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Bonnie Hunt: On the Fly

Chicago native Bonnie Hunt, 46, has tried her hand at stage, television and movies, but she always returns to her improvisational roots.

After training and working as a nurse in her early 20s, her passion for performing drove her to found an improvisational comedy troupe called An Impulsive Thing. That led her to TV, where she's appeared mostly in sitcoms, including 1993's The Building, which was produced by her good friend David Letterman's World Wide Pants; Bonnie, which had a short run on CBS in 1995-1996; and ABC's Life With Bonnie, which featured her from 2002-2004 as a talk-show host struggling to balance work and family. Hunt also has shared the spotlight in films with stars such as Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger, David Duchovny and Minnie Driver, and wrote and directed Return to Me.

Now Hunt is preparing for a new role: real-life daytime talk show host. She and longtime producing partner Don Lake are gearing up to write and produce The Bonnie Hunt Show for Warner Bros.' Telepictures; the show will be paired with Warner Bros.' Ellen DeGeneres across the country. B&C's Paige Albiniak chatted with Hunt about her upcoming challenge.

You've done a lot of things in your career. Why did you feel like a daytime talk show was the thing you wanted to take on next?

It's something I've always wanted to do, and the timing fit for me personally and creatively at this point in my life. I now feel that I have the maturity that I didn't have 15 years ago when I was originally asked. I feel more confident with the team I have and I'm really excited about it. I love a new challenge, and to succeed in daytime is a huge challenge

Talk shows are tough to pull off. Why do you think this show will succeed?

You don't know if something is going to succeed. You just do something at the top of your intelligence, and make sure that it's entertaining and of high quality. The rest of it is up to fate.

I'll draw from some of the influences in my own life—Jack Benny, Dinah Shore, Johnny Carson and David Letterman. I'm going into this with my heart and soul. I'm really curious and interested in other people. That's the highlight for me.

Is there a format for the show?

The format will evolve as we find our strengths and weaknesses. Certainly Ellen didn't set out to have dancing as her signature piece. Our tone will be full of humor and thoughtfulness. That's how Don Lake and I write, and that will all end up being put into this show.

A lot of it will be me interacting on the fly with my crew and my audience. What I've always loved about talk shows is the spontaneity and being in the moment. We'll be doing the show live to tape and there won't be a lot of editing done.

I know you really enjoyed improvising during the talk show segments in your last sitcom, Life With Bonnie. What did you learn from doing that show that you will apply here?

Yes, we found ourselves enjoying that aspect of the show more and more, and when it ended, Don and I said, “It might be nice to do the talk show now.” We were lucky enough to still have Jim Paratore and Telepictures interested, and here we are.

Sometimes things would get uncomfortable during those improvised segments, but I would never put anyone in a vulnerable position. If anyone is going to go through that, it would be me. I always make sure my guests are taken care of and protected, much like Johnny Carson did.

I will really be interacting with my audience and my crew. The way I work in any of my shows is that everyone gets involved, from key grip to the janitor to the cameraman.