Rise and shine: Dina Pugliese on celeb gossip, Justin Bieber and being a morning person
By David Paterson
Dina Pugliese began her career as a producer before stepping in front of the camera as a TV host
When it comes to interviewing morning television hosts, there’s an unwritten rule in journalism. It goes like this: the writer asks the star how they manage to be so lively at 6 a.m., the star claims not to be a morning person, and jokes about caffeine addiction ensue.
Dina Pugliese breaks this rule. “I’m absolutely a morning person,” says the Breakfast Television host.
At an hour when many people’s cognitive abilities extend only as far as the snooze button, Pugliese is busy cracking jokes with the presenters and crew on the popular morning show. “As soon as you walk in the studio, everybody is laughing and doing high-fives,” she says, making a pre-dawn start to the work day sound like an unexpectedly cheery prospect.
Since taking over from Liza Fromer on Citytv’s breakfast show in 2006, Pugliese has become one of the most recognizable faces in morning television. Her warm, enthusiastic style has won her both fans and awards as she chats and banters her way through each morning’s news, celeb interviews and latest lifestyle trends.
The morning slot is a natural fit for Pugliese, a Toronto native who loves the city and who is a self-confessed junkie for celeb news and gossip. (At the start of our interview, she spends several minutes talking, not unlike a teenage girl, about her love for Justin Bieber.)
Though you’d never know it now, Pugliese says she was timid when she was younger and, after graduating from York University and Humber College, started her TV career behind the camera as a producer. But her charming on-camera presence (not to mention her camera-friendly looks) was spotted pretty quickly, and she was picked up as an entertainment reporter for The A-List and Star! Daily before moving to breakfast TV.
“Honestly, the most exciting part of my day is over by 9 a.m.”
Though the 3 a.m. starts take their toll on her personal life — “You can’t go out for dinner, you have to arrange your whole life according to your hours” — Pugliese says the early starts are worth it for the connection the show has with its audience.
“We have the most loyal viewers,” she says. “They get in touch and say the show has helped them get through their maternity leave, or if they get back home after working nights, it helps them relax before going to sleep.”
After wrapping the show, Pugliese spends up to an hour shooting off Twitter messages to dozens of viewers who get in touch daily with comments about the show or questions about where a piece of clothing or jewellery she was wearing comes from.
Although she Tweets out scores of messages every day, Pugliese denies that she’s a fanatic for social media. “I was actually the last in our group of presenters to get on Twitter,” she says. But it wasn’t for a lack of things to say.
“I’m a very social being, and I can’t cope with people saying, ‘Hi,’ and moving on — if someone working in a store offers me help, I often say OK even if I don’t need it because I don’t want to be rude. So I knew that if someone reached out to me, I’d have to respond. I knew that going on Twitter would be like getting a second job.”
But for all the time this correspondence takes up, Pugliese says she enjoys the interaction with the viewers. “I love the immediacy of Twitter. It’s similar to the immediacy of television.”
Last year Pugliese got to experience another of television’s strengths: the demonstration of raw human emotion. Stepping off the breakfast TV set and into the presenter’s spot on Canada’s Got Talent, Pugliese witnessed up-close all the tears, triumphs and tantrums in the Canadian spinoff of the British reality talent show series.
Though used to celebrity drama from her days as an entertainment reporter, Pugliese says nothing could have prepared her for the task of repeatedly having to kill the dreams of hopefuls who had fallen short of making it on to the next round.
“I’m a crier. You just have to do math or something in your head while you are delivering the news or you will be a mess,” she says. The times she had to fly across the country just to tell an act they hadn’t made it to the live finale were particularly tough. “But 30 minutes later you’re telling someone they made it, and that’s really happy,” she adds.
Still, Pugliese would have already been familiar with television’s emotional roller coaster, courtesy of one of her favourite pastimes: watching reality TV.
“Put the words ‘Real Housewives’ in front of anything, and I’ll watch it,” Pugliese says. As if to prove her devotion, she begins mulling over what might be in store for the next season of Real Housewives of Vancouver (cast changes are afoot, and speculation is rife over who’s in and who’s been thrown aside like last season’s Gucci).
“They’re the modern-day soap opera,” she says. “You see all these people living these fabulous lives, and it’s a fun ride to watch. It’s escapism at its best,” she says.
When she’s not on TV or in front of it with a glass of Chianti watching a reality show, Pugliese has what she calls a pretty ordinary life. “Honestly, the most exciting part of my day is over by 9 a.m.,” she says, adding that she’s in the middle of her laundry as she speaks on the phone from her Etobicoke home.
She has a passion for jazz and, perhaps reflecting her Italian heritage, loves to cook. She makes a mean French toast — just don’t expect anything too extravagant. “I cooked a Thai curry the other day,” she says, “but by the time I’d bought all the ingredients, I’d spent $80 — next time I’m just going to a restaurant! I like to cook with whatever is in my cupboards.”
Breakfast TV hosts typically aren’t big partiers, but will Pugliese make an exception for Valentine’s Day and head out for a romantic meal with her husband? Probably not.
“I don’t feel that obligatory need to go to a restaurant and have a big meal,” she says. Instead, she and her husband, campayn.com founder Alek Mirkovich, prefer small gestures, such as exchanging flowers.
Plus, Pugliese says, because of her early mornings, if she were going to go to a restaurant, it would have to be at about 3 p.m.
“Tuesday afternoon is like Saturday night for us,” she says. “And we never have a problem getting a reservation.”