Motivational weekly talk show The Donna Drake Show: Live it Up! that has inspired audiences nationwide and around the world for more than a decade is now airing from a new studio on Long Island.
Drake specializes in interviewing professionals who work in in a wide range of industries in the areas of Long Island, New York City, and beyond on her 30-minute show broadcast in 25 countries on CBS’s WLNY-TV channel 10/55 and can be seen on Dish and DIRECTV as well as YouTube, Syncbak’s Vuit, Apple TV and Roku. It focuses on topics which both entertain and educate and revolve around instilling feelings of hope, happiness, optimism, motivation, resilience, and empowerment in viewers. To date, the show has produced more than 600 episodes and over 7,500 interviews with such celebrity guests as including Jay Leno, Howie Mandell, Mel Brooks, Tony Bennett, Gloria Estefan, Rita Moreno, and Tom Selleck.
The show has long held a studio on Long Island, but 2021 marks a new era with a brand-new full-service production studio in Melville on the site of the former CBS/WLNY TV 10/55 studio space. This is full circle for Donna, who started her New York media career working in the promotions department of WLNY in 1997, eventually overseeing the entire department as Creative Services Director before leaving to create The Donna Drake Show in 2009. Now her studio is in the very same space.
The 3,000-square-foot space is also available for rent for productions and podcasts. As part of the redesign, multipurpose grid-lit studios with technology upgrades, green screens, cyc wall, additional hard scenery; accent furnishings will be added, along with a renovated greenroom, a guest area and a full-service podcast studio. Donna also intends to turn the studios’ hallway into a gallery where local artists can exhibit art on a rotating basis.
In mid-January, I met Drake in person at the new studio. Warm, welcoming, and easy to talk to, she has carefully designed her studio to make guests feel at ease. From a 1950s-style kitchen to a comfortable seating area, the space is designed to elicit feelings of being in a cozy home, a safe space. A meticulous decorator, Drake even has her childhood television set installed in the studio’s sitting area, an ode to her past.
Yet for all the coziness of the backstage spaces, the actual filming set is very large, technologically equipped, and versatile. Wheeled backdrops make it possible to easily assemble almost any backdrop and there is a green-screen section. Sound stages, a podcast center, an audio room, and an editing center are also part of the complex as is a complex lighting system. Donna is also proud of the number of props she has been able to fit into the space, leaving room for an abundance of opportunities to change the aesthetics, giving viewers a new set to enjoy as they watch each episode.
“We film The Donna Drake Show one day a month,” Drake explained. “We then have time to edit the segments into episodes that we and our guests are proud of.”
Perhaps as a direct result of her own acting experiences, Drake is passionate about helping filmmakers. She is happy to rent her space to other creatives, such as directors who are looking for spaces in which to shoot movies. Donna is also interested in hosting cultural events, such as a forthcoming Irish Heritage Day.
“I have been singing since I was little growing up in Saint Louis and I know many classic Irish songs,” she said before kindly sharing a few lines of Irish Lullaby. “I would be happy to include some of those songs in the episode but we are still working out all the details.”
Although she has interviewed everyone from museum directors to Jerry Springer, Donna remains passionate about finding and fostering up-and-current talent. To that end, she recently partnered with the Paramount Theater in Huntington, a beacon of the arts that is connected with the Spotlight Gallery, to highlight local artists and their works created during quarantine through “Betwixt: Thanks 4 U” a social media awareness campaign.
“I love to meet people and make connections,” Drake said. “I like helping people and all that good karma has returned over and over again. People need to help one another and that message of positivity and collaboration is what my show is all about.”
Perhaps no story illustrates this better than that of AJ Espinoza, a young girl who aspired to be a master of the culinary arts. After losing her home in Superstorm Sandy, AJ gained weight after eating mainly fast foods, a direct result of having no kitchen or way to prepare her own meals.
“The other kids at her school would laugh at her and ask how she was going to be a chef when she didn’t even have a kitchen—just awful cruel statements,” Drake said. “I knew I had to help her so I had her come on the show and surprised her with a range Sub Zero had donated. We had a kitchen set up and filmed her making empanadas. Her goal was to sell enough to get money to attend a private school where she could escape the bullies. Not only was she successful, but we won a Telly Award for the episode. I have one of the statues and the ceremony organizers were nice enough to give AJ one, too.”
This story truly highlights what The Donna Drake show is all about: creativity, caring, learning, growing, and uplifting oneself and others. Perhaps the show’s strongest asset is its versatility. It has segments that will appeal to people of all backgrounds and ages.
“When I secured this studio, I could have been selfish and said it’s for my uses only but I didn’t want to do that,” Drake said. “I want to be able to share this space with other creatives. Artists need to help each other and, together, we can help continue Long Island’s legacy as a haven of the arts.”
A marketing, advertising, and communications expert as well as a TV wiz, Drake has partnered with brands such as Green Mountain Coffee, Coca-Cola and The Melting Pot as well as professional sports teams and celebrities. Drake Media Network provides expert strategies for brands via broadcast, promos, commercials, print, social media, storytelling and events. Moreover, Drake Media Network is also the creator of The Online Trade Show Network (OTSN) and Virtual Gala Network which aim to help companies and nonprofits promote their services and fundraise.
For her contributions to media, Donna has won many awards including two Telly Awards, a British Airways “Face to Face” award for best entrepreneur, the Goddess Artemis Award from the Euro-American Women’s Council, and a Global Citizenship award from the United Nations. 2020 marked twelve years of the iconic show’s premiere and plans are currently underway for much bigger endeavors in the near future. Over the past dozen years, she has interviewed entertainers, sports stars, journalists, entrepreneurs, authors, motivational speakers, medical professionals, wellness experts, beauty and fashion icons, chefs, nonprofit groups and everyday heroes who share their stories of triumph, inspiration and perseverance.
Drake was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Her career began at Technisonic Studios where she selected music and sound effects for radio and television commercials. She went on to produce and host numerous television, film, and multimedia projects. Around this time, she launched her own public-access show titled “Indies Insider” and the art-focused podcast “After Party.”
She is the daughter of a painter and the mother of Matthew Dunninger, Andrew Drake, and sculptor Elise Drake, which gives her a strong affinity for the arts. Aside from her work in communications, Donna is an actress and narrator who has appeared on both the stage and screen.
Her career also opened academic doors. She is a former college professor who specialized in new media and broadcasting with experiences lecturing at Five Towns College, New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), Hofstra and Long Island University (LIU). She presently tours as a TEDx speaker promoting her self-developed principles of FOCUS (Figuring Out Consistent Unique Strengths). These opportunities also allow her to discuss her 2006 book titled “Got Cancer? Just Roll Over and LIVE” which is a heartfelt memoir dedicated to her second husband, Tom LaScala. More recently, she penned a featured chapter in the best-selling book, “Manifesting Your Dreams Inspiring Words of Encouragement, Strength, & Perseverance” as collected by Marla McKenna.
Drake is heavily involved with the arts and she is credited with creating the Huntington Arts Council’s “Laff-Off Comedy Competition” and “Got Talent?” Competitions. She is an active member of Futures of America, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. In 2020, Long Island Business News (LIBN) named her among the Top 50 Most Influential Business Women.
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