Opposites could stir fun on new "Pickler & Ben" show

On Monday (Sept. 18), we'll find out if the new "Pickler & Ben" talkshow is good. So far, we know that the hosts, Kellie Pickler and Ben Aaron, are a delight. The show is syndicated to stations, popping up at different times. For instance, it's 3 p.m. weekdays on WCPO (Channel 26) in Cincinnati and WSYM (Channel 47) in Lansing, Mich.; and 4 p.m. on WGBA (Channel 26) in Green Bay. Also, reruns will be at 9 a.m. the next day on cable's CMT. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Take any TV
talk-show duo, from Johnny-and-Ed to Regis-and-anyone.

In each case, things
work best if there's a real contrast. So now comes “Pickler and
Ben,” the daytime talk show syndicated to 38 stations, starting
Sept. 18 (and rerunning at 9 a.m. the next day on cable's CMT), What do these two hosts differ in?

Ben Aaron said. “Kellie's like from Mars and I'm from Earth.”

For starters,
there's the regional difference; it's not planetary, but it is
substantial. Aaron, 36, grew up in New York, where he still lives;
Pickler, 31, grew up in small-town North Carolina and now lives in
Nashville, where she's a country-music star and where the show is

“We are so
different,” she said, in a hardy drawl. “Ben has a funny accent;
he talks funny. We always talk about having sub-titles.”

The differences go
much deeper, Aaron said. “She likes to do things like 'noodling'
.... You stick your hand in a hole and hope a crawfish doesn't bite
you. That doesn't sound like a fun time to me.”

She's only done that
once (so far), Pickler said, but she'll try anything. “I'm an
adrenaline junkie. I love to sky dive; I love to go up with the Blue
Angels (flight squad).”

And Aaron? “I like
to take naps,” he said.

The nature of their
show is hard to pin down in advance. There are no plans for a band
or music – despite the star (Pickler), producer (Faith Hill) and
setting (Nashville). Some of the advance word even skids toward
home-shopping. “You can go Online and buy what Kellie's wearing,”
Aaron said.

Pickler talks about
a regular-folks approach. “We get to shine a light on good people
who do great things in their communities.” Aaron echoes that,
calling it “a show for the Heartland.”

Yes, they're
familiar with the northern extremes of that Heartland; both married
into it. Aaron married Ginger Zee, the ABC meteorologist, who grew up
around Grand Rapids, Mich. Pickler married songwriter Kyle Jacobs,
who grew up in Bloomington, Minn., home of the Mall of America and of
Harmon Killebrew's greatest hits.

This has given her
an instant lesson in language gaps. “I asked Kyle for a 'drop cord'
and he said, 'What's that?'” she said, sounding quite astonished.
“I guess you would call it an 'extension cord.'”

A far more important
factor is her upbeat nature, despite a rocky childhood. Both of her
parents have criminal records – her mother for checks and a forged
prescription, her father for assault. Her mother left her when she
was 2 and later regained custody for a brief and unhappy stretch; her
father was in prison during Pickler's “American Idol” stretch.

None of that seems
to have shaded her outlook. Pickler became a cheerleader and a beauty

“My grandmother
raised me and I was so blessed,” she said. “My husband is my
greatest treasure .... We all have our ups and our downs. It's OK to
cry, but then you get over it and you just go on.”

Aaron's past has
been far less complicated. “I'm a narcissist,” he said. “I love
being on TV.”

He was a DJ by 12
and then a feature reporter in California and New York; he did “Crazy
Talk,” with odd talk-show clips. He met Zee at a charity event and,
he says, promptly vowed to marry her. They like conversaton, TV and
shortened surnames; hers was originally Zuidgeest, his was Colonomos.

For the Nashville
audition, he says, he walked into a room with “25 talented people,
all of them better qualified to do a Heartland show.”

One thing he and
Pickler share (indirectly) is “Dancing With the Stars.” Pickler
was a champion; Aaron was at the sidelines, watching their son when
Zee finished third.

The other is verbal.
“I love the banter,” Pickler said. “We don't have to be careful
with each other,”

Adds Aaron: “Kellie
could talk to a wall and it would be fun.”