You Can Take the Producer Out of News, But You Can’t Take News Out of the Producer

By Gail Shister Comment

Though it’s been more than three years since Amy Chiaro (left) left NBC’s ‘Weekend Today’ for the syndicated ‘Dr. Oz,’ she still creates a cold open in her mind of headlines for that day’s network morning shows — before she watches them.

“It’s a sickness that stays with you,” she says with a chuckle. “It was very, very hard for me to leave NBC.”

Chiaro, 39, says she has no regrets. Promoted in December to executive producer of ‘Dr. Oz,’ she oversees a staff of about 100. “I’m very happy here, and I plan to be here for a long time. When you’ve been part of something from the beginning, it’s different. Now, ‘talk’ is in my blood.”

Chiaro is just one of numerous veteran producers to leave the news business for daytime talk. Meghan Schaefer, an MSNBC staffer since it was called America’s Talking, joined Bethenny Frankel’s new fall show as co-EP. ABC’s Catherine McKenzie was named supervising producer of ‘The Queen Latifah Show,’ also set for fall.

Not to be forgotten, Jim Murphy, former boss of ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “CBS Evening News,” departed news to launch Anderson Cooper’s talk show in Fall 2011. He left four months later. A few weeks ago, he joined CNN as senior EP of its new morning block.

The transition from news to talk can be tough, says Chiaro, who came to NBC out of Cornell in 1996. The week following her departure from the network, Capt. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger heroically landed US Airways Flight 1459 on the Hudson River, known as ‘The Miracle on the Hudson.’

“I couldn’t get to a TV fast enough,” Chiaro acknowledges. “’I thought, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ It was a difficult transition. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like being in the control room when there’s breaking news. That doesn’t leave you.”

Still, Chiaro was intrigued when she was pitched the ‘Dr. Oz’ job “out of the blue.” She had known and admired Mehmet Oz, M.D., from his frequent ‘Today’ appearances over the years.

“The chance to start a show from scratch was irresistible,” Chiaro says. “It’s so rare to be able to do that. The networks have those amazing shows, set in stone. This pushed every creative button I had.”

She compares her learning curve to earning an MBA. “It’s an amazing management experience. You’re always creatively challenged. You’re looking at the broader structure, but you’re focused on the day-to-day. I like being a student; it’s like being a sponge. I was paired up with people with massive talk experience.”

There would also be a fringe benefit for Chiaro. Her future husband, Mark Janeczko, was the show’s lighting director. (“I always look good at home,” she says.) The couple has an 11-month-old son, Cooper.

As much as she enjoys her current situation, Chiaro won’t rule out a return to news.

“I don’t know why anybody in this business would close any doors to anything,” she says. “I have no idea what’s next for me. There could be another talk show. I could go back to news. This is a fascinating time in news. The whole world has opened up.

“Everything is an option.”