MEET LISA DURDEN: Lisa Durden is the host The Lisa Durden Show which airs on Cablevision and the Manhattan Neighborhood Network. She has been a regular “expert” guest on nationally syndicated shows like FoxNews.com’s The Strategy Room and FOX 5’s The Morning Show w/Mike & Juliet. Lisa is also an award winning producer in non-fiction television and film. She is currently the associate producer of the upcoming national PBS documentary, Soul Food Junkies; she was also the associate producer of the Sundance Channel’s award winning docu-series, Brick City 1. Lisa writes a pop-culture commentary blog for the New Jersey Star Ledger @ www.nj.com/newark/lisadurden. In addition to working in television and film, Lisa serves as an adjunct professor at Essex County College. She graduated with a BA in Communications from Seton Hall University and is an active member of the New York Women In Film and Television.
WMI: As a young girl did you dream of working in the media and/or owning a television show? If so, tell us about some of your earliest memories centering around this creative entrepreneurial endeavor.
LD: As a young girl I didn’t think of working in the media but I was always a little entrepreneur. From the age of eight years, I had a business corn-rowing other people’s hair. I just used word of mouth to market my business; everybody in the neighborhood came to me to cornrow their hair; little girls, teenagers, even grown men. I charged $2 a head and I was smart enough to let people know the $2 price only covered the service. They had to provide their own comb, brush, grease and beads. Hair done, I took the profit from my braiding business and reinvested it into a penny candy enterprise with my friend, Yolanda. In those days, a piece of candy only cost a penny. We bought big bags of candy and charged a penny for two pieces. That’s how we beat out our competition, the local corner store.
I always had money in my pocket. When the ice cream man came around, instead of running home to ask my mother for money to buy ice cream, just to hear her say, “I’m broke,” I just pulled my dollar out and bought ME a banana split. After I arrived home with it, my four brothers and sisters gathered around me with their mouths open, salivating and asking, “Ooooo, who bought you that?” My response was, “Me.” I would fall out in hysterical laughter. I guess I was born wanting to be independent, not needing other people to get what I wanted. When I think about it now, it seems strange; failure never crossed my mind. They say children don’t know fear so maybe that’s why I didn’t think twice when I started my business.
At about the age of 13 years I start thinking about being in the media. I wanted to be an anchor. I’d always tell people I was gonna be the next Sue Simmons. She is the anchor person who is on NBC and she has been there forever!! Remember, back when she began, there weren’t any black women in news or media for that matter. So she was my idol. But my mind changed when I saw The Oprah Winfrey Show for the first time in 1986. When her show premiered nationally I fell in love with it. Oprah was someone who I could relate to, someone who was smart and entertaining. I was drawn to her like a moth to a flame. From that point forward I decided that I wanted to be a talk show host.
WMI: Where did the concept for The Lisa Durden Show derive from?
LD: While in college at Seton Hall University, I worked as a newscaster and engineer on the school’s radio station, WSOU 89.5 FM. My plans were to graduate and get a job as a journalist and work my way up to talk show host. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. When I went to our career day, to my surprise, there were no broadcast networks or radio stations there. So I applied for jobs with sales companies because I didn’t know where to go or how to pursue a job in the media. I took a job with Kellogg’s sales company.
After four years at Kellogg’s, two years at Phizer Pharmaceuticals and two years at Bristol Myers Squibb Pharmaceuticals, I left the sales business in the early 90’s to become a motivational speaker and start my consulting firm. Well, since I didn’t have a book and wasn’t a public figure, I didn’t get any gigs as a motivational speaker. Strangely enough, people were more interested in my facilitating workshops, so that’s what I did. After awhile, a friend told me that I should get my own talk show on public access to promote my business. So I called Newark Cablevision and spoke to Al Clarke, the public access coordinator at that time and told him that I wanted to do a talk show. He told me to write a proposal; I did. Of course I didn’t hear from him, so I followed up and followed up and followed up for nearly three months and finally he returned my call with the news that I my show was approved. I decided to call it The Lisa Durden Show because most talk shows were named after the hosts and because I wanted to brand myself. Everything I touched from that point forward had the Lisa Durden name brand; The Lisa Durden Show, www.Lisadurden.com , Lisadurden@aol.com and my production company, Lisa Durden Unlimited Productions.
About six months into hosting my show, I was approached by Cablevision producers Al and Francisco to host a new magazine show called Brick City. When I got the call, I was actually out of town in Atlanta for the summer Olympics. I checked my answering machine and there was a message from Al stating that he wanted to talk to me. I was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof because he didn’t say what he wanted to talk with me about. I hate cliff hangers! So I called him immediately to ask what was up and he told me to follow up when I got back in town. I couldn’t sleep a wink at night because I told myself he was cancelling my show. After I returned to town, we met, and, at the meeting, he and Francisco offered me a job as the host of Brick City. I was soooo excited! Of course I said yes! This was my shot toward the big time! Or so I thought.
