As her eponymous syndicated talkshow hits the 1,000-episode mark, cook, entrepreneur and infectiously upbeat television personality Rachael Ray attributes its success and popularity to the fact that she’s as excited about it today as she was when it began.

“From the very first day of the show and 1,000 episodes later, I absolutely love having a live audience and the energy that you get from that,” Ray says. “It’s as powerful to me now as it was that first day.”

While she was “nervous” those first couple of years mingling at the on-set kitchen table with A-list movie stars and world leaders that she’d once admired from afar, Ray is now considered a heavy-hitter conversationalist with knife-sharp interview skills, effortlessly engaging the eclectic pool of on-air talent with whom she has, quite literally, broken bread (from pita to sourdough to focaccia).

“You feel more comfortable in your own skin as time goes on,” says Ray, whose enviable list of past guests includes Bill Clinton, Tom Jones, Ringo Starr and Michael J. Fox.

But playing host to such an impressive array of celebrities has also been a grounding experience for Ray.

“You learn that whether or not somebody is a huge athlete or a famous politician or a movie star that we’re all just human,” she says. “People are just people, and that’s one aspect of our show that’s really unique and that we’ve worked on developing. Whether we have an Oscar-winning actress on the show or the president of the United States, they are there with their elbows on the kitchen table and for a minute they forget that they are famous. When they come to our show we want them to feel comfortable and relaxed and just be themselves.”

It’s the on-set informality and Ray’s down-to-earth, girl-next-door affability that works in the show’s favor, proffers exec producer Janet Annino.

“Ours is not a sensationalist show and Rachael is not interested in gossip,” Annino says. “What she’s interested in is what a person’s favorite foods are and what are her must-have beauty products. For all guests the show is a safe, warm and comfortable place to be. When people come for a visit it doesn’t feel like work to them. People relate to Rachael. Everybody thinks of Rachael as their best friend.”

“She’s very down to earth, she’s relatable and her philosophy, which helps us guide the show, is that you don’t have to be rich to live a rich life — to have good food, good style and nice decor. She helps people do that,” says Aaron Meyerson, CBS Television Distribution’s president of programming and development, who adds that advertisers and brand integrators flock to “Rachael’s” friendly on-set environment.

For Ray (with seemingly endless reserves of enthusiasm), figuring out how to relax in front of a live studio audience and harness her energy level appropriately was an important part of the learning curve, Annino says.

“One of the things that Rachael discovered over time is that it’s OK to sit inside the silence, that if there’s a brief moment of dead air nobody has to fill it,” she says. “The minute she just started being herself and realized that she didn’t have to act like a host is when she truly came into her own. The moment she stopped having an interview and started having a conversation — whether she was talking to you or me or to Hugh Jackman — that’s when it all clicked for her.”

“Rachael has incredible likability,” adds John Nogawski, president of CBS Television Distribution. “The combination of that likability and that huge brand that out there has kind of grown her game and grown her fame.”

And, of course, there are the obvious perks that keep cast and crew of “Rachael Ray” ecstatic to go to work every day.

“We’re never hungry,” laughs Ray. “I teach all the recipes on the show, and at the end of every episode one portion goes to a different crew member. And at the end of the week all of our excess food goes to City Harvest food bank. All of our perishables always go to food banks.

“We walk the walk and talk the talk. I’m incredibly proud of our show and our staff. We all make it happen together. We’re a family.”

‘Rachael Ray’ 1,000th Episode
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