When the pandemic hit New York City last March, CBS Media Ventures’s Inside Edition had to shut down and then quickly scramble to stay on the air. Anchor Deborah Norville — Wonder Women of Los Angeles’s Woman of Influence — immediately began shooting shows from her home in New York, and as it became clear that the pandemic was out of control in the city, she and her husband decamped to a vacation home.
“We left New York and temporarily moved out of state because it was too scary,” Norville said. “Initially, they were having me go to a local facility and I was very uncomfortable with it. I saw COVID at every turn, and I have some health issues that make me high-risk.”
In 2019, after a viewer spotted a questionable-looking lump on her neck, Norville underwent surgery to remove a cancerous nodule from her thyroid.
“Sometimes you have to influence things in your own world,” Norville said. “I couldn’t get the higher-ups to agree with me to shoot remotely [last year], but I knew we could do it. In the beginning, they wouldn’t budge and I was scared so I thought, ‘I am going to have to trick them into it.’ ”
Norville, who has anchored the top-rated syndicated news magazine since 1995, set about proving why what she wanted could be accomplished at mutual benefit to her and to the company. She set up a studio in her home with the Inside Edition backdrop on a big-screen TV behind her. She shot herself using her own high-definition camera and light kit and sent both to multiple executives at CBS and asked which one they preferred.
When everyone said they liked her home setup better, without knowing where it had been shot, she revealed how she had done it and said she could do it every day at a substantially reduced cost to the company. That convinced them she no longer had to leave the safety of her house to go into a studio.
“Those first days and weeks were really challenging, but it was so inspiring, because everyone had their hands on the oars and we were all pulling in the same direction,” she said. “We had the objective that we were going to do the best TV show that we could do and that people at home would feel like they are watching the same Inside Edition that they always had.”
That experience also reinforced a lesson for Norville: “I feel empowered to speak up in ways I hadn’t been,” she said. “I am much less reluctant to share my thoughts. If I feel strongly about something, I feel strongly that I need to share it with the appropriate parties. Doing that makes you more influential.”
Asked which women have influenced her, Norville mentioned three: Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters and her mother, Merle O. Norville.
“Diane Sawyer was not just a trailblazer but she made it possible for a blonde to be smart on television,” Norville said. “Until she joined CBS News, women were not allowed to be knowledgeable and to be the smart one.”
“Barbara Walters opened the door to anyone who wasn’t a white male,” Norville said, also noting that when NBC replaced Jane Pauley with her on Today in 1990 to public outcry and then replaced her with Katie Couric just 14 months later, Walters sent her a note of encouragement to the effect of “don’t let the bastards get you down.”
“I’ve always been grateful to her for that,” Norville said.
Mom a Key Influence
And as for her mom, “she was a career woman back in the ’50s before women were career people,” she said. “She was a vice president of merchandising for Buster Brown, which was unusual back in those days. She raised her four daughters to be independent and self-sufficient.”
Norville’s mother died of complications from severe rheumatoid arthritis when Norville was 20, after several years of debilitating health problems.
“When I’ve had challenges in my life, I’ve always thought of my mother,” Norville said. “She just kept going. I think that’s good advice for anyone dealing with a challenge — just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
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