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Ashleigh Banfield is throwing away the script for her new HLN show Primetime Justice, which debuts tonight night at 8 p.m. ET. Banfield takes over the timeslot held by Nancy Grace for the last 12 years. A Manitoba native, Banfield has been a fixture on U.S. network TV since 2000 anchoring on MSNBC, NBC News, CourtTV, ABC News and, for the last four years, as anchor of CNN’s midday program Legal View. Before that Banfield anchored local news in Texas. We caught up with Banfield late last week to talk about this next phase of her storied career:
TVNewser: Talk to us about Primetime Justice. How will it differ from Nancy Grace’s program, and how will you utilize your years of experience to create something new and unique?
Banfield: It’s going to be different from any of the shows I’ve done, and quite different from Nancy Grace’s program. A lot will be unscripted, which is something I did for 12 years. I left the teleprompter in the dust for a long time [during her time as anchor of MSNBC’s Region in Conflict], and really enjoyed it, so I’m returning to some of those roots which is really fun and challenging. The conversations will be deeper and longer than what a typical daytime format would allow. I feel like we’ll have a richer environment to really probe towards getting to the root of what causes these mysteries, and what issues we as a nation have to deal with when it comes to crime and injustice.
TVNewser: You were reporting live from the World Trade Center on September 11 when Tower 7 collapsed behind you. What’s the story behind that?
Banfield: Tower 7 was the one that was caught on television falling behind me…
But earlier in the day I was actually under the North Tower when that came down. I was nearly killed. So I really had a profound experience on 9/11 that was not caught on camera, but I was on the telephone reporting live shortly after, seeking cover and catching my breath, realizing that the apocalypse might be coming down around me. So yes, September 11th was a very traumatizing experience for me to say the least.
TVNewser: You went from hosting a morning show on MSNBC, to reporting live from Ground Zero, to working for months abroad as a host and correspondent. Your focus has been on the law in recent years. Can you talk more about your career arc?
Banfield: Well, my entire 28 years has been a progression. I’ve now broadcast from 26 countries, lived and worked in 2 different countries. Everything I have done has added to the DNA that I now have, and has made me a much fuller journalist with a very wide-ranging perspective. I am deeply committed to the benefit of the doubt, and I think with a rich arsenal of perspective, that it is an easier notion to offer benefit of the doubt right away. For me, the legal beat has become a result of collecting decades of wisdom.
TVNewser: You have worked at a variety of news outlets over your career. What are some of the similarities and differences at each of your stops?
Banfield: There are profound similarities and differences between local news and network news, and between network news and cable news. You can look at it two different ways: “Wow, I’ve worked at a lot of places!” Or “Wow, I’ve been able to collect a lot of experience.” I’ve said that you don’t get into the business of television news for the job security and for the hours. I’ve worked every single hour of the 24-hour cycle. I have also been fascinated by the effect cable news has had on broadcast news. Many of the tools that we developed were by necessity because we were so under-staffed and so under-funded, the broadcast networks have adopted. I’m proud to be part of the genesis of a lot of the cable news production. It has been intriguing to watch the stylistic and journalistic changes in broadcast news, and that has come as a direct result of the growing popularity of cable news.
TVNewser: You have two young sons. First off, will the show be taped or is it live? If it’s live, how will the timeslot move impact your family life?
Banfield: The show is live. That was a huge decision for me. My boys are 9 and 10 years old. As a single mother, I had to weigh a lot of choices. I have been able to orchestrate this schedule with sports and tutoring, and a nanny who has been with us for 5 years to manage their care after school. I am going to sleep only 4 or 5 hours a night. I’ll be with them in the early hours of the morning, and I won’t get home until 11 p.m. or midnight, but I’ll be up at 6 a.m. to have 2 quality hours with them before I send them off to school. We all do what we have to do, and as I mentioned, you don’t get into the business of TV news for the hours!