News & Awards

Replacing Martha
Many wait in the wings for a shot at Stewart's domesticity throne
By Sandra Barrera and Valerie Kuklenski
Staff Writers for the Los Angeles Daily News, March 8, 2004

Martha Stewart was the ultimate homemaker, the wonder woman who could muck out a barn and scatter the manure in her freshly tilled vegetable bed, prune a few herbs, lay a spectacular table with clever place cards and whip up dinner for 12 with an ever-serene smile.

And that's just what she did in front of the cameras on her syndicated “Martha Stewart Living” and other television appearances. Behind the scenes she was a publisher of books and monthly magazines; overseer of her own furniture, paint, flooring and home-goods lines; a newspaper columnist and even on online florist.

From the publication of her first book, “Entertaining,” in 1982, Martha entered popular culture on the heels of the women’s liberation movement and made nesting appealing again. Before long, America was on a first-name basis with her.

With her conviction last week for conspiracy and other charges stemming from stock sales, the share value of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia has plummeted, Viacom-owned stations (including KCAL Channel 9 in Los Angeles) have dropped her program, and advertisers are fleeing the pages of her magazines. She has yet to be sentenced to prison, but her empire is in chaos.

There are dozens of home-oriented television personalities, authors and magazine columnists (and more waiting to be discovered) who owe the public’s insatiable appetite for their insights to one woman. The question now is, who will be the next Martha Stewart? Or will there ever be another?

“Martha was the first person to give real take-away practical information to make people’s lives better in that area of cooking and entertaining and crafts,” said Charles Segars, senior vice president of programming at Fine Living Network, who worked with Stewart as CBS’ vice president of prime-time specials in the early ’90s. “And anybody who wants to capture Martha’s empire is going to have to do that ... but also has to have their own point of view.

“But the real secret and formula behind Martha ... is how she delivers that information and how it really works.”

Not everyone in the field is trying to be “the next Martha Stewart,” nor even appreciates the comparison.

“I’m just me,” said Mary Jane Butters, an Idaho-based organic farmer. “But the news media keeps putting this on all of us. Time magazine had me in there a couple weeks ago, calling me the Pioneer Martha. It’s degrading to all of us.”

Sheila Bridges’ strength lies in interior design, although her Fine Living Network series, “Designer Living,” brings in chefs and other specialists outside her field. “I certainly wouldn’t ever try to market myself in any way as the next Martha Stewart,” Bridges said. “I think that would be a tough bill to fill.”

Martha’s millions of fans have a certain bond with her — a sort of one-way friendship — that is not likely to be shattered by a projected 10- to 18-month prison term. It’s quite possible that she will be welcomed back in the public eye after serving her time.

“Don’t count Martha out — I never will,” Segars said. “She’s connected with a lot of viewers. ... That’s a hard bond to break.”

But there is an undeniable opportunity in the short term for another guru of good taste to emerge. Here are a handful on the inside track to succeed her:

SHEILA BRIDGES
Brand: America’s best interior designer, according to Time magazine and CNN.
Credentials: A graduate of Parsons School of Design, she has been showcased in magazines ranging from House & Garden and Town & Country to Vanity Fair and — yes — Martha Stewart Living. She’s a fixture on Fine Living Network and NBC’s “Today,” and her portfolio includes Bill Clinton’s New York offices.
The gimmick: She advocates investing in a few good pieces of furniture rather than going for the flavor of the month and redecorating every few years.
Book: “Furnishing Forward: A Practical Guide to Furnishing for a Lifetime.”
Web site: www.sheilabridges.com.

