She has been out of prison since March and free of her ankle bracelet since Sept. 1. Now, with her conviction for lying about a stock sale on appeal, Martha Stewart is back in business. The indomitable domestic diva launches a new daily show this week and enters prime time Sept. 21 in the Donald Trump role on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. She talked to TIME's Michele Orecklin.
HOW DO YOU DIFFER FROM DONALD TRUMP AS A BOSS? Donald loves to fire people. I find it an extremely unpleasant exercise. I have other people do it for me.
YET MANY PEOPLE ASSUME YOU MUST BE INCREDIBLY TOUGH TO WORK FOR. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Somehow I have managed to build a very fine company with a very fine work force filled with people who are still there from the earliest days. Many of my executives have worked with me since the beginning. I can be fair and decisive and encouraging as well as demanding, and those are the characteristics you'll see on The Apprentice. If you want to see a tyrannical Martha, you'll have to watch Cybill Shepherd. [Shepherd has played Stewart in two TV movies, with the second to air later this month.]
WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO HIRE SOMEONE WHO HAD BEEN TO PRISON, AND WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN WILLING TO DO SO THREE YEARS AGO? Absolutely, but it depends on the person and on why they were incarcerated.
UNLIKE YOUR PREVIOUS DAYTIME SHOW, YOUR NEW ONE IS BROADCAST LIVE. DOES IT MAKE YOU NERVOUS THAT YOU CAN'T DO ANY RETAKES? No, it's so much fun. It's all the good stuff from my old show, but because it's live, I have to be spontaneous, which I love. I have a participatory audience and guests--experts as well as celebrities. It's a how-to show with entertainment.
IS IT TRUE THAT ON ONE OF THE SHOWS, EVERYONE IN THE AUDIENCE WILL WEAR THE SAME PONCHO YOU WORE WHEN YOU LEFT PRISON? When I left prison, I wore the poncho because it was a cool night and it matched my jeans and it was just gorgeous and caught everybody's eye. A couple days later, a very industrious company that sells yarn put the pattern on their website, and 1 million designs were downloaded. They let us put an invitation on their site asking anybody who made a poncho to come be in the audience of the show. We got between 10,000 and 15,000 responses within an hour, and just over 100 of those people will be at the show. We're also going to have the fastest crocheter in the world, and David Spade will redo the skit he did on Saturday Night Live in which he played me.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS FOR THE PONCHO? WOULD YOU DONATE IT TO THE SMITHSONIAN LIKE FONZIE'S LEATHER JACKET? Well, for right now, we're saving it for my archives.
YOU'RE ON PROBATION FOR THE NEXT 18 MONTHS. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? It means I have to report regularly to my probation officer. I have to request permission to travel outside of a certain area, and I'm not allowed to consort with ex-felons, which is kind of scary because there are quite a few people who have been to jail, and you would never know who they are.
PEOPLE HAVE SAID THAT PRISON MAY HAVE HELPED YOUR IMAGE BY MAKING YOU APPEAR MORE SYMPATHETIC. DO YOU THINK THERE'S ANY TRUTH TO THAT? That may be a peculiar feature of being an American. Once you rise, you can fall and rise again. I would never wish that on anybody, but other people seem to take glee in that sort of thing.