Mitch Haaseth, Bravo
Tabatha Coffey is the star of Bravo's new "Salon Takeover."

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Tabatha Coffey has all the attributes needed to make her a reality TV star.

She's bossy. She's rude. She has a foreign accent. And she's really, really mean.

But, she'll tell you, the meanness is tough love. "Tabatha's Salon Takeover" is to hairdressing what "Kitchen Nightmares" is to restaurants. Coffey gets tough in order to save salons that are on the verge of bankruptcy.

"Because I only have a week, I can't really go in and hold their hand and get them through it. ... The stakes are high for these people," the Australia native said. "A lot of them are about to go under and lose their business.

"So, I don't look at it as being mean. I look at it as helping them and giving them my honest feedback so that I can get them to realize they need to take charge of their business. And I'm there to help them do it."

But, no matter how she wants to look at it, Coffey is mean. In tonight's premiere (11 p.m., Bravo), she marches into a badly run salon, harshly tells hairdressers what a lousy job they're doing and adds, "At the end of this, some of you may not have a job."

This, not surprisingly, brings one woman to tears. And Coffey is 180 degrees away from sympathetic.

"Why are you crying? I hate crying," she says. "Why don't you channel all those tears and emotion into something productive — work."

All of which does make for good reality TV. Coffey, who was a contestant on the first season of Bravo's hairdresser competition show "Shear Genius," definitely pops off the screen.

She only finished sixth on "Shear Genius" but was voted the "fan favorite."

You could ask (and somebody did on the TV press critics tour) why, if she's so great, Coffey didn't win on "Shear Genius."

"I really did win.... I feel like I'm a winner," she said.

It's hard to argue with her. Coffey did, after all, get her own TV show out of it.

And it's hard to argue that her, um, mean approach is needed. In tonight's premiere, she deals with a couple who are about to lose their million-dollar investment, their home and their property because they've made so many mistakes. They're so strapped for cash that they can only afford to spend about $3.50 per day each on food.

"My dog food costs more than $3.50," says Coffey, who, once again, is not exactly the empathetic type.

"Every situation that I go into in a salon is quite different," Coffey said. "Some of them ... just kind of let their staff run riot and it's total anarchy. And they're hiring friends and they're too scared to tell their friend that they don't like what they're doing or their appearance or their work.

"Other situations are these people really don't have any idea what to do with writing a great business plan, how to manage their money properly, what they need to do to market themselves and keep their business afloat."

And, while you'd think that these people would be embarrassed to have all their mistakes and flaws on display in a TV show, desperate people do desperate things.

"These guys are at a point where it's either they do this or they go bust," executive producer Jonas Larsen said. "For them, this is the last chance that they have to turn their business around."

Which is why they're willing to put up with this incredibly mean woman.

"They've asked for my help. I'm there to do that. And it really does make a difference," Coffey said. "The thing that has been amazing to me during this process is that I see the epiphanies. I see these people go, 'You know what? I get it. I needed someone to be kind of hard with me and honest with me, and I get it."'

"I'm a hairdresser, and I love hairdressers," she said. "And I want to help these people. They start to kind of realize that it's OK — that they're safe."

And a little bit scared.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com