Cat on a hot stone stoop

Cat Greenleaf with Oliver Stone. Photograph by David Giesbrecht/USA Network.
Cat Greenleaf with Oliver Stone. Photograph by David Giesbrecht/USA Network.

Cat Greenleaf coveted her Brooklyn brownstone long before she bought it, since her good friends live right next door. But when the place went up for sale in 2006, the asking price was more than she and her husband could afford. As luck would have it, the owner got a break on his first home and wanted to pay it forward. “It was the deal of the century,” she says.

At first, that deal upset other residents on their Cobble Hill block, where similar homes now go for millions. But their attitude improved once Greenleaf sprinkled some Hollywood magic. “Our neighbors hated us in the beginning,” she says, giggling, “but now I bring the stars to their front steps, so they’re happy.”

That’s because as the host of the Emmy-winning show “Talk Stoop,” Greenleaf has transformed her porch into a TV set, where some of the world’s biggest newsmakers drop by to chat about their latest projects and snuggle with sometime co-host, Gracie the Bulldog. Snowy or sunny, locals know walking past Greenleaf’s house often means a celebrity sighting. Hundreds of heavyweights have stopped in over the last five years, including Claire Danes, Woody Harrelson, Martha Stewart, Don Cheadle, Orlando Bloom and just about every Kardashian. And for every VIP Greenleaf greets, more clamor to visit.

“We just don’t have room for everybody,” she says.

Greenleaf launched “Talk Stoop” in 2009 as a features reporter for WNBC, NBC’s New York station. The show was a near-instant success, partly because segments also aired on NBC affiliates around the country and the New York Nonstop digital channel (now Cozi TV), as well as on screens in New York City taxicabs, PATH trains and gas pumps. On these platforms, Greenleaf estimates that the program is seen nearly 12 million times a week.

Plus, for the past year, Greenleaf has served as the face of USA Network’s daytime block, offering celebrity tidbits in-between repeats of “NCIS” and “Law & Order: SVU.”  For Greenleaf – who, until partnering with USA, had mostly worked solo – the association is a blessing. Now, she has help from an on-set producer, several camera operators and a guest booker. “It’s like getting seated at the big kids’ table,” she says. It appears to be a smart pairing for USA, too: According to the cable network, daytime ratings are up 8 percent since Greenleaf came on board.

“None of this is orchestrated, by the way,” she adds. “It’s all been a lucky mistake.”

On this particular summer morning, though, she is busy grinding coffee beans. Dressed in a batik-print dress and wearing her hair tied back in a red bandana, she’s barefoot, having not yet donned her trademark sneakers (which she even wears to weddings). It’s relatively quiet for a house that’s usually a chaotic home and office, since the famous stoop is empty and Greenleaf’s husband, “60 Minutes” investigative producer Michael Rey, and their sons, Primo, 5, and Truman, 2, aren’t around at the moment. The calm is welcome, since she’ll spend the next two days interviewing “Long Island Medium” Theresa Caputo, “The Tonight Show” house band The Roots, “Scandal” actor Tony Goldwyn and “Dancing with the Stars” pro Derek Hough.

Greenleaf helps a panting Gracie into a chair, as two other rescue dogs, Molly and Walter, race about the home’s main floor. She explains that this part of the house isn’t only a space for the family to hang out, it’s also the “Talk Stoop” green room.

Here, before the cameras go on, guests nibble on catered snacks and admire the eclectic décor. A bronze Buddha head sits on a weathered green cabinet, which contrasts nicely with a ruby-red piano and deep-seated cream leather couch. A sliding barn door hides a built-in pantry in the kitchen, where her three Emmy awards rest on top of a cupboard, surrounded by Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads.

And none of it is separated from the rest of the home, so on any given day, the likes of the Kardashians mingle with Greenleaf’s children, cleaning lady or ground-floor tenants. “This house keeps going,” she says. “I shut it down as much as I can, but there’s only so much I can do.”

Greenleaf continues, “Out of about 500 guests – and I won’t say who they are – but maybe four haven’t been totally cool. Overall, you’re walking into someone’s house … so people’s guard drops.”

Indeed, this casual approach is part of what makes “Talk Stoop” unique, an informality that extends to Greenleaf’s own style. Unlike other talk shows, where female hosts are squeezed into Spanx and five-inch Manolos, she’s boho-chic, often wearing jeans or a comfortable dress paired with leather jackets and giant hoop earrings. And those ever-present sneakers? They’re Converse, not couture.

She believes this allows her guests to unwind, which makes for some great TV moments.

When Sir Ian McKellen sat on the stoop to promote “The Hobbit,” she got the esteemed actor to question Gandalf’s hygiene. “He doesn’t carry anything around with him. I don’t know how he survives,” he mused. “Maybe inside that great big pointy hat, he could just go in and there’s a toothbrush.” A flirty talk with Ed Asner went so well, he ended up kissing her “dead on the mouth.” Once, an interview with Eva Longoria disrupted a Good Friday procession. After spotting the “Desperate Housewives” actress, Greenleaf recalls, “All these Latinos (were saying), ‘Ay, dios mio!’ Jesus drops the cross. Everyone’s genuflecting. It was so crazy.”

Greenleaf’s path to the small screen had a cross-country route. Born in White Plains, she spent her early years in Mamaroneck, but after sixth grade her family moved to Los Angeles where a number of high school classmates had famous parents. “It wasn’t the prettiest picture always,” she says, “which is why I think I’m not all dazzled by celebrities.”

She attended Boston University for two years – until her heart was broken. Her remedy – move to India to work in one of Mother Teresa’s orphanages and then Brazil to study music and religion. She made her on-air debut in the 1990s as a radio traffic reporter in San Francisco, returning to New York in 2000 for a job at NY1. Yet Greenleaf was uncertain about a journalism career until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“For the first time ever, I realized I did have something to contribute, because I was able to say to people, ‘You can walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. You can’t walk in the Lincoln Tunnel,’” she says, tearing up at the memory. “It gave me the confidence to know I could be important on broadcast.”

At WNBC, Greenleaf’s original idea for “Talk Stoop” was to interview neighborhood folks like the seltzer delivery guy. But then she met actress Rosie Perez at a fundraiser, who agreed to do the show. Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee saw that interview in a cab, and as Greenleaf puts it, “the celebrity ball started rolling.”

And along the way, she and Rey adopted their boys. Greenleaf’s older sister is adopted, and she always knew she wanted to adopt, too. The process was a bit bumpy: A few birth mothers changed their minds or misled the couple, and they had one woman running a scam arrested. The bottom line, says Greenleaf, is that they were meant to be with the children they have.

So, like any other working mom, she tries to balance her professional life with parenthood. Yet most mothers don’t have such blurry boundaries. Greenleaf laughs when describing a recent evening after a shoot on the stoop, as she and a producer tried to edit the piece.

“It’s two kids jumping up and down, the nanny’s in and out, and the dogs are going wild,” she says. “None of it’s perfect, but I have it pretty good.”

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