Jane Pauley Going for Wide Appeal

Jan 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In more than 25 years as co-host of NBC’s “Today” and co-anchor of “Dateline NBC,” Jane Pauley never went ga-ga for celebrities simply because of their celebrity. And she doesn’t intend to get into the Running of the Bulls-like stampede for stars now in the name of her eponymous hour-long, single-topic daily strip that NBC Enterprises will launch this fall in 95 percent of the country.
“The people that most appeal to me aren’t going to be these lofty, can’t-get-’em-on-the-phone, far-too-special, I’m-waiting-on-my-call-from-Barbara-Diane-or-Oprah-I don’t want those people on my show,” she said. “I came out of that stupid `get’ thing and it so makes me not happy about television, it’s the last thing I’m going to do.
“My head is now out of the offices, where that is thought to be important. I now live in the real world, where I watch television and where I read the newspaper and I know what’s in the movies, I know what my family is talking about. I know what’s on the car radio.”
“That’s the kind of thing I can talk about,” Ms. Pauley said.
She doesn’t rule out having as guests famous people such as Michael J. Fox “who are wonderful people, who are wonderful talkers and they have some take on a topic that we’re talking about that will amuse or interest or inspire my audience. They will be there, and I hope to think of interesting ways to lure them there.”
In Michael Weisman, the newly named executive producer of “The Jane Pauley Show,” Ms. Pauley has found a fearless idea man and someone who, like Ms. Pauley, is laugh-out-loud funny off-camera. Mr. Weisman, a perennial winner of Emmys for Olympics, baseball and football programming, has spent much of his career working weekends. That’s a schedule that allows him to keep current with daytime programming and the “female camaraderie” that drives daytime and excites Ms. Pauley.
He and Ms. Pauley worked together as producer and morning host at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. After signing off on Mr. Weisman’s hiring, Ms. Pauley said: “I would say it was a dream come true, but in truth, I never dreamed we’d find someone of Michael Weisman’s caliber.”
His new assignment will mean that Mr. Weisman and his wife, Carol, will return to New York.
“He really believes deeply that Jane is an American icon,” said NBC Sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol, whose brief oversight of “Today” led to the (brief) ascension of Deborah Norville and awkward exit of Ms. Pauley as Bryant Gumbel’s co-anchor.
“I can’t believe that anyone will ever make Jane feel confident in being herself more than Michael,” Mr. Ebersol said.
“The fun stuff starts now,” said Mr. Weisman, who agrees with Ms. Pauley that “Oprah,” “Dr. Phil” and “Ellen” are the best in daytime but they are not to be copied.
So Ms. Pauley will not showcase the Madonnas or Beyonces. She will not relate to the audience the way Dr. Phil does. And she won’t dance onto the stage the way Ellen DeGeneres does.
“I’m thinking … unicycle! You laugh, but I’ve been practicing the unicycle up and down the hall of my apartment,” she said. “I actually have a little friend who rides a unicycle to school. I could get one. I could get one, but I think it would take special effects, animation or something to follow through, but that said, maybe that’s what my show opening is going to look like: Jane on a unicycle. Yeah. As the show progresses and we become more sophisticated, the Jane figure on the unicycle is doing more amazing tricks.”
Seriously, Ms. Pauley has been more than adequately briefed on the peculiar test of stamina and personal involvement that is syndication.
“I figure there are 24 hours in a day and there is a finite amount of me, and it’ll go as far as it can,” she said. “And thereafter, if it doesn’t go quite far enough, accommodations will be made, because I do not think that the whole project is going to fail just because I just can’t talk to [a reporter] one more time. I’m clever enough, I think, that I can make a virtue out of the things I won’t be able to do.”