Bethenny Frankel Comes Full Circle with HBO Max's 'The Big Shot with Bethenny'

CUL_PS_Bethenny Frankel
Greg Endries

"I've always done things that hadn't been done before, and I'm still doing it."

In the history of reality TV, Bethenny Frankel is up there with the genre's pioneers. While most people know her from Bravo's The Real Housewives of New York City, she actually got her start as the runner-up on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, produced by Mark Burnett. Now, nearly 16 years later, she and Burnett have teamed up again for HBO Max's The Big Shot with Bethenny (April 29), a reality series where contestants will compete to work for Frankel's lifestyle brand Skinnygirl. "The things that these people are competing for are all real. I need this person." And it's going to take someone unique. Frankel's decision to leave Housewives wasn't easy. "I never really had a big road map. I just make decisions with gut instinct." She says the show can be a double-edged sword. "If I do something right, I'm a humanitarian, philanthropist, mogul businesswoman with a $100 million business. If I do something wrong, I'm a nasty housewife." But with The Big Shot, her podcast Just B With Bethenny Frankel and Skinnygirl, it's clear Frankel isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Do you feel like you're coming full circle working with Burnett again?

First was seeing Mark Burnett when I was on Shark Tank. Both of us realized the full-circle moment. I thought it was just sort of coming from me, but for him, me being a contestant and now being on one of his shows and then me calling him and having this idea for the show and producing this and then being partners on something took it to a whole new level. It's interesting, I still see him at a totally different level than myself. I see everybody that way. Even with Martha Stewart, it was just a dream of a lifetime to be on that show and to go all the way, so now, for me to be the person in that position is mind-blowing. This [The Big Shot with Bethenny] is so much more real of a competition. The things that these people are competing for are all real. I need this person. I thought of this show the way that I write every book and every creative thing that I do; it's all out of a need. That's what happened here. I thought I needed a successor who can be somebody that could eventually think like me. There's always such a disparity between me and the people that work with me because they're amazing, but they're not at that level where we're sitting at the big girl table with the multibillion-dollar partners that are having these real conversations. So who could that person be? It's not easy to interview people. You interview someone at your table or at your conference room and they tell you that they're the second coming and you're like, "How can I possibly know that you could do this job?" This is such a crazy job. I have such a weird career that is in so many different places, where I'm the CEO and the person in front of the camera. So I was thrilled to go through this litmus test to find somebody really great.

How is this show different from other business reality shows like The Apprentice or Shark Tank?

It's been pointed out to me that there have been 15 business competition shows ever and only one has succeeded: The Apprentice. This will be the second. It's such an excellent show, and it's different than any other. On The Apprentice, Donald Trump is in a suit in a boardroom with two other people. I think he has a life that's out of the boardroom? I think he has friends? He's got kids, a relationship, but you see none of that. Everything's perfect. Every decision made is perfect. Their business is perfect. The Big Shot is showing you I don't know how we're doing all this. It's intense and it's hard. We're often holding it together with Scotch tape. So it's different in that it's showing warts and all.

What impact do you think reality TV has had on business?

I'm not afraid to say I was the first to monetize it. When I did what, including the Kardashians at that point, no one really realized that it was a commercial until I was on the cover of Forbes and The Hollywood Reporter article about my cocktail deal. The Bethenny clause became a thing in Hollywood where you weren't gonna put anybody on a reality show unless you were going to take a piece of their future earnings, that is literally called the Bethenny clause. I was doing a commercial through my story on the show. HBO Max wants to make a good show for us. It's entertaining and if you happen to cash out because of it, they don't care. They're making a good show. That's their business. And that's one of the interesting things. They're not in the business of brands because they don't build brands, they build their own brand. It's true content and it makes our show better, it's real. They can for the sake of it be like, "Let's put in Kraft macaroni and cheese as your product for these people to compete with." But they don't want that. So they're seeing the big picture. I've always done things that hadn't been done before, and I'm still doing it. I'm just never telling anybody what I'm doing because I'm playing my own game.

How do you find the balance between being yourself as a public figure without hurting your brand?

You've got to weigh the gains and losses. Having this platform for it to be a commercial, and communicate what the product is, and what you're doing and who you are, and how this product solves a problem, for me, that outweighs the risks I take being an outspoken person and being polarizing, having to deal with the highs and lows of being an opinionated person. I mean, believe me, it's going on all the time on social media, I have a list of celebrities that call me and text me and say, "I'm so envious that you have the courage to say what you think and not be afraid." That empowers me because they're people that you would think would have the courage, but they edit everything, they filter everything, they sanitize it now because society has made it that they have to sanitize themselves. I would rather be totally gone and forgotten than filter myself and not be who I authentically am.

How will your philanthropic efforts with your organization BStrong be featured on The Big Shot?

I'm very authentic in the communication of that because I don't want it to be me with a violin hugging babies. Even though I have such tremendous compassion for people's hardship and suffering, I really do operate my philanthropic efforts like a business, 100 percent goes to the effort. There is a part of the show that does that but in a very business-like way, meaning we need to communicate what we do, be transparent, raise money, help these people and then be ready for the next terrible thing. So I do treat it very much like a business, people donating have to get a return on investment. They have to feel that they've helped, know how they've helped and that you'll be totally transparent. So I love that about it. It's actually a part of the show. It's more important than hawking salad dressing, popcorn. It's people's lives. We've hit the $100 million mark worldwide in three years. I mean, $100 million is a real number.

When you left The Real Housewives of New York City, did you foresee something like The Big Shot being your natural next chapter?

I never really had a big road map. I just make decisions with gut instinct. Everyone told me not to go back to the show the first time and I went back. Everyone told me not to do the show. I had things to do with philanthropy and with my family, my daughter and my personal life, and I wanted to not always be associated with that, which is not that easy. If I do something right, I'm a humanitarian, philanthropist, mogul businesswoman with a $100 million business. If I do something wrong, I'm a nasty housewife.