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Pauley leaving after 27 years with NBC

Feb 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Jane Pauley said it wasn’t the “Michael Jacksonizing” of network news that drove her decision to leave NBC News, where she has been a fixture for 27 years. She just wants to try something different.
“Certainly, the overall state of network television is … it’s not the Golden Age,” said Ms. Pauley, who will depart the network in June.
Ms. Pauley, 52, who spent 13 years as co-anchor of “Today” and the last 11 years as co-anchor of “Dateline NBC,” said she’s proud of her career, but, “It’s possible that television history won’t remember me.”
That’s not false modesty, she said, but rather recognition of others she has worked with, such as “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw (“So many people, including myself, have leaned on his authority”) or Barbara Walters, who preceded Ms. Pauley on “Today” before taking a million-dollar-a-year offer to go to ABC News, where she became a legend for landing the big interview everyone else wants to get.
“Barbara has made getting `the get’ an art form. She has left all of us in the dust. It is what has defined her career. I defined my career differently,” Ms. Pauley said.
“I didn’t chase after a story just because it was important,” she said, comparing herself with actors and actresses who wait for the right role rather than feel they must do three movies a year for 30 years. “I was more aware of an interview that was a good match for me, and not everything was.
“NBC was probably frustrated with me sometimes. I [wasn’t just trying to be] stubborn.”
The need to make one’s presence constantly felt is normal at the network level, where the competition for spotlight, attention and TV Guide covers is ferocious.
Ms. Pauley has tended to make news by staying out of the news. She and “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau have been married 23 years and have three children. They only occasionally avail themselves of courtside Knicks tickets or other perks of fame.
After 13 years as an early-to-bed, early-to-rise co-anchor of “Today,” Ms. Pauley left “Today” in 1989 when NBC turned the popular morning show into an “All About Eve” remake by setting up Deborah Norville as the ambitious blonde ingenue ready to bump Ms. Pauley off the desk she shared with Bryant Gumbel. Public sentiment was on the side of Ms. Pauley, who was rewarded with prime-time assignments developed for her. Her perch since 1993 has been “Dateline NBC,” where she is partnered with Stone Phillips.
In the spring and summer of 2001 Ms. Pauley sparked whispers and raised eyebrows with her abrupt announcement that she would take a six-month sabbatical. Long after she returned to the air, she told Ladies Home Journal that she had suffered from delayed-pressure urticaria, a swelling disease.
At the time, however, she explained the sabbatical partly as a wish to spend quality time with her children and to noodle with a book.
“She was dabbling in a book during the sabbatical,” a spokeswoman said last week. “She will turn her attention to it now that she will have more time. But don’t expect a book within a year, if at all.”
Ms. Pauley said last week that she had the option of a sabbatical added to her contract several years ago and that had probably been the first stage of deciding it was time to “try new things. I didn’t arrive at the decision, it arrived at me.”
She thought, “If I’m going to do something interesting with my life, now is the time.”
NBC News President Neal Shapiro was surprised, she said, when she told him last year that she did not intend to renew her contract, which expires at the end of this month. He asked her to stay on through the end of the season. “He knows I wasn’t toying with him. It wasn’t me in some contract negotiation ploy.”
She declined to identify what might interest her after a summer of lazing, except to say she has considered “a variety of things” and truly is “making a leap of faith.
“I expect to be a member of some enterprise. “I’m not going into public service in general. I guess I do, in general, hope I can do work that is good. I definitely hope that what I do has good consequences.
“I think one of the big reasons you pull a stunt like this is to find meaning.”