Jane Pauley Is Back — Again


Shortly after Jane Pauley’s daytime talk show was canceled 11 years ago, she thought that might be it for her.

Though long forgotten, “The Jane Pauley Show” was a program NBC spent millions on, and executives had very high hopes for it.

Instead, it was a bust, and was yanked off the air after one season.

“I didn’t expect to have a career in television after that,” Ms. Pauley said in a recent interview.

For a while, it looked like she might be right. All anchors of a certain age — particularly women — are confronted with the reality of diminished opportunity, and even with a distinguished broadcasting career, Ms. Pauley was no exception.

Over the course of the next several years, there were some work with PBS, the irregular appearance on “Today” where she profiled aging baby boomers, and little else.

And then came an unexpected comeback.

She signed on with CBS two years ago and started doing features for its popular “Sunday Morning” program and filling in for various anchors, including on “CBS This Morning” and “The Evening News.”

And on Sunday she will triumphantly return to the spotlight: A couple weeks shy of 66, Ms. Pauley will formally succeed Charles Osgood as the anchor of “Sunday Morning.”

“There have been high points in my career, and low points as well,” she said. “But even at the low points there have always been these rebounds. Like those trick birthday candles: It flickers off, and comes on again!”

Ms. Pauley was sitting on a couch at the CBS Broadcast Center, nursing a cup of tea to help her stave off a coughing fit. (She said she got a cold from her grandchildren by way of her husband, the “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau.)

She was quick to point out the fairly incredible timing of her “Sunday Morning” debut: It will occur almost 40 years after her first day as a co-host on “Today” where, at 25, she followed Barbara Walters. Her first day at “Today” was Oct. 11, 1976.

But as much as Ms. Pauley will be remembered for her broadcast accomplishments, it is her departures that have prompted more sensational headlines.

“I always make news by leaving,” she said, laughing.

Well before Ann Curry’s disastrous departure from “Today,” in 2012, Ms. Pauley also left the show in acrimonious circumstances. NBC had brought in Deborah Norville to join Ms. Pauley and Bryant Gumbel in 1989. Ms. Pauley figured NBC had hired her replacement, and decided to act first: She announced shortly after Ms. Norville’s arrival that she was leaving the show.

The damage to NBC was significant. Viewers were repelled by what they perceived as Ms. Pauley being pushed out, and fled “Today” for “Good Morning America” on ABC. The magazine editor Michael Kinsley once said Ms. Pauley was “the first baby boomer they tried to put out to pasture … and failed.”

Ms. Pauley stayed with NBC and moved onto a successful 11-year run as co-host of the newsmagazine show “Dateline.”

But Ms. Pauley decided it was time to do something different, and in 2003 announced she would leave that show.

NBC was caught off guard by her decision and what followed was yet another wave of warm publicity for her. NBC’s parent company found a way to get her to stay.