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NEW SHOWS, BIGGER LAUGHS FOR WNY'S STEPHANIE MILLER

It's midway through her soon-to-be nationally syndicated two-hour radio show on KABC-AM, and Stephanie Miller is yawning.

It's only 8 p.m., but the busy media star in the black and green hat and green bib overalls has been going non-stop since 6 a.m.

She was up early to tape four episodes of her new Fox Family Channel series, "Show Me the Funny," before she arrived at her radio studio at 5 p.m. to prepare for her show.

"This is my 14th hour of work. I'm not as vibrant as usual," Miller tells a reporter, who is amazed at her energy level and sharpness delivering quips to callers who range from just strange to really way out there.

Among Miller's topics this night: whether a guy who discovered the body of a screenwriter might have been involved in the death; whether it's wise to have a rat as a pet, and just who is the father of Jodie Foster's baby?

The rat story was part of a bit with a pet psychic, who actually tried to reassure a caller who asked, "Is my pet rat happy?"

Remember, this is Los Angeles.

Through it all, Miller, 36, exhibits a delicious cynicism that she shares with her sidekick and producer, Faith Beth Lamont, and thousands of California listeners.

The show is only one element in Miller's flourishing media career. She will soon be seen in an independent film, "Just Write." She also was a regular in a failed TV pilot, "Love, American Style." And for about a year, Miller played the liberal to Bay Buchanan's conservative on the CNBC prime-time talk show "Equal Time."

No wonder, then, that a recent Los Angeles Times piece on Miller, a Western New York native, had the Howard Stern-like title "Queen of Some Media."

Miller has come a long way since she began doing radio bits on Sandy Beach's radio show a lifetime ago at Hot 104. From there, the youngest daughter of former Republican vice presidential candidate William E. Miller worked at stations in Lockport, Rochester, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles.

Her first big shot at national stardom came in 1995 when Disney gave her a syndicated late-night talk show. The gig lasted 13 weeks; then she was told to pack her gear and make way for Danny Bonaduce of "Partridge Family" fame.

"I think 13 weeks is a pretty tough shot for any unknown in late night," Miller said. "I felt like my dad must have felt in the 1964 campaign: 'I have no shot in hell, but I'll just give it a try.'

"I actually got great reviews from just about every major reviewer," added Miller, who realized that her guest list was pretty Mickey Mouse.

There was an up side to the failure.

"It certainly got me more opportunities," Miller said. "It made me a lot more better-known. Frankly, it got me this show."

And there was a downside.

She admits her self-confidence was given a bit of a jolt, even though she never stopped working or talking.

"It knocked the wind out of me, sure. It's always devastating. When you do something, you believe it's going to work. It's only later that you realize how deluded you were."

With the help of her attention-getting radio show, she has had a Nixon-type comeback that included her hiring by CNBC for "Equal Time" to work opposite
Buchanan.

It was not a marriage made in TV heaven.

"I really didn't enjoy it very much," Miller said candidly. "I didn't picture my life as fighting with cranky Republicans every day. I'm a comedian and an actress and I really never planned on doing that. I just fell into it."

To Miller, "Equal Time" was similar to the fictional "Larry Sanders Show," which revealed the behind-the-scenes backbiting that goes on in the TV talk world.

"We did not speak unless the camera was on," Miller said. "Bay used to start every sentence with: 'Once again, Steffie, you've got your facts wrong. Let me explain it to you.' That, after a while, got a little grating. Toward the end it was descending to that old 'Saturday Night Live' gag: 'You dried-out old hag, you ignorant slut.' "

Miller was laughing as she told the story, but it wasn't funny at the time.

"That's why people said the ratings were up so much, because it was like watching a car wreck. It was like the anti-chemistry. You can't fake that on TV. You could tell we clearly didn't like each other.

"(Buchanan) really took a strong personal dislike to me," Miller said. "For me, the political isn't personal. I'm a comedian; I'm just kidding. But they are serious about that (stuff) in Washington."

Miller got even a little after the death of her father's conservative running mate, Barry Goldwater.

"When I opened up 'Equal Time,' I held up The Buffalo News and said: 'Barry Goldwater passed away. He was a great man and my dad's running mate, of course.' "

After Buchanan agreed, Miller added: " 'Bay, in his later years he was very outspoken in his beliefs of abortion rights and gay rights.' What could she say?"

The contentiousness of that relationship made it easy for Miller to leave for her new Fox show, which premieres on the revamped channel at 7 p.m. Aug. 17.

"Fox called and I said, 'Is there a Buchanan in it?' They said no and I said, 'When do I start?' It was my escape from political television.

"The Fox offer is more what I really want to do, and frankly is the same money for two months that 'Equal Time' was paying more for a year's work."

She is filming four shows a day because the producer, Vin Di Bona of "America's Funniest Home Videos," wants to have 110 episodes in two months.

Though the show has been described as "Saturday Night Live" meets "America's Funniest," Miller says that's a little misleading because there aren't sketches.

"But I do character stuff and impressions," she explained. "It's not just home videos and a contest like 'America's Funniest.' There are some home videos, but it's bloopers, hidden-camera stuff, stars before they were famous."

Miller prefers the series to her recent ride as a "political expert" who was anointed a liberal spokeswoman during the President Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal on a variety of network shows, including "Larry King Live" on CNN and "Today."

She appeared with King on a panel that included former attorney general Richard Thornburgh.

"My life was flashing before my eyes when they were introducing everybody," Miller said. "I thought that somehow I was booked on the wrong show. 'Oh, my God, Larry is going to ask me a really hard question.' "

Being this busy doesn't give Miller much time for a social life. She lives in the Hollywood Hills with two friends, a nephew and three dogs.

"Pooky is 13 and lived with me in a one-bedroom apartment above a pizza joint on Hertel Avenue across from Yuk-Yuk's," said Miller. "Pooky has taken the journey with me.

"The stereotype is the poor pathetic single woman, and I like to kid about that, too. But I'm actually doing what I want to do. I'm happy. I'm not saying I want to go my whole life without being married. But right now, this is your time to make it if you do this kind of thing."

And she has no intention of slowing down. Miller said she has been talking with "Coach" and "Newhart" producer Barry Kemp, about a sitcom.

Her life as the liberal daughter of a famous conservative politician sounds like a good sitcom pitch, especially when the talk show and family elements are added.

"My family is sort of half proud and half mortified," Miller said of her success. "I admit that there is some wincing in the family."

If the sitcom arrives by next season, Miller will have something more to talk about at her 20th high school reunion for the DeSales High School Class of 1979.

Though her mom and brother have moved to North Carolina and she has less reason to visit Western New York, Miller said she plans to attend the reunion. She owes Western New York something.

"Frankly, if you don't like my career, you can blame people in Buffalo, because they are the ones who encouraged me," she said. "They were the ones who laughed and said I was funny."

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