I was disappointed to learn that the six-foot, half-ton ice sculpture (pictured) that Martha Stewart displayed at the opening of her 500th episode of her daytime show yesterday was carved by professionals, not by Martha herself with a grapefruit spoon. But that was the only real disappointment of the anniversary episode, which demonstrated that Stewart has thrived amid the spontaneity and human contact required on a live show, in ways many would not have predicted when Martha debuted in Sept. 2005.
The show was blessedly light on the clips (though not on numbers, as Martha crowed about having displayed 272 craft projects and 960 recipes on the 500 shows to date); after all, why wallow in nostalgia when there are eggs to be decorated and pies to bake? She displayed a great rapport with guest Conan O’Brien (at right, with Martha); on the many cooking segments I’ve seen them do together on his show, she sometimes seems brittle and demanding, but in her own kitchen, she let him cut loose and act thoroughly goofy, culminating in his coating a ham with glitter. (It was hilarious, trust me. By the end of his visit Conan was covered with gold flecks, groaning that he looked like Liberace.) Alas, the sparkling ham was now inedible, but it looked fabulous.
After a segment with sisters Gerry DiSanto and Nina Scavone, who’ve been on the show before with Italian family recipes and who showed Martha how to make a sort of Easter quiche full of sausage and ricotta, it was time for the episode’s "mystery guest." Not really that big a mystery; I guessed at the top of the hour that it would be Bill Clinton. Martha seemed just as fascinated and excited by the former president’s talk about his philanthropic foundation as she did about the sisters’ pie or Conan’s antics. And that, folks, is her gift, to be able to make philanthropy sound like a project anyone can do at home (which, I suppose, it is), just like cooking and decorating. After all these years, Martha is still breathlessly enthusiastic about every project that crosses her path or pops into her head, and if we’re all still a little intimidated here at home, that’s our problem, not hers.
Who’s still watching this show? Who thinks it’s improved over the last two and a half years? And who thinks the show won’t last another 500 episodes, and that it’s time to let Martha fade away gracefully and leave the crowded daytime field to others?