster earlier this year, after the host recalled the overwhelming response back in 2019 (pre-Dobbs, the Supreme Court case that overturned Roe v. Wade) when Philipps shared her experience of having an abortion at 15. And yet the majority of late-night hosts remain men, Philipps observed. “It seems wild to me that they’re having these cultural commentary moments, and there’s not a woman among them.”

With guests like Kenan Thompson, Ilana Glazer, and Philipps’s Girls5eva costars (Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Paula Pell), Busy This Week is finding its groove. Fast Company spoke with Philipps about why this avenue makes sense, and how to keep your footing in an industry where the ground is ever-shifting.

Tina Fey and Busy Philipps [Photo: Jenna Stamm for QVC+ and HSN+]

QVC is an unusual choice for a late-night show. How did it come about?

They have an audience that dovetails really nicely with my own. When Busy Tonight was canceled, I had [discovered] brands that were really excited about advertising [with us]. Our audience was at least 10 years younger than other late-night shows, and they were largely women in that prime buying age. So it sparked this idea that Caissie and I should go directly to the brands and ask if they wanted to underwrite the content and pay for our production—as opposed to us going to a studio and then a network.

What happened next?

We were working towards that at the end of 2019 and into the beginning of 2020. And then the pandemic happened. We had to put that aside, and we launched our podcast instead [Busy Philipps Is Doing Her Best], which was the right choice at the time.

How did QVC come into the picture?

A year and a half ago, QVC approached me with a brand deal for Christmas. While Caissie and I were doing that, we had an aha moment: Maybe this was the place that would understand what we’re doing. And it turns out, we were right.

Busy This Week launched on May 8. What’s been the response?

We’re still waiting for more information in terms of the shopability and the buying element. It was not contractually obligated, but it was a thing Caissie and I were interested in doing. Everything we’re wearing, you can buy on QVC or HSN. The set is very shoppable. So I’m curious to find out those numbers.

When you’re working with a new partner like QVC, I imagine you have requirements you wouldn’t have with a traditional network partner. How do you manage integrating those requirements with your own creative goals?

I don’t know if we have that many requirements. This is new territory for QVC. Creatively, we’ve been allowed real freedom. They trust that we know our audience, and that our audience responds to the ways we communicate and the things we want to do. There hasn’t been a ton of micromanaging, even to the point where it was never contractually obligated that we wear QVC clothing. 

And in terms of creating new spaces, I think as women, especially, we have no choice. It’s abundantly clear there’s not a lot of room. Never mind grabbing a seat at the table—you have to build the whole table, right? After Busy Today on E!, I felt like I don’t need some man in his early thirties telling me what women want to see.

What do you mean?

After our show was canceled, people were interested in us possibly moving to [their networks]. We took multiple meetings where we sat across the table from men who said, “Do women really want to see this?” And I was like, “I don’t know, sir. Why don’t you ask a woman? Oh, wait, you are!” I wasn’t getting those kinds of questions from the brands that I’d been working with, even at the very highest level. Marc Pritchard [Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer] would often say, “You have an incredible way that you connect with your audience, through Instagram and the way that you are.”

From left: Caissie St. Onge, Isaac Mizrahi, and Busy Philipps [Photo: Jenna Stamm for QVC+ and HSN+]

So in December 2022, you and Caissie created Busy for the Holidays on QVC.

They were very open to everything that we wanted to do, and they deferred to our creative ideas. They certainly had things they wanted to highlight or sell, but that wasn’t an issue for us. I recently found a bunch of memorabilia from Freaks and Geeks, including an article where there’s a quote from me. I was 20 years old, and I said something like, “Well, I guess at the end of the day, even making TV is just about selling soap.” When Freaks and Geeks was canceled, the reason given was the low ratings. So I’ve always fundamentally understood that part of being able to do the things you want to do and say the things you want to say is you have to make some deals.

The entertainment industry is going through massive changes. How does that influence where opportunities lie?

It’s the same thing that’s happened in so many industries, which is that tech has come in and blown it up. In the case of the entertainment industry, it has not worked. It seems to be hurting the people who are doing the labor while benefiting the very privileged few at the top of the food chain. When you look at the writers’ strike and the actors’ strike, and this impending IATSE [theatrical employees] strike, you’re seeing a reflection of that. 

Do I wish we had to be this creative? I don’t know. I’m just trying to meet the moment, continue to support my family, and make stuff. I’ve always been a little bit of an outside-the-box thinker, and I’ve always been a realist and practical when it comes to how things get made and who you ultimately answer to. But the business is continuing to have a lot of friction. It feels irreparable right now, but maybe it can course-correct in some way.

Does it help being on a hugely popular show like Girls5eva, which as originally on Peacock, now on Netflix?

Streaming became a loophole not to have to pay residuals. In the lean times in my career, I could count on a residual check, like when Dawson’s Creek got sold into syndication for the third time. I would be able to keep my health insurance and pay my rent. The streaming services essentially destroyed all of it, because they own the properties, right? So they don’t have to pay residuals for something that they own.

Does it help set you up for other opportunities?

Girls5eva has been such an incredible delight and joy, but I have to supplement my income outside of it. There’s a feeling among so many of my friends who have been working actors for so many years that it’s a constant hustle. When I started doing brand deals, I had friends who said, “You’re going to ruin your career.” And now lots of people reach out to me asking me for advice on getting branding agents. The only thing that’s been consistent for me is to follow my own compass.

Caissie St. Onge has been your creative partner starting with Busy Tonight. What’s the importance of that kind of collaboration?

Almost everyone who is super successful has a bunch of creatives around them who are the same people again and again. Judd Apatow [who created Freaks and Geeks] has people he’s always bouncing things off of. And Danny McBride’s team [who Philipps worked with on Vice Principals]—all those guys have been working together since college. And Tina Fey and Robert Carlock and Eric Gurian [Girls5eva, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 30 Rock]. Having somebody who can be a barometer for whether or not things are funny, who can add something to it, whose brain works in a slightly different way, who can help you get clarity on what the idea actually is . . . once they find their team, that is their team, and that’s how they continue to maintain such a high level of productivity and success.

What’s your advice for navigating a creative career in an industry where the ground keeps shifting?

Divorcing yourself from the idea of being cool is sometimes the thing that keeps you going. Often the thing that seems very uncool in one moment might be the thing that saves you when the industry implodes.




LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related articles

46 Years Ago, Steve Jobs' Nervousness Before His First TV Interview Proves Even Geniuses Have to Start Somewhere

Just like Steve Jobs wasn't always 'Steve Jobs,' you aren't the person you will someday become.

Chicago Business Owner Speaks Out After Multiple Acts of Vandalism

Crimes like vandalism can be devastating to a small business owner – especially when they seem to...