MARY JANE BUTTERS
Brand: The Pioneer Martha, according to Time.
Credentials: Worked as a carpenter and a wilderness ranger with the Forest Service before helping fellow organic farmers better market their crops by creating a line of dry-food mixes. Publishes the magazine MaryJanesFarm and recently signed a $1.3 million two-book deal with Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House, Stewart’s former publisher.
The gimmick: “I am a farmer, I am accessible, I am at the end of a dirt road, you can call me, you can visit.”
Un-Martha trait: She wants to help urban and suburban women reclaim the hearth and home, not decorate.
Books: “It’s funny. I was filling out this form for Random House last night, and they were saying: List all the books you’ve written,” she chuckles. “None.” Her first book is due spring 2005.
Web site: www.maryjanesfarm.com.

SUSIE COELHO
Brand: “Just do it” approach.
Credentials: She tops Martha with 20 years of television experience, the last five on cable’s HGTV as host of “Surprise Gardener” and “Outer Spaces.”
The gimmick: Her forte is “styling,” inside and outside the home — making do with what you have on hand or small purchases rather than gutting the place and starting over.
Un-Martha trait: She would have to strengthen her kitchen expertise to be as well-rounded as Martha.
Books: “Susie Coelho’s Everyday Styling,” “Susie Coelho’s Styling for Entertaining: 8 Simple Steps, 12 Miracle Makeovers.”
Web site: www.susiecoelho.com.

COLIN COWIE
Brand: Event and wedding planner to the stars.
Credentials: Wedding clientele include Hugh Hefner, Kenny G, Paula Abdul and Charlie Sheen. He had a design and endorsement deal with Lenox China.
The gimmick: His Web site goes on about his latest Hollywood and New York events and recommends hosting a dinner party in one’s wine cellar.
Un-Martha trait: He makes it look simple, but it sounds expensive. His sheets would never be sold in Kmart. And he isn’t really into instruction.
Books: “Dinner After Dark,” “Effortless Elegance With Colin Cowie,” “Colin Cowie Weddings,” “Colin Cowie for the Bride” and “Colin Cowie for the Groom.”
Web site: www.colincowie.com.

SANDRA LEE
Brand: Doing it all without doing much.
Credentials: Started decorating dorm rooms at the University of Wisconsin, graduated to peddling crafts and housewares on QVC.
The gimmick: Uses a combination of fresh and prepared products to make cooking more user-friendly.
Un-Martha trait: Too many ingredients from boxes, cans and jars.
Books: “Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade” recipe books; Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade magazine.
Web site: www.semi-homemade.com.

LUCY PEREDA
Brand: Martha en espanol.
Credentials: Her weekly Galavision home-decorating and cooking show, “En Casa de Lucy,” reaches 18 countries. Last fall she launched a self-titled clothing line at Sears.
The gimmick: Aiming for the Spanish-speaking market.
Un-Martha trait: Having to produce everything in two languages for broader appeal is not “a good thing.”
Book: “De Mi Cocina” cookbook.
Web site: www.searsenespanol.com.

‘QUEER EYE’ GUYS
Brand:
Repackaging straight men — with style, grooming, food savvy and culture — to make them more appealing to the women in their lives.
Credentials: The “fab 5,” who star in Bravo’s megahit “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” are an interior designer, a grooming guru, food specialist, a fashion consultant and a culture expert.
The gimmick: Five gay guys who have a straight man wanting to kiss them — in teary-eyed gratitude — before the hour’s over.
Un-Martha trait: It takes at least three of these guys to do the job of one woman.
Book: “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Fab 5’s Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better and Living Better.”
Web site: www.bravotv.com.

B. SMITH
Brand:
The African-American Martha Stewart.
Credentials: Barbara Smith evolved from a modeling career (Oil of Olay) to a diverse enterprise that includes her B. Smith’s restaurants in New York and Washington, D.C.; a syndicated home show, “B. Smith With Style”; and a home-furnishings line carried by Bed Bath & Beyond.
The gimmick: Not just anyone could pull off catfish and portobello mushrooms on the same menu.
Un-Martha trait: Has a long way to go to household name status, and no New York Stock Exchange listing ... yet.
Books: “B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends,” “B. Smith’s Rituals & Celebrations.”
Web site: www.bsmith.com.

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