In the opening scene of USA Network’s new sitcom Donny!, which stars Donny Deutsch as a fictionalized version of himself and host of a Dr. Phil-like daytime talk show called Donny!, his pretty blond guest tearfully describes sending a lewd photo of herself to her boyfriend that became an internet meme after they broke up.
“Sometimes we have to go a little further down to get back up here, so I’m gonna have to put that, the mims up there,” says an earnest and almost apologetic Deutsch, pointing at the giant screen behind them.
“It’s a meme you dumbass,” Deutsch’s producer barks into his headset before giving him the justification for showing the photo. “She’s helping a little girl out there who’s about to do the same thing.” Deutsch the character, who lacks the walking-around sense that you would expect from Deutsch the former ad executive and CNBC host, dutifully repeats the line to the guest before putting the strategically pixelated photo of “Borderline Becky” on the screen.
“It’s a buffoonish, idiotic version of myself,” Deutsch said in an interview with Playboy. “The fake Donny is a lot more detached from reality, on his own planet, kind of tone deaf. I am the butt of the joke on the show, and I had to be very willing to make fun of myself.”
Later in the first episode, Donny gets into hot water when what he calls a “suggestive pic” of himself — shirtless and lifting weights in his bathroom — becomes a New York media sensation after he mistakenly sends it to his daughter’s teacher and then tries to smooth the situation over by hitting on her. Although that didn’t happen to Deutsch in real life, he says the cluelessness about social media is mostly true.
“For a guy who was very progressive with advertising, I’ve been a late adapter with social media,” Deutsch, 57, said. “I got my first iPhone six months ago, and before that I had a Blackberry. I don’t know how to Snapchat. I just started Instagram. I’m kind of late to the game on those things, which comes through in the show.”
Throughout the six episodes of Donny!, which premieres Tuesday night on USA Network, Deutsch moves along a hazy line between real Donny and dingaling Donny. Much of the show is shot in his actual New York apartment, he is an actual divorced dad, and he actually appears frequently on morning talk shows, but his predicaments — his sexting scandal, a botched romance with Christie Brinkley, etc. — are pure dingaling Donny.
“My on-air persona on Morning Joe or the Today show or other things I’ve done over the years is kind of a roguish character, but off screen I’m kind of a nice guy,” Deutsch said. “I thought it would be fun to create a character who on his talk show is this loving TV host and then off camera is kind of an idiot.”
Each episode begins with the Donny! talk show establishing a topic like sexting or tiger parenting, and then dingaling Deutsch spends the rest of the episode hypocritically or unwittingly running afoul of his own advice. The women on Donny! are competent and grounded, his co-creator Angie Day is an experienced writer/producer, and Deutsch said he considers it a feminist show.
“I have always surrounded myself with incredibly powerful, smart women,” Deutsch said. “My ad agency was basically run by women, I have three amazing daughters, I have a great publicist, I have these three assistants — all women — and in the show, the women rule. That very much mirrors my real life.”
The part about dating Christie Brinkley, though, is pure TV magic.