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Going where many perish: daytime TV

Jane Pauley leaps into new territory, glad to be doing softer news.

August 30, 2004|Jonathan Taylor | Times Staff Writer

Jane Pauley has a confession to make: She never particularly enjoyed reporting the hard-news stories that were part of her job for a quarter-century as co-host of NBC's "Today" and then "Dateline."

As she gets ready to go solo for the first time, with today's debut of "The Jane Pauley Show," she says she's finally found a format more to her liking.

"Even early on 'Today,' I was most interested in soft news, the back-of-the-book stories like women's health, education, families," said Pauley by phone recently, between shooting episodes of the show. "The kinds of stories that were not given the same professional regard. I don't think I'm famous for being a great investigative reporter."

So when executives from NBC approached her back in 2001 about hosting her own weekday talk show, one of her conditions was that she would get to cover only the stories and topics that interest her. Another plus for Pauley: She gets to do the show from the comfortable confines of NBC's Studio 8-G in New York, where "Today" host Tom Brokaw introduced the 25-year-old Midwestern newswoman to a national audience in 1976.

As the war in Iraq rages on and the battle for the presidency amps up with the GOP holding its quadrennial convention this week in New York, Pauley seems happy to counter-program by simply being herself.

That's the correct approach, says Bill Carroll, vice president and director of programming at the Katz Television Group, where he advises local stations on what shows to pick up. "Shows that are most successful are the ones where the host is comfortable," he says. "Daytime TV is Monday through Friday; it demands a commitment of someone sharing time with someone else. If the hosts are uncomfortable, [the audience] is too."

Truth be told, there's plenty to make Pauley, 53, uncomfortable about entering the treacherous world of daytime talk. Pauley, along with Larry Elder, Tony Danza and Pat Croce, is among those launching daytime talk shows this season, entering a segment of the television business where, Carroll notes, only one in 25 shows lasts two seasons. Even armed with a host who has a 30-year broadcasting career, a multi-Emmy-winning producer and the support of NBC, "The Jane Pauley Show" is by no means assured of success.

Just ask celebrities Roseanne, Sharon Osbourne, Ryan Seacrest, Queen Latifah or Caroline Rhea, who've tried and quickly failed. Or less notable aspirants like Oprah-wannabes Iyanla Vanzant and Ananda Lewis, or the Regis-meets-the-Galloping Gourmet Ainsley Harriott, among many others.

With more women working outside the home full time, and more choices available for daytime viewing, the competition to succeed is tougher than ever.

As a result, audiences are selective about what they'll commit to, and with hits such as "Live With Regis and Kelly" and "The View" dominating the mornings, and Oprah Winfrey and "Dr. Phil" McGraw ruling the afternoons, there's precious little room for newcomers, even an established star like Pauley.

She's competing in the afternoons in most of the country but airs in the mornings in some markets, including Los Angeles, where her hourlong show is broadcast at 10 a.m. weekdays on KNBC Channel 4.

"If you go back over the years, the breakthrough shows are 'Oprah,' 'Judge Judy,' 'Rosie O'Donnell' and now 'Dr. Phil,' " Carroll notes. "Rosie took herself off, but the rest of them are still in place.

"Most are creatures of habit; you've got to get them to change their habit," he concludes.

Pauley, who's married to "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau, with whom she has three children, aims to do that with a show focusing on issues that concern her and her peers. She's brought on her sister, Ann, a former corporate executive, as an advisor, collaborator and friendly face.

This first week of single-topic shows address such subjects as cancer, home decorating and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, with the goal, as Pauley puts it, "to create a 365-degree arc around any given woman."

Although celebrity interviews aren't off-limits -- she has none scheduled so far -- she said she'll avoid simply having someone on to plug their latest project.

"I was a guest on Jay Leno not long ago, where I approached Matt Damon and said, 'Hello, will you be on my show?' " Here Pauley pauses for emphasis, then adds, "The difference? I said, 'Bring your mother.' I'm interested in talking to celebrities in a life-sized way."

The show is bound to be different from other talks shows, if for no other reason than the producer NBC recruited to run it. Michael Weisman, who won 22 Emmys for guiding NBC's and CBS' coverage of major sports events, gave up the chance to guide NBC's Olympic coverage this year to manage Pauley's show instead.

It's his first venture into the world of daytime talk and women's programming. He sounds a little intimidated.

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