Doing 'Justice' to Grace

Nothing in Nancy Grace’s life has gone according to plan, but each time the plan has changed, she’s made the best of it. It’s well known that Grace decided to become a lawyer at 19, after her fiancé, Keith, was murdered. She had been studying to be an English professor, but after Keith’s death, she switched gears.

“After having been a crime victim, I feel that it’s my duty to help other crime victims if I have a chance,” she says. “After 30 years, I still feel the very same way about Keith’s murder. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Keith and how my life would be different had he lived.”

Grace earned a JD from Mercer University and a master’s of law from NYU. She was hired as a special prosecutor for the Fulton County district attorney in Atlanta, where she went after serious offenders including murderers, rapists and child molesters. The petite blond gained a reputation for never losing a case, and she also gained the attention of Art Harris, who at the time was producing pieces for a Sunday-night magazine program on CNN.

“Nancy was a prosecutor with my sister, who worked in family court,” says Harris, who now seeks out legal experts for Grace’s new syndicated program, Swift Justice With Nancy Grace. “[My sister] told me about this take-noprisoners prosecutor who had the exterior of an army tank but the heart of a dove.” Harris profiled Grace on CNN, and she “really jumped off the screen. I had a hunch she had a future there.”

CNN kept bringing Grace back to comment on cases. It was during one of those occasional appearances that she caught the eye of Court TV founder Steven Brill, which ultimately led her to parry with O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran on the network’s Cochran & Grace.

The series was short-lived, but Grace’s television career took off. On Court TV, she hosted Closing Arguments from 1998-2007 and Nancy Grace Investigates from 2004-07. Throughout, she was still frequently popping up on CNN, and in 2005, the network brass launched her eponymous primetime show on Headline News.

“Nancy is just breaking it down. She’s being honest, and she always speaks from the heart,” says Dean Sicoli, executive producer of HLN’s Nancy Grace.

“I don’t think I’m good at TV, or natural at it,” counters Grace. “I think it’s the stories we cover and the people I work with. There are literally thousands of lawyers out there who are smarter, more articulate, more beautiful and, God knows, thinner than I am. It’s just been serendipity.”

Whatever the reason, Grace’s straightforward style brought her dedicated fans and helped make Swift Justice work.

“She’s got an edge, but there’s also something about the way she can deliver the blow that is different,” says John Nogawski, president of CBS Television Distribution. “Then there’s this mother in her. She’s there to embrace, protect and defend. Those qualities are invaluable for Swift Justice.”

John Terenzio, Swift Justice creator and executive producer, says that while viewers get to see a lot more sides of the prosecutor on the new show, the side they don’t see enough of is the hilarious one. “She’s so funny that if this TV thing didn’t work out, she could go out on the stand-up circuit,” Terenzio says.

Yet another side comes courtesy of Grace’s twins, John David and Lucy Elizabeth, who arrived Nov. 4, 2007, when Grace had just turned 48.

“I never thought after Keith was murdered that I would find love again, and I never thought I would have a family,” she says. “I always wanted my own children and my own family. Thirty years passed before I finally allowed myself to find happiness [with husband David Linch]. It was just a miracle that I got pregnant at 47, and it has changed my life. Now I know what happiness really is. I didn’t have any idea before.”

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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.