Why “Fashion Police” Will Never Reach Peak Status Again

As the original host of E’s “Fashion Police” Joan Rivers defined the show which premiered in September 2010. Rivers led a panel of stylists and fashion-conscience celebrities including George Kotsiopoulos, Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne to critique our favorite celebrity’s fashion choices. She was unceasingly and relentlessly impolite and made merry work of mercilessly skewering celebrity’s red carpet outfits. Her banter was outrageous and hilarious. But walking the tight rope of engaging the viewer’s love-hate relationship with celebrity glamour is a tricky business. It seems since Ms. Rivers’ sad passing the show has struggled to find that balance. Instead it is teetering between an awkward meanness and a show that’s just downright bland.

You could safely say that “Fashion Police” has been going through something of an identity crisis as it has struggled to find its way after the shocking death of the iconic Joan Rivers. It seemed doomed to fail since a series of false starts and hiatuses was followed with a significant turnaround in hosts. Kathy Griffin was chosen to replace Ms. Rivers but left the show after only 7 episodes. Kelly Osborne also left amidst the same controversy which sparked Griffin’s departure. Melissa Rivers, the current host, is a more timid presenter. She is lacking her mother’s snark and edge. Her sense of humor is more subtle and a lot more droll. The chemistry between the co-hosts Brad Goreski and Giuliana Rancic never seems to go anywhere and at times it seemed that they struggled to find anything to say that wasn’t tentative.

Indeed the show has tussled with its share of controversy in recent years. Giuliana Rancic made her infamously offensive comments about Zendaya’s look at the Oscars. Zendaya sported dreadlocks and Rancic described her hair as looking like it smelled of “patchouli oil” and “weed”. This caused a major controversy and reportedly upset Osborne and Griffin sufficiently that they both left the show. Rancic apologized and clarified that her comments had been skewed out of context in the editing process. However Griffin was not appeased and stated that the type of humor didn’t sit well with her. Osbourne tweeted reminding the show that the Disney Chanel star was her friend. The network announced a hiatus.

When it returned, the show attempted to take the controversy on for comic effect with comments by Margaret Cho clearly referencing the remarks when describing the VMA host’s dreadlocks. It was a “oh no she didn’t moment” which clearly embarrassed Rancic, reminded the audience of the fallout and largely fell flat. At heart of the issue is the sincerity of the comments and responses. Rancic was recorded gushing about Amal Clooney’s frock on the evening of the Golden Globes only to tear her to ribbons the next day on the show. It’s hard to escape the sense that the hosts are simply mean.

In recent times there has also been a backlash against the tone and vacuity of red carpet coverage more generally in the media. Many actresses got involved in the #Askhermore campaign. The campaign was born out of actress’ frustration with the inherent sexism of their red carpet experience. Women are asked “what are you wearing?” and judged on their appearance while men are asked about their work, the world and their views. This may spell doom for shows like Fashion Police.

At its peak the Fashion Police was steeped in Rivers’ unique brand of sassy comedy. It was defined by her trademark comedy. Without her the show is not likely to regain its place. And maybe its time has simply passed.

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