Candy Spelling’s vault into reality TV on ‘Bank of Hollywood’

Candy Spelling is already famous or infamous; it can be hard to tell these days. The wife of the late TV mogul Aaron Spelling, she’s also owner of one of the most expensive homes in the country -- complete with a doll museum and three rooms devoted to gift wrap -- and mother to " Beverly Hills 90210" star Tori Spelling, with whom she’s had a publicly tumultuous relationship for years.

Now she enters that not-so-rarefied world of fringe celebrities on reality TV. Tonight at 10, she will be the anchor judge on the new Ryan Seacrest-produced E! reality show “Bank of Hollywood,” in which ordinary people line up to beg a panel featuring Spelling and other vaguely known showbiz personalities for their personal cash.

“One of the key components to this show” is sniffing out the phony requests, said Seacrest.

The 64-year-old made her own pitch for the new show during a recent press event at the Spelling Manor pool house, part of a 56,500-square-foot French château-style estate she’s been trying to sell for almost a year -- list price: $150 million. The reality show, she said, surrounded by a wall of at least five handlers, seems “to fit in with this new chapter in my life.”

“Being single again, I’m even dating,” she said. “I’m barely home anymore.”

Starring in a reality show might seem an odd choice for Spelling, who this summer wrote an open letter published on the celebrity gossip news website TMZ that was addressed to “middle-aged reality show stars (like my daughter).” In it, she criticized Tori for exploiting their strained relationship to fuel the drama on her Oxygen reality show, “Tori & Dean.” (Tori has used her mother for TV fodder before, casting Loni Anderson as her self-obsessed mom Kiki in the 2006 semiautobiographical VH1 comedy “So NoTORIous.”)

The elder Spelling declined to elaborate on the letter or whether her perspective on reality shows has changed -- a rep for E! and several of Spelling’s handlers also jumped in to prevent any further discussion on the topic -- but she did say she was now dealing with Tori privately.

“I love my daughter and I don’t want her to be angry with me,” she said. (Since this interview, both Spelling and Tori’s husband, Dean McDermott, have told the tabloids that the relationship is on the mend.)

The new E! show was also a somewhat surprising decision since Spelling doesn’t watch much television -- “I had to watch it my whole life!” she said.

In fact, Spelling said, the only must-see TV in her life is CNBC. “I can’t get up unless I know where the stock market is. My head is still all about investing.”

Initially, she was hesitant to appear on “Bank of Hollywood.” On paper, the program seemed suspect, a potentially mean-spirited marathon of ordinary people getting their financial dreams squashed by fabulously wealthy celebrities during tough economic times.

But eventually she felt the show steered clear of enough of those pitfalls to proceed. The task before Spelling and the other panelists -- Pussycat Dolls singer-dancer Melody Thornton, poker player Vanessa Rousso and Wilhelmina Models President Sean Patterson -- is to figure out who is actually deserving of their money.

This can be a difficult call when faced with a paralyzed boy asking for a $93,000 pool to allow for hydrotherapy, but a bit easier with a cone-bra-wearing Madonna fan requesting $80,000 to tour the world with her idol while giving away tickets to the needy.

There were also a few legitimate head-scratchers -- a single mom who wants $32,000 to help fund flight school for her daughter and a drag queen who lobbies for $25,000 to have specialty dresses made for a drag queen beauty pageant.

“We had to ask some tough questions,” Spelling said. “It wasn’t easy saying ‘No’ to people. But we also made huge differences for others, and that’s a pretty good power rush, I have to tell you.”

According to Seacrest, there were more than 60 requests over the season’s eight episodes and the panel gave away a sum “in the seven-figure range” of their own money.

The “American Idol” host said the controversy surrounding Spelling’s personal life was not a factor in casting her, though if anything her presence will be a draw; her recent memoir, “Stories From Candyland,” was a New York Times bestseller.

“She was in charge of a lot of Aaron’s empire off the television shows, so she can really see through people and read agendas,” Seacrest said.

Still, Spelling is not sure whether she wants to do more TV.

“This kind of gave me the chance to be Charlie from ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ ” she said, pointing out that the entire series took just one week to film. “I remember Aaron and I were at a party and Aaron asked John Forsythe, ‘Hey, how would you like to work one to two days a week?’ He said, ‘I barely want to work. That sounds good.’ ‘Bank of Hollywood’ worked out just as nicely.”