ST. PETERSBURG — Rhonda Shear hasn’t used her time in self-isolation during the pandemic to pick up a new skill.
But she picked up an old one again.
Today, Shear is best known for her line of women’s underwear sold on HSN.
But earlier in her career, the 65-year-old St. Petersburg resident starred as host of USA Network’s Up All Night, a weekly late-night television show that featured low-budget films and in-studio guests ranging from Barbara Walters to then-Hollywood madam “Babydol” Jody Gibson.
“I missed doing that,” Shear said. “It was so much fun.”
So, two months ago, with more free time on her hands due to quarantine, she started the weekly Rhonda Shear’s Social Distancing Social Hour talk show broadcast via Facebook Live out of her home studio.
Guests are interviewed through video chats.
It airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on her Rhonda Shear Fan Page.
“I’m having so much fun,” Shear said. “It’s a return to my roots.”
Speaking of roots, hair or the lack of hair care during quarantine was a frequent topic during the show’s early weeks. So much so that it inspired a drinking game.
Every time the word “hair” or the topic is broached, Shear toasts her viewers and requests they sip a beverage, even if it is nonalcoholic.
“Here is to your hair. I hope your roots are doing well," she said on the May 23 show.
Guests have been a mix of local celebrities, like The Blair Witch Project director Dan Myrick, and longtime friends such as Beverly Hills resident Carol Connors, who wrote the Rocky franchise theme song Gonna Fly Now.
Tampa-based pitchman Anthony Sullivan recently joined her to discuss his venture into hemp farming. And Los Angeles-based comedian Marc Price, best known as nerdy neighbor Skippy on the 1980s sitcom Family Ties, talked about his teenage infatuation with Shear when she was a pinup model.
“I’ve had a crush on you since I was a teenager,” Price said during the interview. “Forget Farrah Fawcett. I was all about Rhonda Shear.”
The New Orleans native was a nationally known sex symbol, though it began as tongue-in-cheek.
Shear was a pageant queen who wore the crown of Miss Louisiana USA before heading to Hollywood to chase her dream of becoming a standup comedian and sitcom star.
She landed roles on Dukes of Hazzard, Married With Children and other shows, but always as the “bimbo,” Shear said.
Then in 1991, she embraced that character to win the job as host of Up All Night, which originally starred comedian Gilbert Gottfried.
Wearing revealing lingerie, Shear spoke in a high-pitched voice and made bad jokes about even worse movies with plots involving bikinis and cheaply made monsters. Film titles included Surf Nazis Must Die, Satan’s Cheerleaders and Virgin High.
Guest interviews were broadcast between movie segments.
“I had people like Howard Stern on,” Shear said. “And Kris and Bruce Jenner.”
She also interviewed B-list celebrities like John Moschitta, who was billed as the fastest talker in the world, and 1980s scream queen Linnea Quigley.
The show was a hit and led to two Playboy appearances, one in an issue about funny women and another featuring Shear and Up All Night.
Up All Night was canceled in 1998.
Three years later, Shear married her high school sweetheart, Van Fagan, and, in 2003, they started the women’s intimate apparel company Shear Enterprises.
Life as a businesswoman has been fulfilling, Shear said, but in recent years she missed interviewing interesting people on camera. Then came quarantine and isolation loneliness.
“We started doing the show because we all wanted to connect with people,” Rhonda Shear’s Social Distancing Social Hour producer Gene May said. “Some of it was because we suddenly had free time.”
As the weeks went on, Shear realized the show was more than a temporary distraction.
“I’m going to keep doing it even when life is normal again,” she said.
Rhonda Shear’s Social Distancing Social Hour is not meant to be as risque as Up All Night, Shear said, but she hopes to book guests of her former show.
“Gilbert Gottfried, Elvira and I’d love to get Babydol Gibson back,” Shear said. “I’m reaching out to all the managers and agents and, when it is safe, I hope to get local guests into my home studio. This is so me. It’s a return to my roots for sure."
With a laugh, Shear said, “Drink.”