HOLLYWOOD -- Dolly Parton says she prayed before she decided to do "Dolly," ABC's $40 million gamble to revive the variety show format.
"I felt like I'd come home when I started the show," Parton said in a recent interview here.
Parton, 41, apparently takes a spiritual approach to her work and says, "I can always feel it when it ain't right."
"Dolly," which has moved to Saturday nights, has not felt right from the start, she says.
"I can fake sincerity better than anybody," she says, "but when it gets to be phony to me ... it shows; it's right there on my face. You can't fool the American public. I know because I am the American public."
Listening to Parton tell her tale of TV woe is like listening to a country-western ballad. Seems a bunch of city slickers got hold of her show and stole her dream.
"You hire people who are supposed to know, and you assume that with the money you pay them and with the reputation they have that they're supposed to know something," she says sincerely, adding, with some down-home wonder, "You'd be amazed at how little people know."
But Dolly knows what she wants, and sounds as if she is going to get it.
"We have some Southern writers now," says the popular country music star and Tennessee native, "people from the South who understand my kind of humor, my kind of personality." Then, perhaps, not wanting to offend city folks, she says, "But then we've certainly got our batch of city people -- you know, people who are clever.
"I don't mean to sound like I'm the only one who knows anything," she says. "I don't know all that much, but I do know me."
The idea of opening the show in a bubble bath each week, for example, was not something Parton was comfortable doing. Ditto the "Dolly's Date" segment, in which Parton has been seen stepping out with her guest stars, such as Bruce Willis.
"I kept on saying, 'You know, people are not going to like this because it's going to be like I'm cheatin' right on television,' " says Parton, who is, after all, a married woman.
She was bothered, too, by the notion that ABC was loath to call "Dolly" a country show.
"I said, 'How can you say it's not a country show when you've got me on it?' " Parton says.
But when she asked the producers to get some country music acts for the show, they went overboard "and signed up everybody in Nashville."
"I told 'em I'm just like Brylcreem," she jokes. "A little dab'll do ya."
So "Dolly" the show is changing to suit Dolly the person, rather than the other way around. The show, its star says, will try to strike a balance: about 60 percent music and 40 percent comedy and variety.
"Dolly" has been more of a critical disaster than a ratings debacle; the show is 36th in its season-to-date average but was slipping against its tough Sunday night competition on CBS. That competition resulted in the move to Saturday nights.
That change sits well with Parton, who thinks Saturday night is more of a show night and notes that she lost many a churchgoing viewer Sundays.
Parton, while not specific, said the changes would not come all at once. Expect a miniature soap opera with a cliffhanger ending each week.
In the meantime, Parton has a growing wish list for new direction in the show. She wants to take the show outside the studio, on special trips with the armed forces, for example.
One could not help wondering that if Parton was unhappy for so long, why hadn't she spoken up?
"If I had started out saying, 'Absolutely no, absolutely no, absolutely no,' I still wouldn't be on the air," she says, noting that she has not felt the pressure "everybody else has.
"This show is going to be a hit, take my word for it," she concludes. "If I can't get it right, then I shouldn't be on TV."