Jane Pauley on Her New Gig as the Host of ‘CBS Sunday Morning’
On October 9, 40 years to the week after Jane Pauley began as cohost of Today, she premiered as anchor of CBS Sunday Morning, replacing Charles Osgood. Pauley, 65, got her start in local TV news, then, at age 25, ascended to NBC’s hit morning show. After 13 years, “Sweet Jane” left Today and was replaced by the younger Deborah Norville—winning the public’s hearts in the process.
Pauley later served as a Dateline anchor from 1992 to 2003, launched a short-lived daily talk show, wrote two bestsellers (a memoir and an inspirational book about life after 50) and in 2014 began contributing to Sunday Morning and subbing for Osgood, who succeeded the legendary Charles Kuralt. Then came the call to be only the third host in Sunday Morning’s 37 years.
“It’s history-making. I’m the first non-Charles to take the helm,” jokes Pauley. (Her debut was solid, with 5.66 million total viewers despite preemptions on four stations due to Hurricane Matthew.) We talked to Pauley about her new gig and how she got there.
What does it mean to you to be the first female host of a network Sunday morning show?
I think maybe for TV executives this seems historic, but the Sunday Morning viewers are completely comfortable with women doing all kinds of television. That said, I will confess that the first time I was asked to fill in for Charles, I asked if it would be better if I appeared in a pantsuit. And I did.
This was just two years ago. I wanted to be sensitive. I quickly got over that. The second time I filled in for Charlie, I wore a skirt.
Do you feel this gig is something special?
It’s not an inconsiderable weight in my mind. On the other hand, my psyche didn’t know I was supposed to be nervous. It just feels so comfortable, so right.
Did you worry if you had enough of your predecessors’ folksiness?
Well, I’m a Hoosier, five generations. One does not come from my neighborhood with pretensions. If there’s anything I share in common with Charles Kuralt and Charles Osgood, it’s being unpretentious.
How will you put your stamp on the show?
I think it would be a mistake to jump to put my imprint on it. While Charles Osgood is going to be dearly missed, the show will evolve with time. I suppose my interests and personality will be part of that evolution, but I’m going to aspire to deliver a show that simply reaches the same high standards that Charlie said farewell to. Two recent Emmys for best morning show is kind of a statement of the program that I’m inheriting.
When you began your daytime talk show, you told TV Guide Magazine it was sort of a midlife change. Now that you’re 65, is this a way to avoid a senior citizen crisis?
Ideas about age are changing, but 65 is still a number that resonates. At the same time, the question is, now what are you going to do? It’s like a door that swings on a hinge, moving a person from something to something new.
What was the reaction of your husband, cartoonist Garry Trudeau, and your kids (twins Rachel and Ross, 32, and Thomas, 30) to your taking a full-time TV job again?
I know my youngest, Tom, is relieved. When I was in my late 50s working on the problem of what I was going to do the rest of my life, he sent an email that basically said, “It’s time to make your move.” He was afraid that I was squandering my skills and experience. My husband, and the twins as well, have been very, very happy for me.
What are some of your most memorable career moments?
You’d have to give me a list because I’ve got the memory of an Etch A Sketch. I’ve never archived what I’ve done, but I married a person who has binders of clippings about my career from the ’70s on.
That is very romantic.
I never read them. One of the first things ever written about me was that I had the IQ of a cantaloupe. Once you read that, you are disinclined to read your press. The files did help when I was writing a memoir 16 years ago.
When were you happiest?
I was pretty happy when I met my twins. That was great. Walking-on-air moments aren’t terribly associated with my work.
In your memoir, you wrote about your bipolar disorder. Was opening up your life to the public a weight off your back?
Not at all. I never felt that my career required my personal life to accessorize it. When my daughter was 14, she called me a bad celebrity. And though she didn’t mean it as a compliment, I took it as one, which infuriated her. [Laughs]
So what motivated the memoir?
I was in a career transition, and that interests me. The most interesting moments in my life were in the in-between places. I was inspired to write a memoir when I was turning 50, and by coincidence, that’s when I got sick for the first time. Exposure to a medication revealed an unrecognized, probably genetic vulnerability to a mood disorder. A part of me understood that I could do something positive with this, so I wrote about it. I haven’t had a recurrence; I’ve taken very good care of myself, which is to say I take meds. I think my advocacy for mental `health is one of the elements that has helped keep me healthy and made it possible for me to have yet another opportunity to have a productive life.
You’ve had a lot of different hairstyles. Will you be getting a new look for this job?
You know, I coined the phrase “bad hair day.” Finally, I don’t fret about my hair—good hair day, bad hair day. Let the audience decide, but I don’t worry about that anymore!
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