Maria Menounos has been grappled in the WWE ring and faced the wrath of Hollywood on the red carpet, and now the host is tackling tough topics from heroin addiction and the transgender community to obsession with selfies and a Vine tribute to Joan Rivers.
“On ‘Untold With Maria Menounos,’ we are talking tough topics,” she told TheWrap about her new E! show, which airs its third episode Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. “This whole environment is very different for me and it is really stimulating and exciting.
“With this I am going back to my journalistic roots, it is like a pop culture version of “Dateline.” We are tackling deeper, meatier stories and I love it,” said Menounos, who is also a co-host on “Live From E!” alongside Ross Matthews, Jason Kennedy and a revolving guest panelist, debating pop culture, celebrity news and topical coverage in an “off the cuff” style.
The 35-year-old signed a multi-year agreement with the network including both talent and production roles, E! announced in May, which allows Menounos’ production company Underman/Omegagirl to get first look rights to ideas for series, specials and other projects across all platforms.
TheWrap talked to Menounos about the differences between her two shows, and why amid it all, she still dreams of getting back in the wrestling ring.
TheWrap: What are the controversial topics you are featuring on “Untold”?
Maria Menounos: This Thursday, we are talking about heroin and Hollywood with the deaths of Cory Montieth, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Peaches Geldof, which are forcing this subject to the forefront. We talked to Mackenzie Phillips about her struggles and Dr. Drew about why heroin is so prevalent. It is not what you always thought it was, heroin was always that dirty drug that people did in alleys and now it is young, successful women getting addicted — how does that happen?
It is being prescribed by doctors, people are getting the opiates like Vicodin pain and getting addicted, then when they can’t get the prescriptions anymore, they are going on the streets and buying it for $5 a bag. It is a huge debate right now.
Is it difficult to be covering such hard-hitting news after being in entertainment for so many years?
We definitely dive right in and it’s fascinating stuff but it’s heartbreaking. I really love talking to experts and learning, it makes people a little less judgmental and gives them empathy, and maybe really think twice. I am a pretty emotional person — so when someone’s story moves me, I am not sticking to the old guidelines of journalism and I never did. It is tough to hear some of this stuff, but if it is sad it’s sad.
Does the serious theme of the show ever get too depressing?
No, it will go from Hollywood and heroin to a story about Insta-fame where we’re talking about these new YouTube stars demanding huge audiences. Tyler Oakley has more crazy fans than Brad Pitt and he has four bodyguards just to go to an event! So it is a little bit of everything, which is very me. I love that E! has given us this platform to do it. Now I am officially here, I am in the pitch meetings thinking of stories and helping book them, so I am very intertwined.
What story do you want to tell in the future that fascinates you?
I remember interviewing Ashley Dupres [the woman at the center of the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal] a few years ago and telling her she seemed like a normal, fun girl and I would never have imagined she was an escort. She told me that I would never believe how many of my friends are escorts. I thought that was pretty heavy, that is something I still want to look into.
On the flip side, you’re diving back into entertainment news on the roundtable show “Live From E!” Is that a good balance to the grittiness of “Untold”?
It is stuff that is topical and what people are talking about, such as Beyoncé Photoshopping her thighs and creating a big gap. We try not to do anything that “E! News” has already covered because we follow it, but we do anything that we think is interesting. Like today, Ross found a guy who is always the king of hot dog eating contests and they had a little hamster that beat him!
How is it working with your new colleagues?
We definitely have a handprint on it, every day we find our groove even more as a team. Everyone has their thing; Ross is always going to make us giggle, Jason is always going to blush, I am always laughing like a hyena.
It is different and a change of pace — I miss live TV so much, so it’s good to be live again, but then also have “Untold” where I can learn things and dig deeper. So all my cups are filled, I feel really good right now.
Also read: Maria Menounos Inks Overall Deal With E!
Was it hard to leave “Extra!” after all those years?
It is always hard to leave anywhere, but for me it is always guided by the opportunity. If it is something that is exciting and stimulating, then you have to go for it. We are producing here and doing a lot of different things, which is important after doing 14 years of the same thing. It is really exciting to be at a network that is international and has so many different playgrounds. Here I am about to tape “The Soup” and have fun with them, then tomorrow I’ll shoot footage about selfies or the transgender movement. I am thrilled to be here and I was so happy they asked me to join.
E! is also home to WWE’s “Total Divas,” do you have any plans to go on their show and do you want to wrestle again any time soon?
I am sure I find my way over there at some point and do a guest spot! I would go back in the ring too, I love it but I respect what they do so much that I can’t until I have time to work out and prepare. I’ve had all this stuff going on, so when I am more settled I will start training and find one of the events they will have me at.
The WWE are amazing. I have so much respect for them, I always feel like I have a family there.
“Untold With Maria Menounos” airs Thursday, Sept. 18th on E! at 8/7c, while “Live From E!” airs Mondays through Wednesdays weekly at 8/7c.