Life & Culture

Managing the Loose Women

Hilary Freeman talks to Jo Sheinman, Loose Women’s Head of Showbiz


Not many people can say that their day job encompasses teaching singer Rick Astley how to ‘twerk’, arranging dance lessons with Britney Spears, or making Piers Morgan strut about in high heels, but for Jo Sheinman it’s par for the course. As Head of Showbiz at ITV’s Loose Women, she is tasked with booking high-profile guests and securing celebrity ‘exclusives’ for the daily lunchtime chat show.

In recent weeks, for example, she’s booked Hollywood star Whoopi Goldberg, who presents an equivalent female panel show in the US, and Labour politician Harriet Harman, who came on to talk about her memoirs. “Her people came to us because we are a show presented by women, and she’s fought over the years for women’s rights. She talked about the pressures of being a working mum – something our panellists can relate to.”

Jo, 41, has worked in TV for 15 years, since getting a degree in Broadcasting Studies from Leeds University. “I’ve always wanted to work in telly,” she says. “I was quite academic at school, with my strength in the sciences, but I was desperate to be a ‘creative’.” 

She got an interview for a Channel 5 celebrity karaoke show called Night Fever. Only when she had secured the job did Jo learn it was for a role as a celebrity booker. “That’s how I fell into booking,” she says. “I found I was good at it and I loved it.” After that, she worked for virtually every live, daily, news-reactive show on ITV, including GMTV and This Morning, directing and producing segments, as well as booking, until she came to Loose Women in 2014.

“A big part of my job is calling agents, publicists and record pluggers to find out what’s coming up, and to try to persuade them that our show is the best for their client to appear on,” she explains. “There is a lot of schmoozing and building contacts.”

Just five feet tall, Jo is a bundle of energy, and it’s clear she thrives on the adrenaline of a job in which no two days are the same, and nobody can predict what might happen. 

“Sometimes it can be more of a battle to secure a guest because everyone wants them. So we have to offer something different. We always try to make our show something other than a straight chat. We’ve sent Peter Andre to Amsterdam to a clinic where they simulate labour pains, to find out what giving birth feels like, and John Barrowman famously fell over when he was walking in heels for us. He was fine – he’s a trained gymnast who knows how to fall – but the next time he came on we wrapped him in bubble wrap.”

But Jo is keen to stress that Loose Women is not just about entertainment or celebrity gossip. “There’s a perception that the show is four middle-aged women talking about their sex lives. It’s much more intelligent than that. We do so many serious and important things; we’re somewhere people feel safe enough that they can talk about very sensitive, personal issues. 

“For example, we’ve recently run a campaign – ‘It’s never too late to tell’ – about adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Karen Danczuk (who was sexually abused as a child) was on the show that day and singer Rebecca Ferguson was one of the panellists. While we were briefing

Karen, Rebecca said, ‘Oh, that happened to me.’ We asked if she was comfortable talking about her experience of abuse live on air, and she agreed. It was the first time she’d ever spoken about it, and it got a massive response online. Moments like that are unexpected and shocking, and make you realise how powerful the show is – and that it can help people.”

Originally from Hatch End, Jo now lives with her husband and two young children in Mill Hill. She grew up attending Pinner Synagogue and was heavily involved with FZY, becoming an Israel tour leader and running summer camps. Today, she’s a member of Alyth Gardens Synagogue.

The move from United Synagogue to Reform came about as a result of her Irish Catholic husband’s conversion via the Reform Synagogue programme. “His mother was just impressed that he was going to any kind of church,” she jokes. “I’d call us traditional Jews. The children attend a Jewish school. We keep kosher, have Friday night dinner at my mum’s every week and go to synagogue.”

Jo admits being Jewish can come in handy sometimes, especially if there’s a Jewish guest on the show, or if there are any stories in the news with a Jewish or Israeli angle. “I’m the go-to Jew in the office,” she laughs. “I look very Jewish, so people just know. There’s always that little unspoken bond. When Judge Rinder – one of our Loose Men – comes in, we always have a little chat about it and, of course, we now have Stacey Solomon as our first regular Jewish panellist. 

“The other week I had to talk to Uri Geller down the line from Eilat. We were hoping he would use his powers to help us win at the National TV Awards. Sadly, it didn’t work. He did get a few people’s watches working, though.”

Although she did get to go to the TV awards with all 18 panellists – on a special ITV daytime boat – and is regularly invited to launches and opening nights, Jo says her job is more hard graft than glamour. “It’s largely desk-based with a lot of meetings and emails, and it involves being on call at weekends. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. The highlights for me are getting a call asking, ‘Would you like Bette Midler to come on the show?’ or when someone like Goldie Hawn agrees to be a guest panellist.”

Who would she have on Loose Women, if she could get anyone? “My ideal panellists would be Dolly Parton and Cher, and I’d love to get Dustin Hoffman back on.” 

She laughs: “But my personal fantasy would be to get the whole of Take That together on the show.”

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