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Lifetime's 'The Conversation' gets women to open up

A great conversation between women can be a revealing, endearing and helpful exchange. Trying to capture this on television is often the opposite; too many people talk at once, and someone is usually promoting a project.

Lifetime's "The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet," premiering at 11 p.m. Thursday, is singular. De Cadenet has hit upon a terrific concept.

She talks to one woman at a time in her Los Angeles living room. As they converse, they share what women do when cameras aren't rolling; they talk about love, marriage and children. For those weary of movie stars showing up on every morning and late-night show to pitch their latest projects, this is a lovely respite: No one promotes anything!

"The idea came about from my own desperate need to find role models that I could relate to," de Cadenet says. "And I just couldn't see them anywhere. I had to dig deep to find women who I consider to be role models."

Though it's hardly a news flash that people will share anything on television, there is an honesty about these talks and a depth not often found on TV. De Cadenet, who has spent years as a photographer, also takes photos of the women and uses them on the show. Women who aren't famous show up in interstitials, giving their opinions, and though this is a solid idea, it does not blend seamlessly into the show.

There's a guilelessness about de Cadenet, and with the guests coming into her home, it immediately feels far more personal and real than people talking on a set tricked out to look like a living room.

The eight episodes, which Demi Moore produces, feature A-list names including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Diane von Furstenberg, Melissa McCarthy, Eva Mendes, Gabourey Sidibe and Kelly Preston.

De Cadenet wants to set a tone she maintains is absent elsewhere.

"After I had my twins, I had health problems," she says. "I was a new mother, and I had postpartum depression, and I was thinking, 'How do women cope who have kids, a career and a relationship?' Because I was really struggling, and all I could see in contemporary culture was, 'Yeah, I had twins, and I lost all my weight in two weeks, and I cook three meals a day, and I have a full-time job.'

"It is just not true," she continues, "but no one is saying it. It is like 'The Emperor's New Clothes,' where everyone has bought into this thing that it is true. The price you pay for it to be true is huge. No woman can come back to work and cook every meal, exercise and run a company and keep their mental health."

In the pilot, Jane Fonda talks about how, while researching a book about aging, she asked many couples in long-term relationships the key to an enduring marriage. "Humor, sexual compatibility and the ability to know what you want," Fonda says. "The key is knowing yourself. It gets easier as you get older."

Fonda talks about being married three times, and de Cadenet tells about marrying at 16. She started everything young and was a celebrity host in the U.K. at 14.

"What the hell was I doing?" de Cadenet says. "I interviewed people; I don't know how I got to do it. I don't know how I had the courage to do it. I don't write my questions. When I interview people I listen. I have an idea of what I want to talk about, so I started doing this interview series, and I would interview musicians and people in popular culture. I did that, and I did a live show from [age] 16 to 21."

Along the way, she married Duran Duran bassist John Taylor, had a daughter, now 20, and divorced. She married Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi, and they have twins, 5.

De Cadenet settles in with her guests, and they talk openly. She discusses postpartum depression with Gwyneth Paltrow, who says, "I never understood why women judge other women. It is so hard. Can't we all just help each other?"

Zoe Saldana reveals that her cutoff to go without sex is a month.

Sarah Silverman says it's "sad to meet so many women who let go of who they are for a relationship" and allows that she's been guilty of that.

Upcoming guest Lady Gaga talks about how her parents and grandparents are in decades-long marriages, and that is what she has planned.

"Divorce is not an option," Gaga says.

Fonda's take is that divorce is logical as people live longer and need different partners for different stages of their lives. Neither is right or wrong, but both are honest and saying what they truly believe, which is what makes "The Conversation" worth watching.

Ideally, de Cadenet hopes the show continues beyond the eight episodes. She and her guests seem genuinely happy to curl up on a couch and just chat, the way women always have.