Bette Midler Calls Sitcom ‘Bette’ a “Big, Big Mistake”

Bette Midler took a moment to reflect on her career missteps this week, opening up about how her 2000 sitcom, Bette, went awry.

“I did a television show, does it get any more generic than that?” Midler told David Duchovny on this week’s installment of his Fail Better with David Duchovny podcast from Lemonade Media. When Duchovny asked the singer to elaborate, Midler said: “It was for the wrong motivation, and it was a part of the media I simply did not understand.”

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Bette aired its first and only season from 2000 to 2001 on CBS. It saw Midler playing herself in a semi-satirized version of her life. Midler said that she found herself in over her head when it came to producing a sitcom.

“I had made theatrical, live events, I had made films, and I had made a variety of television shows, I had been on shows, but I had never done a situation comedy,” she continued. “I didn’t realize what the pace was, and I didn’t understand what the hierarchy was. Nobody bothered to tell me.”

Midler said that although she was a producer and star of the show, she didn’t understand how to take control in such a new environment. “I didn’t know that I could have taken charge, that I could have asserted myself, because I think I was so terrified of being branded a grandstander.”

The singer went on to recall her best example of this struggle being Lindsay Lohan’s dramatic exit from the show. “Lindsay Lohan was cast as my daughter in the pilot,” she said. “After the pilot, Lindsay Lohan decided she didn’t want to do it, she had other fish to fry. So Lindsay Lohan left the building, and what about, what do you do? The studio didn’t help me.”

Midler noted she would have handled the situation very differently knowing what she does now. “If I had known that part of my duties were to stand up and say, ‘This absolutely will not do, I’m going to sue.’ But I seemed to have been cosseted in some way that I couldn’t get to the writers room. I couldn’t speak to the showrunner, and I couldn’t make myself clear.”

Even beyond the difficult power dynamics, Midler said she learned a lot about the difficulty of producing a television show. “You have to give people so much credit when it’s great because the speed of it is so taxing,” she said before recounting an instance when David Letterman asked her about the show. “I said, ‘It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life,'” she recalled. “It’s like being a dung beetle and pushing a pile of shit up every day.”

Soon after that interaction, Midler said, she was fired — the crew had only filmed 18 out of 22 planned episodes, but she noted she was “thrilled to not have to continue” and never pushed back on the firing. She added, “The mad scramble to keep up was just too intense.”

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