Jane Pauley was the co-host, with Tom Brokaw and later Bryant Gumbal, of NBC’s The Today Show from 1976 to 1989. She went on to host Real Life with Jane Pauley and to serve as the deputy anchor for NBC Nightly News. In 2004, the year she hosted her syndicated talk show, The Jane Pauley Show, that she went public with her struggles with bipolar disorder. Your Life Calling: Reimagining The Rest Of Your Life is her newest book.
Q: What’s the most significant risk you’ve taken professionally?
Jane: Put professional risk-taking in context. I never expected to have the career I had. Today Show at 25? There’s a story there. Also when I left 13 years later. And 13 years after that – when I left DATELINE. That event was more unambiguously voluntary so TV Guide called me “the poster child for Second Acts” and Barbara Walters called to ask (as many did) ‘why walk away from a prime time show?”
My answer was that I simply felt there was more for me, but I wouldn’t know what it was until the TV camera got out of the way and I said I understood that ‘more’ would likely mean ‘less’. The irony was that all the attention I got about leaving made me more valuable to NBC – so I was quietly offered a daytime show. This was definitely more not less. And there was the TV camera again!
But it was a different kind of TV than I’d ever done. A live audience.
Women (mostly). A conversation.
I was intrigued. But scared, too.
I’d always worked with a partner if not an ensemble. This would be just me.
I was dithering over this decision even while DATELINE was preparing a special ‘Jane Pauley Signs Off.’ Michael J Fox was my final DATELINE interview. I asked him a long question about how even with Parkinson’s he still did so much- a new book, a TV pilot, a 4th child and raised $17 Million for Parkinson’s research – in just the last year!
“If it was me” I said, “I’d be relaxing, conserving my energy.”
His response: “And what would you be conserving your energy for?”
It resonated so powerfully. And I think that was the precise moment I decided to say “yes.”
Going up against Oprah, I warned my kids that this was a long-shot, but that I defined ‘success’ as having the courage to try
Remember the year Oprah gave everyone in her studio audience a new car? That was the week my show debuted. Within weeks it was obvious it was not going to be a success under any but the above-stated terms.
The show was canceled after one season. It was the hardest year of my professional life. And the best.
I’m proud of the shows we did (one critique: it was too much like NPR).
But we had fun, too.
I have a poster from The Jane Pauley Show prominently displayed in my home office. My psyche seems not to know it was a failure. That younger woman in the picture inspires me, because she had the courage to say ‘yes’.
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