Josh Elliott , the former “Good Morning America” news anchor who bolted for NBC Sports 11 months ago, is hosting his first series for “Dateline.” “Escape,” a 3-part series kicking off Sunday at 9pmET, shares first-person accounts of real life stories of survival. We caught up with Elliott to talk about the series, a potential return to morning television, and his favorite sport. (Spoiler alert, he kind of punts.)
TVNewser: So, are you excited to be returning to news?
Elliott: I may no longer work for a News division, but I’ve always worked in news, so quite honestly, I don’t feel as though I ever left. Dating to my years at Sports Illustrated, the essence of my job–one that I love–has been and remains the telling of other people’s stories. I’ve been fortunate to do just that at Sports, where during Super Bowl week we shared the story of two Indiana HS football players–one black, one white–who defied Jim Crow to become friends, and then were reunited 60 years later; or the remarkable life of Ed Woodward, a medical student whom the Pat Tillman Foundation helped chase an unlikely dream. They’re the stories that make this job worth doing, and being a part of the “Escape” series is another chance to do it. I’m lucky to work at a place where such inter-divisional opportunity exists. And until the Derby runs again come the first Saturday in May, I’ve a schedule that allows me the freedom to contribute. It’s great.
TVNewser: Your upcoming “Dateline” series features stories about people who have survived extraordinary circumstances. Anyone in particular stand out?
Elliott: It’s hard to choose, if only because they’re all so different–even when comparing individual stories deriving from the same disaster. There wasn’t any one thing that everyone who survived the Costa Concordia sinking, or that hellish wildfire, or that godawful tsunami, did; invariably, survival hinged on so many small decisions, made in an eye-blink. It also made me reconsider what it is to be lucky. My high-school yearbook quote was one attributed to legendary Yale football coach (among many): “Luck is the residue of design.” And as much as we want that to always be true–to feel as though we put ourselves in positions to take advantage of opportunity–well…some folks lived to share their stories because they were brave and tenacious, yes…but also, blindly lucky. Personally, as a SoCal native who knows what “fire season” can mean, I was struck by the accounts of the Cedar Fire, a devastating (and purposefully set) blaze that would become the worst in California history. It was apocalyptic–and in the retelling, it’s terrifying…and heartbreaking.
TVNewser: Was this “Dateline” series your idea, or did NBC News approach you?
Elliott: Just before I headed to Arizona for what would become a Super Bowl for the ages, senior EP David Corvo approached me with the idea. The Dateline folks had been working on the series for some time, and I was happy to be a part of it all. And my experience has been tremendous, particularly with co-EP (and de facto showrunner) Paul Ryan–collaborating on scripts and structure, and whiling away shoot-hours with deep-dive discussions of journalism and storytelling and narrative. Paul’s as good as they come, and I feel very fortunate to have been asked aboard.
TVNewser: Can you see yourself ever hosting a morning show again?
Elliott: Well, based on the way I’ve devoured sleep over the past year, that would be a very tough sell to my circadian rhythms. At NBC Sports I’m blessed to work at a place that doesn’t quite ever feel like work–a real credit to Mark Lazarus and Sam Flood and Jim Bell, and too many other absurdly talented folks to name. The opportunities I have now are ones I just wouldn’t trade, and they’re the ones upon which I am focused. I try to avoid using the word “never”…but really, it’s just not something I think about right now.
TVNewser: Sports is obviously your passion… but if you could only cover one particular sport, which one would it be?
Elliott: In just the first moments of considering this, I suffered too many Sophie’s Choices to count–mostly because covering a sport, and I’ve covered a bunch, is so different from experiencing it as a fan. I’m tempted to say European soccer, which consumes my weekends. And Champions-League midweeks, even as I answer this very question; thanks for nothing, Arsenal. Rome and Florence and Paris and Barcelona and London and Athens are all in Europe, and I can think of worse places to toil. But there’s also the part of me that wants to keep it solely as a fan–which is to say, irrational and unhealthily obsessed and wracked by doubt and self-loathing. So…I’ll bend the parameters a bit, and go with the, yes, I know…multi-sport, Olympics. I’ve asked dozens of NBC colleagues, on-air and off-, about the Games, and every single one of them has described it as a transformative professional experience. Count me in.