Expect the Unexpected: Julie Chen Dishes On ‘The Talk’ and the Return of ‘Big Brother’

The Talk - Julie Chen
Robert Ascroft© 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Summer’s here and that means Julie Chen is once again doing double CBS duty as moderator of The Talk and host of Big Brother. We can never have too much of a good thing.

You and your cohosts on The Talk clearly adore each other, yet some reporters still question whether you really get along. Isn’t this getting old?

We don’t even think about it anymore. Listen, if we didn’t love each other, I guarantee it would be all over the gossip rags and you’d see it on screen. The camera doesn’t lie.

You don’t even talk over each other, which other group gab shows can’t claim. What’s the secret to that?

It’s a combination of good ol’-fashioned respect for one another and the fact that none of us at the table is insecure. When you try to top someone in a conversation, it’s a sign you think you know better than the other person or that you’re trying to pull focus. We all have full lives outside the show, and other jobs. The Talk is no one’s end-all, be-all.

And you always let Sheryl Underwood land her jokes.

That’s because we want to hear the jokes, too! Sheryl is so funny it kills me. My husband [CBS president Les Moonves] can’t watch the show every day so I will give him the Cliffs Notes version every night over dinner. I’ll break into my best Sheryl Underwood imitation and repeat her jokes and he will laugh so hard that his eyes are closed, his nose is crinkled, his shoulders are bobbing up and down and he’s beet red.

The View goes balls to the wall when it comes to politics, but you all tend to steer clear. Why?

Politics is just too polarizing. Say anything and you automatically piss off half the country. Who needs that?

You’re a former CBS news anchor. Do you ever miss those days now that we’re in such epic political times?

Never, because I did the crack-of-dawn, live-news thing for a decade and I was getting kind of grumpy. I was like, “I’m old! I’m fried! I have a newborn!” But I do miss the great camaraderie among newsroom colleagues and, of course, all the nitty-gritty inside scoop that you get! Sometimes I just can’t stand it and I’ll email Gayle King after one of her interviews on CBS This Morning and be, like, “Hell-ooo, that person’s body language told me he was totally lying. Am I right?”

Meredith Vieira admits having a tough time when she transitioned from 60 Minutes to The View because news people are trained to not let their opinions show. How was that transition for you?

I also came up in the era where you stayed in your lane. You relayed the news in an unbiased way. The rule was that no viewer should ever know how the news anchor truly feels about the story so moving to The Talk was, like, flipping the script. It took me a very long time to find my voice. Even now, you won’t hear my opinion on everything we discuss. The rest of the girls can cut loose whenever, but there are times when I need to be the conductor who keeps the train moving. I need to be the serious one, even when I really just want to be one of the girls.

Big Brother is back June 28 for its 19th season. Why do you still stick with the gig? You sure don’t need the extra paycheck.

It’s become like my left arm. I can’t imagine life without it. It’s such a well-oiled machine at this point that it doesn’t even feel like work. It feels more like my summer vacation, my guilty pleasure. Besides, if I was sitting home watching someone else take over, I’d feel like I wasn’t invited to the party—and I cannot have that!

The houseguests must go through the summer without any outside contact. Would you be able to handle that?

I don’t want to even think about being out of touch with my husband and my son but I recently misplaced my cellphone and it was a very freeing thing. I actually enjoyed it! I have one friend who doesn’t have a cellphone at all and I’ll bet you she lives a much more joyful, present life with a lot less stress and anxiety than the rest of us. People are addicted to texting and tweeting nowadays but I think the majority of the Big Brother houseguests feel surprisingly liberated when their cellphones are taken away. It’s like a forced vacation from your life.

When Big Brother debuted in 2000, it was a rare opportunity to peep at outrageous human behavior, which is now readily accessible—ad nauseam—all over social media. Is the show in danger of becoming a lot less special?

[Laughs] No, and here’s why: Nothing can ever compete with putting 15 strangers together in a house with one bathroom.

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