Jun 16, 2003  •  Post A Comment

When Jane Pauley wrapped her 11th season last month as co-anchor of “Dateline NBC” with a prime-time special, “Jane Pauley: Signing Off,” 10 million viewers watched to say goodbye to a name synonymous with NBC’s news shows since 1976. After she announced her departure earlier in the year, speculation surfaced that Ms. Pauley might launch her own magazine, retire, do PBS specials or join MSNBC.
Even Ms. Pauley said she is surprised at how things worked out. She had not planned to do another TV show.
Then NBC Enterprises President Ed Wilson called with an idea. She listened and a talk show was born.
“I honestly didn’t know what I was going to be doing when I left `Dateline,”’ Ms. Pauley said. “Over the spring I began meeting with various people and was thrilled that my ideas were finding interested ears. When Ed called and said he wanted a meeting I had no intention of having a show. Out of courtesy to NBC and my respect for Ed, I met with him, and needless to say, he’s an incredibly persuasive person. By the end of the hour, not only had he sold me, but I had sold myself.”
She noted that the ideas she had been mulling to use in print were a perfect fit for a talk show, “and didn’t have to be interpreted only in publishing.”
Mr. Wilson confirmed last week that NBC Enterprises has signed the multiple Emmy Award-winning NBC News personality to an exclusive deal to host a nationally syndicated program, “The Jane Pauley Show,” starting in the fall of 2004.
The move was clearly a new direction for Ms. Pauley, and while it may have surprised her, others in the company saw it as a natural. “We wanted to bring viewers back to daytime who had gone over to cable and felt that when it comes to someone like Jane Pauley, whose fans are very loyal, there was a perfect fit,” Mr. Wilson said. “When Jane met our team, I think she felt comfortable with our group and trusted them. She knew she wouldn’t be compromised and have to do a show on midgets from Mars. Here she can do stories that made a real difference in people’s lives. She is excited about entering the next phase of her career.”
“I think she’s going to class up the joint,” said NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker on her entry into daytime. “No one on television is as classy, compassionate and composed, and I think she is the perfect person for daytime.”
Ms. Pauley is continuing 27 years of history with NBC. She began her 13-year tenure as co-anchor of NBC’s “Today” at the ripe age of 25, in 1976, earning sarcastic comments from critics because of her youth. She was teamed at first with Tom Brokaw and then, in 1982, with Bryant Gumbel. She went on to anchor the Sunday edition of “NBC Nightly News” from January 1980 until April 1982, and “Real Life With Jane Pauley,” which premiered in January 1991. She anchored “Time & Again,” the retrospective news program on MSNBC, from July 1996 to 2001. But it was her appointment to “Dateline NBC” that may have left the biggest mark. “Dateline” became the only successful magazine show in NBC News history after a dozen attempts by the network.
Now Ms. Pauley believes her news experiences groomed her for her new task. “Each one of those jobs brought me closer to what I do best,” she said. “Here was an opportunity I had not considered before. But I feel that it is this kind of television that is best suited to my experience and skill set, stories of emotional growth and psychological understanding. And doing a show with an audience is certainly appealing.”
Although associates of Ms. Pauley were surprised to see her take on the grueling routine of daytime talk, she said she is in fact a fan of the genre and will use the medium to pursue pet projects. “I’ve been known to tape `Oprah’ and `Dr. Phil,”’ she said. “One of my favorite stories of the last year was my interview with Dr. Phil. They have really set the bar so high, and I wonder if it weren’t for the standards they have set, if I’d be as comfortable moving to the talk realm from news.”
Although details of the series are still being clarified, one thing is certain: NBC News will not be involved. Instead, “The Jane Pauley Show” will originate from NBC’s Studio 8G at Rockefeller Center in New York City under Mr. Zucker’s domain. It is also expected to be a single-topic show that will alternate celebrity and noncelebrity stories.
“This will be one of the most exciting things to happen in daytime in a long time,” Mr. Zucker said. “On a personal level, I am thrilled that Jane is doing this. I came to `Today’ because she asked me to. She got me an interview and got me the job. I couldn’t be happier to be working with her so closely once again.”
“I would not have considered this opportunity with any other company,” said Ms. Pauley, who is also attached to upcoming PBS programs, including a series with McNeil/Lehrer Productions on how people learn. “I knew in some way or another television was going to be in my future, but I took great pride in staying 27 years at one location and am proud to continue my relationship with NBC.”