The new opportunity was bitter sweet. On the one hand, I was back on course to achieving my goal of becoming a nationally syndicated talk show host. But a lot of other public access users were angered by it. Here’s the thing, while I was hosting Brick City, I was also hosting The Lisa Durden Show. People at public access started to complain to Al behind my back and he actually stopped letting me tape new episodes of The Lisa Durden Show but he never told me in advance. He suddenly just stopped calling me for new air dates. This went on for a little over a year, all while I was still coming to the studio to tape Brick City. Surprisingly one day, I get a call from Al giving me some new taping dates for The Lisa Durden Show. While on the phone he admitted, You know I haven’t been giving you taping dates for your show? I responded, Yeah, I know. He never elaborated on it. I never asked him to. Just that little verbal volley answered my suspicions.
From that day forward The Lisa Durden Show has been going strong! And my efforts to become a motivational speaker came full circle because of the show’s popularity. My phone rings off the hook now to give speeches, sit on panels and MC events. It pays to keep your eye on the prize.
WMI: How long has The Lisa Durden Show been airing and what locations does your television show air in?
LD: The Lisa Durden Show has been airing for 16 years. My show airs in nearly 1 million households on Newark Cablevision, 6pm, Tuesdays, Channel 19, Manhattan Neighborhood Network, 5:30pm, Wednesdays, Channel 56, and online, 5:30pm, Wednesdays @ www.mnn.org.
WMI: Years ago it was rare to see a woman hosting her own television show. What challenges have you overcome to reach your current successes? Also, what strategies or thought processes did you use to overcome those challenges?
LD: Not only was it rare to see a woman hosting a talk show, it was rare seeing a black woman hosting a talk show. And it still is. There is still only one black female talk show host on major network and that’s Wendy Williams. Oprah and Tyra stepped down so they need to give Lisa Durden a contract. Expanding my production company can be tiring at times, but quitting is not an option.
My mother died of a brain aneurism in 2006 and although we weren’t close, she had become my biggest cheerleader. She would ride with me late at night to the 24 hour Staples to make copies. She would tag along in the car and keep me company when I had to mail something via FedEx or just run errands. She would accept packages that were sent to my home office when I was out of town. If I needed financial backing she was more than happy to sponsor whatever she had. Sometimes it’s the small things that people do for you that make you strong. I will succeed, so her contributions won’t be in vain. My strategy is very simple; I use cognitive thinking. Simply put, it’s the ability to know that there is an answer to any problem; the key is to focus, visualize and stay on task.
WMI: What impact has the Internet had on The Lisa Durden Show in regards to marketing and audience engagement?
LD: The Internet has been one of the most powerful tools in promoting and marketing The Lisa Durden Show. During every episode of The Lisa Durden Show I encourage people to log onto my website @ www.Lisadurden.com and give me show ideas, weigh in about my wardrobe and to share their views on the day’s show. People get their content in different ways these days. So because a lot of people watch programs using computers and mobile devices, it’s important for them to be able to access content at their finger tips. So logging onto www.mnn.org at 5:30pm, Wednesdays or onto my Youtube channel at www.youtube.com/user/lisadurden are fantastic ways to share The Lisa Durden Show with those who don’t get my show on television.
WMI: Tell us about one to two of the funniest events that have happened thus far during the “Hot Seat.”
LD: Well, it’s no longer called the “Hot Seat,” it’s called “The Lisa Juice.” That segment used to be called shout outs then I changed it to “The Lisa Juice.” This segment is where I give people the juice. Which means I will set you straight about something I feel. I will read viewer mail and give my response. Or I will keep you posted on celebrity dish. It really depends on what’s happening at the time.
The funniest thing that has happened during “The Lisa Juice” segment is when I put a contractor “on blast” who took my money to fix my house and never came back. What was funny is that I found out he was a Newark city employee who was doing personal work on taxpayers’ time. I made sure to tell his first and last name so Mayor Cory Booker, who is a fan of my show, would see it and deal with the situation. By the way, maybe Write Money Inc. readers can weigh in on whether I should keep the segment as “The Lisa Juice” or change it back to “Shout Outs.” Let me know by logging onto www.Lisadurden.com and click on email us.
WMI: Has having celebrity guests on The Lisa Durden Show helped to bring you before a wider, more diverse audience? How so?
LD: Having celebrity guests has not helped me to gain a wider audience. Public access is very niche. The good thing about being on local television is that people feel like they know you. They love it when they can run into you at the grocery store, the post office, the car wash or a neighborhood restaurant. I am the Oprah of Newark. When people see me there is no entourage or security stopping them from talking to me or asking for my autograph.
The craziest fan I have ever had, walked up to me at Pathmark on Lyons Avenue in Irvington, NJ and screamed, “Lisa Durden. Lisa Durden. You’re Lisa Durden right?” I stopped and said, “Yes.” She said, “I knew it! My husband loves your show. Hold on. Let me get him on the phone. Honey, guess who I ‘m talking to right now, Lisa Durden from The Lisa Durden Show. She’s here in Pathmark. I’m gonna put her on the phone.” Then the lady passed me the phone to speak with her husband. Of course I did. It was over the top hilarious. When I hung up she gave me a big hug and I took her address and sent her husband an autographed picture. That is what’s so rewarding about being a local talk show host; there is a real connection with the community.
