Monday, August 23, 2004

Pauley steps into spotlight

Trusted television host
returns for daytime talk show

By David Bauder
The Associated Press

No one's delivered a couch yet, but Jane Pauley is giving a tour of the New York studio where her new daytime talk show will start next Monday. The audience seats are arranged in a semicircle for a feeling of intimacy.

Pauley wishes she could say the star treatment she received from audiences during run-throughs was awkward or embarrassing for someone who delivered the news to a camera for 30 years.

Instead, she kind of likes it.

Her daughter, a Yale University student, can already do a drop-dead impersonation of mom walking onstage and soaking up the adulation.

"It was very exciting until a week or two later when I heard about the applause signs," she said. "But it's still exciting."

The Jane Pauley Show (10 a.m. Channel 5; 3 p.m. Channel 2, Monday-Friday), trading on the warmth and good will its star built during years as Today and Dateline NBC host, is the season's most anticipated syndicated program.

"That is really something frightening and every now and then I do have flutters of pressure," she said. "But they subside."

Pauley grew up in Indianapolis, graduating from Warren Central High School and Indiana University, and began her broadcasting career at WISH in Indianapolis.

Much like a political candidate entrusted with great hope, Pauley is into lowering expectations and hoping her audience grows into the role with her.

It wasn't where she expected to be when she announced last year she was quitting Dateline to pursue other opportunities.

When the idea of a daytime talk show was pitched, Pauley said she realized it might be the best way of advancing her own interests. As a news anchor, she was always the face in somebody else's show.

"I realized that everything I had been thinking about would lend itself to a daytime talk show topic," she said. "It was about 100 times bigger and more responsibility than I had imagined, but on the other hand I had done television for 30 years. That's what I do."

A glance at the board outlining the first month's topics shows where it is headed. There's a talk with a design psychologist, an expert to help people erase credit card debt, a segment on cleaning up clutter, a "lunch hour makeover" and an exploration of why so many people are overweight.

"The one thing I won't promise is that it will be uniquely different," said producer Michael Weisman, "because the quality of daytime talk shows has risen so much in the past five years. If there's something worth doing, Oprah, Dr. Phil or Ellen has done it."

Pauley, 53, genuflects in the direction of Oprah Winfrey, who she called fabulous, filled with charisma and "bigger than life."

But when she sought advice on how to start a talk show, Pauley didn't call Winfrey or Ellen DeGeneres or Rosie O'Donnell.

Instead, she took a detour to Seattle to seek out Elisa Jaffe, host of Northwest Afternoon, which runs weekdays on KOMO-TV.

As a guest there once, Pauley remembered being impressed by that show's professionalism. Pre-show questions to Pauley and her sister, Ann, who was also a guest, were framed skillfully to elicit interesting answers.

"It was really useful because as you're starting up a show, what you most need to know are the processes," she said. "How do you do it? How do you keep up with the pace of it? I actually learned a lot from this woman."

Pauley's older sister is working on the show's staff, a story that roughly parallels Jane's.

Ann Pauley was a successful president of a high-tech firm based in Pittsburgh and, like Jane, was wondering if there was something else she wanted to do before reaching retirement age.

Ann worked in a largely male world, but she taped daytime talk shows and caught up with them later while exercising. Now Ann is applying her fan's knowledge to help her sister create a show.

"I mostly want to create a good daytime show, to put it on the air with no mistakes," Pauley said. "I think the audience will give us some time to learn the ropes before I'm compared to Oprah or Phil."

Her studio is where Tom Brokaw introduced her as the new co-host of Today in 1976 - so the place has good vibes.

She hopes they continue.

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