30 Most Impactful TV Newsers of the Past 15 Years: Gayle King

By A.J. Katz Comment

To mark the 15th anniversary of TVNewser this month, Adweek honored the 30 Most Impactful TV Newsers of the Past 15 Years, spotlighting the personalities and execs who were instrumental in the industry’s incredible decade-and-a-half evolution. TVNewser will be presenting expanded versions of each honoree’s interview.

Gayle King:

  • Job now: Co-host, CBS This Morning; editor at large, O, The Oprah Magazine
  • Job 15 years ago: Editor at large, O, The Oprah Magazine (the only time during her career when she wasn’t in TV news)

Adweek: What were you doing 15 years ago (in January 2004)?
King: I’d anchored the news for 18 years in Hartford, and I left there in like 2000. I was for sure at the magazine. Was I doing radio then? I guess I should look my bio! (Joined O in 99). We had our first issue in 2000. (weren’t on radio until Sept 2006) So I was just doing the magazine then. God that seems so long ago!

That was just about the only period where you weren’t doing TV…
Yes, that was very sad. Because I’m such a TV baby. I did radio, I did TV, I’m still doing O; I straddle both worlds. But I really am a TV baby. Magazine is now in my DNA. I’ll tell you when it really hit me, 9/11, that I wasn’t on the air for 9/11. That would just kill me, because I was full-time at the magazine. That was in 2001. And I realized…you’re talking to somebody that has a TV on in every room, and when I first came to the magazine, I go, you guys don’t have TVs here? It was astounding to me. So one of the first things I did was get a TV put in my office, because I wanted to see the news and see what’s going on. So I was full-time at the magazine.

And wasn’t really thinking, how I can get back on TV? I just figured I’d done a career change and I was okay. But when I wasn’t on, I really did miss it. So I was thrilled to get back into the TV land. By then, I didn’t want to give up my magazine job either, so I was able to do them both.

What’s your favorite professional moment of the past 15 years?
It’s so hard to pick a favorite. I really did like the coverage that we did when we went to the border. I know for a fact that made a difference. At the very least, the other guys who were watching and saw me on, said we’d better get down there, too. Everybody was covering it, but when they saw I was there—and I know, because the other guys told me when they arrived. They were like, “thanks a lot, Gayle! They turned on the TV and saw you were there and said, holy BEEP! We’ve gotta do something.” I know that made a difference. So I’m very proud of that. I’m very proud of groveling for Dave Chappelle for two years and finally he said yes – he said yes to the dress — to do an interview with him when he hadn’t talked in a very long time.

I was very proud, both personally and professionally, when the African-American Museum of History and Culture opened in DC, and they allowed us to go inside for the first time and do our show live from there. The same thing happened at the World Observatory Tower. They allowed us to bring the show in live for the first time. I’ve decided, I like being first! We all like being first, but I like it when CBS This Morning is allowed to do something that hasn’t been done before, or take the show on the road in a very unique space and place, where they haven’t allowed others to come. We’re very news-focused and very news-heavy, and I think people appreciate that.

What is the biggest way that TV news has changed over the past 15 years?
It used to be 24-7, but now it’s 24 seconds. I say, the news can change by the time you go to the bathroom, by the time you cook a chicken, by the time you leave your office and go home. It’s so fast-paced, it’s now 24 seconds, sometimes 7 seconds. That’s just astounding to me. I’ve always said what I like most about the show is you go to bed at night and you wake up and it’s totally changed, and we get to be the first ones to tell you. That’s still a big kick for me. But now, sometimes it’s not even from the time you go to bed, it changes that quickly. And because people can be instantaneous. Anybody can put something on the air these days. You can create a viral thing, live, just you and your telephone. Those people who are doing it, though, don’t have the responsibility that we do, and the checks and balances, but you can make news instantaneously yourself. That’s a game changer.

Who have you learned the most from in your career? What did they teach you?
For me, it goes back to the people that helped me from the very beginning, when I was first getting started. I used to work for the local station in Washington DC. I would say JC Heyward, I would say Bruce Johnson, I would say Pam Coulter, from when I was an intern at radio. I would say Ralph Beglighter. But this is the thing: I still feel I’m learning. I’m not sitting here thinking, oh, I’ve learned all that I can learn. I still feel, even now, when people come up to me and say, I want to do what you’re doing, I want to be just like you! I’m thinking, great; I’m still learning, too! And may I never get to the point that I don’t have anything to learn. I don’t want to be that guy, ever, in my life.

But when I was first starting, I still remember those people. Because they showed me the ropes and most importantly, they took the time. None of us who have achieved any modicum of success gets to where we are by yourself. Somebody along the way took the time to help you. And I’m forever grateful for those type of people. And I try to be that for people who I think are really serious. When someone says, “Oh I love you so much, it’s so nice to meet you!” that is very flattering, but it’s not what inspires me when I know someone really wants to learn and do this job. I’m drawn to those type of people, because I still, after all this time, think it’s a kick. I love it! It comes with a lot of responsibility, but it’s a lot of fun. I feel like I have a front row seat, I have a press pass to life. Someone said that to me once, and I go, it’s true. I do, I have a press pass to life!

Which of your competitiors do you admire?
I admire all of them. When I’m traveling, I watch Good Morning America and I watch the Today Show, because I like to know what everybody’s doing. I don’t watch us when I’m on the road; I like to see what they’re doing. I’m friends with Robin Roberts, so I admire her very much. But I’m also friendly with Savannah [Guthrie] and Hoda [Kotb]. I think we all do a very good job. I don’t sit there looking longingly, going, “God, I wish I could do that!” I think we’re all doing a really good job. And the beauty for morning television is there’s enough diversity on and off the screen for people to say, I think I want to go with this team. They’re all very good choices. I of course am like the girl that says, pick me, pick me, like Meredith Grey did in Grey’s Anatomy years ago. But I think we all do a very good job. There’s nobody that I’m watching that I go, “Jesus Christ, they’re terrible!” Because that’s not the case.

What do you know now about the business that you didn’t 15 years ago?
I didn’t know how quickly it would change. It’s always been a fast-paced business, but I know when that red light goes on, somebody’s going to be sitting there. But I could never have envisioned the way social media would change, the way being able to go digital would change. I marvel at that. And because I still consider myself somewhat tech-challenged. I can do the basics. But  I look at people today that are just snap, crackle and pop. And I marvel at that. That’s why all my assistants are millennials, because I’m like, “Now, how does this work?” I’m pretty good, but I’m not as good as they are.

What has been your toughest professional challenge during the past 15 years?
For me, it was that Newtown story. That still stays with me, because I’d anchored the news there—by there, I mean the state of Connecticut—for 18 years. So I felt I knew that state, and that was just very difficult. It’s still difficult to me, and disappointing that, that didn’t really change the game when it came to the gun laws in this country. And I’ve become close with some of those families, and I just don’t know how you speak the unspeakable. That’s just one of those stories that ripped anybody up that had a beating heart. And you thought, finally, maybe—because I don’t know anybody that wants to take your guns away. But I just don’t know what is so difficult about responsible gun ownership. Why people can be able to buy AK-47s, I don’t understand that.

I just feel life is only getting better, I do feel that. As difficult as things are, I’m still so happy to be here on the planet.