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Rivers Run Through It

It's red-carpet mania! Cue interview maven Joan Rivers and her filial sidekick, Melissa. No question is too outrageous. No suggestion too risqué. These women live for the infra dig, the inside scoop.

And they dish in style. This year, Joan will be wearing a Pamela Dennis gown. Melissa is still sifting through couture from Bill Blass, Richard Tyler, and vintage Krizia. The Rivers girls will be dolled up for their two-hour live Oscar special on E! Entertainment Television Feb. 29.

But not every celeb may welcome a chat. Many are loath to indulge Joan's passion: quizzing Hollywood on its sleeping habits. It's done, in part, to augment her Oscar theory. The Academy Awards' red carpet is "almost a cocktail party," says the elder Rivers. "You see people you love who you haven't seen in six months and get to talk to them." And share their embarrassment with several million viewers.

The Rivers relish the spontaneity of the red carpet. Unlike other live-entertainment specials, such as the Grammys, E! doesn't delay the broadcast. Which means live drama. "You see someone laugh or get upset. It is fabulous," Joan says.

She loves putting stars on the spot. At the recent Golden Globes, she asked actor Kevin Costner why his fiancée's diamond was so small. "Costner will probably never talk to me again," she giggles, "but it was unplanned."

Still, for the Rivers, Oscar night is serious business. "We're focusing on two hours of entertainment from the world's most fashionable location," says Melissa. "We look at this as a real show, rather than just a report," Joan chimes in.

Melissa serves as a producer on the show, and the producers craft a script replete with a monologue, trivia, and features. Everyone—even Joan—takes part in a walk-through. Typically, the Rivers say, they get about 10 pages into the script before they toss it and the live show becomes an improv.

But planning can save them. "We don't know what order or time sequence things are going to happen," says Melissa. "We have to start with a structure, then throw it away." On Oscar night a few years ago, she recalls, a freeway accident delayed many stars. Melissa and Joan had to fall back on the script to keep the show going for nearly 45 minutes.

Melissa also produces a post-Oscar fashion special that she and Joan will host on E! the following night. (As soon as the stars sit down in the Kodak Theater, Melissa heads off to edit footage for that show.)

Both give singer Bjork, who wore a much maligned swan dress to the 2002 Oscars, the nod for worst-ever Oscar fashion disaster. But Joan says designers are eager to have the Rivers—and the rest of Tinsel Town—sport their frocks on the red carpet. "The world knows the Oscars is one giant PR event."

On the red carpet, it can be hard for even the Rivers to ruffle some movie stars. "You don't stay a star if you're dumb," Joan says. Many, like Jennifer Lopez, have handlers who tell the Rivers and other media what topics are off-limits. But TV stars, particularly those on hot new shows, are fresh meat. "They're still happily reeling," says Joan.

But if Melissa and Joan Rivers were interviewing themselves, the questions would be no-brainers: Melissa says she'd ask how overwhelming it is to tread the red carpet. Joan would borrow from her media cronies. So we won't hear who tucks Joan in after Oscar night.