In its own way, first-time motherhood has helped Julie Chen get ready to oversee the "Big Brother" house again.
Another group of strangers-turned-housemates enters -- and begins the competition that will leave one player a $1 million winner at summer's end -- as the 12th round of the unscripted, three-times-weekly CBS series begins Thursday, July 8.
"Before this season was so close, I was thinking, 'How am I going to swing it all?' " reflects "Big Brother" host Chen, now a parent to 9-month-old Charlie with husband Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS. "It was good that I went back to 'The Early Show' (which Chen co-hosts weekdays on CBS) when I did, because that got me back in my mode."
Though "Big Brother" has three airings per week, Chen appears only on the one that is live (in the Eastern half of the country) and sends a "houseguest" packing. She interviews the person who's just been bumped, and she admits that "doesn't get easier. It all depends on the personalities in the house.
"I don't know if anybody goes in to win, to be honest. They probably would love to, but I think they go in to make a name for themselves. I believe the most difficult part for them isn't, 'There goes my shot at a million dollars'; it's, 'Gee, I thought I had some friends in there.' It can be a little bit humiliating, depending on the vote count (that gets someone evicted)."
Other factors keep Chen sensitized, too: "Even if the person was a 'villain' in the house and America hated them, I have to think, 'Here is a human being.' You have to ask the right questions but also be respectful, because you don't know what it's like to walk in their shoes."
That straightforward approach has earned Chen the nickname "Chenbot" (a la "robot"), which she takes with good humor -- while knowing just what she's doing.
"I never wanted people at home to know how I felt about any of the contestants," she explains. "If I can't stand someone being my own person, I like them being the host of the show, because they make the show more interesting to watch."
Julie Chen is mother to 'Big Brother' again