However, I am not trying to be a local superstar. My goal is to advance my career. So I’m still working on reaching a broader audience by pursuing syndication. Having celebrities on my show helps to prove my viability and appeal to the mainstream. However, the journey has been long and the road seems never ending, but my eyes are firmly planted on the prize.
WMI: From your personal experience, which best drives new consumer traffic for creative small business owners (e.g. retail shop owners, restaurant owners, solopreneurs), radio or television? Why?
LD: I have to say television (and not because I’m on television). Why? The visual image is strong. As a pop culture commentator I have been on nationally syndicated television shows, like the Fox Morning Show with Mike & Juliet, Fox Strategy Room, Comcast’s and It’s Your Call with Lynn Doyle. I’ve also appeared on radio shows like The Kiss Wake Up Club on 98.7 Kiss and The Michael Baisden Show on 107.5 WBLS. And it never fails, whether the segment is long or 2 minutes short, people always seem to recognize and approach me on Facebook, via email or by phone to let me know they’ve seen me on television. I also connect with my favorite entertainers through television. It’s always must see TV when someone like Kirstie Ally, Beyonce, or Will Smith is a guest on a talk show.
WMI: Are you on social networks, and if so, what specific social media strategies have you found most effective at building audience members?
LD: I love social media. It has become the life blood of my business. I’m on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which help me to keep people informed on what the show is doing and even to reach out to people for show ideas and to be a guest. I blog for the Newark Star Ledger @ www.nj.com/newark/lisadurden, because the written medium is another fantastic way to continue to share my commentary with my fans as well. Believe it or not, some people don’t watch television and would prefer to read. Blogging is my way of giving people a taste of Lisa Durden through the written word; I don’t disappoint.
WMI: Who are some of the leaders in media you admire and what is it about these people you most appreciate?
LD: Everybody knows that I am in love with Oprah. I am in love with her talent as a talk show host. I am in love with her entrepreneurial successes. I am in love with her philanthropy. I am in love with her fierce dedication to women and women’s issues and I am in love with her many television and film productions.
In the past, I said I wanted to be like Sue Simmons. Then I said I wanted to be the next Oprah Winfrey. Now that I’m grown, I don’t wanna be anybody but Lisa Durden. However, I am very inspired by Oprah’s business acumen. As they say, “If you wanna do something , follow those who are good at it.” So while I don’t wanna be Oprah, I am one of her loyal students. Like her I’ve built my brand beyond just being the host of The Lisa Durden Show; I am also a producer. I discovered that there is a lot of power in controlling the image. So while hosting the magazine show, Brick City, from 1996 to 2000, I began to produce segments and fell in love with production. Once I left the show I continued to look for projects where I could enhance those skills. So in 2005, I directed and executive produced my first documentary called Project WOW:Men On The Down Low that aired in short form on BET’s Black Stories on World Aids Day. I was also an integral part of the BET News Special, The Down Low Exposed which aired in 2007. Because of the success of those programs I got an opportunity to be an associate producer on the Sundance Channel’s award winning docu-reality series, Brick City 1, which aired nationally in 2008.
Diane Sawyer is the other woman in the media who I just adore. She is sooo smart! So entertaining, so approachable, so classy and so pleasant! I absolutely loved her on Good Morning America. Now she is bringing her unique style to World News Tonight. Before her watching that show was like watching paint dry.
WMI: How do you see technology impacting medias (e.g. television, radio, print media) over the next three to five years? What makes you say this?
LD: Technology is fast and furious and its impact on all mediums is great. It’s allows us to have access to information 24/7. It’s also given us lots of media options. In the past, there were only the three big broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Additionally, there were only a couple of major newspapers. Now, there are a ka-billion television networks, online networks, newspapers, radio stations and electronic devices that you can read books, etc. on. On the other hand, technology has it’s growing pains because how we consume information is changing so rapidly, it’s leaving a lot of people and mediums behind. I definitely see television, radio, magazines, newspapers and books as we know them becoming dinosaurs. Bottom line, technology is here to stay. I’m a fan, and over the next three to five years, I predict that we will all embrace it rather than resist it, or WE will become the dinosaurs.
WMI: What’s next for Lisa Durden? Where do you see yourself in the next two to three years?
LD: I’m going to continue to grow my production company, including hosting The Lisa Durden Show, producing non-fiction programming, completing my book and connecting with others via public speaking and pop culture commentary. There are a few projects that I have on the horizon. I just completed production as associate producer on the upcoming documentary, Soul Food Junkies, directed by Byron Hurt, which will air nationally on PBS in 2012. I’m also developing a documentary, three reality shows and a web-series that I hope gets picked up between now and the next three years. Actually, I won’t say I hope, cause Oprah says, “Hope is not a plan.” So I’ll rephrase. I WILL have a documentary, three reality shows and a web-series on air in the next two to three years.
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