TRANSCRIPT Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Tamron Hall

Tamron Hall has worked in television for years. She recently kicked off the third season of her Emmy Award-winning talk show, which is called Tamron Hall. Before that, Tamron worked in news. She had her own show on MSNBC and, for a time, was a host on the Today show. Tamron also hosts the Discovery series Deadline: Crime – a true crime news magazine. As if she wasn’t busy enough, Tamron has taken on an entirely new endeavor: fiction writing. She just published her debut novel called As the Wicked Watch. Tamron Hall joins guest host Jarrett Hill for a conversation not just about the new novel, but on hosting for TV and the unique challenges Black journalists face, even super famous hosts like Tamron Hall.

Guests: Tamron Hall

Transcript

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Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

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jesse thorn

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. Next up this week, Tamron Hall. Tamron has been a TV host for years. She has her own talk show, just called Tamron Hall. It airs on ABC stations all over the country. Before that, Tamron worked in news. She had her own show on MSNBC and, for a time, was a host on The Today Show. More on that part of her life later. Tamron also hosts the Discovery series Deadline: Crime—a true crime news magazine. As if she wasn’t busy enough, she’s taken on an entirely new endeavor: fiction writing. She just published her debut novel. As the Wicked Watch tells the story of a reporter who’s trying to unravel the mystery of two murdered girls in Chicago. One of Tamron’s biggest fans is Jarrett Hill. Jarrett is a journalist himself. He’s worked for Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and CNN. When he got the opportunity to talk with Tamron for our show, he could not wait. What you’re about to hear is a conversation not just about the novel, but about hosting for TV and the unique challenges that Black journalists face—even super famous Black journalists, like Tamron Hall. So, without further ado, here’s Tamron Hall interviewed by our correspondent, Jarrett Hill.

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jarrett hill

Tamron Hall, welcome to Bullseye.

tamron hall

It’s a pleasure to be here! Thank you for having me!

jarrett

Absolutely. As I was getting ready to interview you, it occurred to me only in the last like hour and half, this is not our first time talking. You actually interviewed me on your MSNBC show, back when Melania had plagiarized Michelle Obama. And I remember getting a DM from you that day and it was like, “Oh my gosh, you’ve made this morning very interesting. Can you come on television at 11 o’clock?” [Tamron chuckles.] And I was like, “WHAT?! Tamron Hall is in my DMs!” And I was like freaking out. It was a very, very fun day. But you were—you were really great to me, and I really appreciated that. So, I’m excited to kind of turn the tables this time and get to talk to you about your work.

tamron

You know what, I appreciate that. And I still do reach out directly to guests. It’s a very important component, I think, in booking interesting people. And for me, I do that same thing. In fact, there’s a competitive booking that I am pursuing right now for my daytime talk show, and I scheduled a Zoom with the person’s representative. And I got on the Zoom, outside of my son’s preschool class. And when they turned on the camera, it was me and the individual said, “Oh! I wasn’t expecting Tamron Hall!” [Jarrett laughs.] And I said, “Well, yeah! You know, this is a—this is a competitive booking! I’m going to compete!” And explained why. [Jarrett agrees.] I personally believe that the guest should come on and speak with me, so I often will go into the DMs. I know they say—as the song, “It goes down in the DMs.” [Jarrett agrees.] [Chuckling.] It does! And you have to make that—it’s hand-to-hand combat, getting compelling people like yourself, interesting, competitive guests. And so, I don’t take that for granted. That touchstone is something that I love doing. Our season two, I’ve already launched into the interview, and you only asked one question—our season two of the daytime talk show—you know, I personally called Andrew Gillum and his wife, R. Jai, to pursue that interview. Because I knew that if we were going to get him to openly talk with me and include his wife, that that meant I had to call.

jarrett

Well, and I mean I love that you’ve kind of taken it that direction, ‘cause I’m excited for this new book that you’ve written. It’s called As the Wicked Watch. And as we’re talking about this, I’m thinking about it through the lens of you being a journalist. Right? You are a career journalist who has that experience of like reaching out, making the phone call yourself, and really being engaged in the process of talking to folks about what’s going on in their lives. And so, as you arrive at this book, I’m really curious like where did this book begin for you? What was like the inception of this idea?

tamron

Well, the story goes back to 1997. I was a reporter in Dallas, Fort Worth, in my last month of working there, and I’d just been called—I actually worked for a station in Chicago, and I covered the death of an 11-year-old girl in rural Texas. And fast forward a short few months later, I was outside of a field on the southside of Chicago, covering the death of an 11-year-old girl. In Texas, the young girl was White. In Chicago, she was Black. And they both, in different ways, had been—in my opinion—wronged by the system, wronged by adults. Even wronged by the coverage, to be honest with you. And here we are, and it actually is so incredible to be speaking about my book, as there is a great debate on social media right now on the very topic that inspired the book. Which is who gets to be the headline when you’re the victim of crime, when you go missing. And we’re seeing that debate play out right now with a heartbreaking case in the news. And so, this book had been burning in me since 1997 and those two cases that had left me with great sadness and frustration and confusion and I felt trapped as a journalist, in so many ways of having to play it straight and not being able to be a human while covering these two stories. And then, I lost my own sister a few years after to an unsolved crime. And suddenly, in 2000—late 2000—I found myself hosting a show called Deadline: Crime that put me in intimate rooms with survivors of violence or family members who lost someone to violence. And so, I had this weird journey—and I don’t know if the word is “weird”, but that’s the one that comes to mind—that seemed to put me in these spaces and places and rooms with crime. And I—during the pandemic—shot my daytime show at home like the rest of everyone. I was on an iPad, and I turned one of my son’s baby monitors into a camera. I mean, we really used everything in our house. [Jarrett chuckles.] There was a bandwidth challenge. My husband was not allowed to get on the phone. We had lockdown of a different type with bandwidth, and I never knew what bandwidth was until I ran into this situation trying to do the show from my home. So, on the weekends I’m still a early riser—as you pointed out—I’ve been doing this for 30 years and 25 of it, morning television, so I naturally wake up at 5AM-ish. And so, on Saturdays, I started to write this novel and create this character, Jordan Manning. And in many ways, she allowed me to exorcise some of the frustration of covering crime, some of the heartbreak, and the challenges as well as give the reader a glimpse into the newsroom and the conversations that, in many cases, surround who gets to be seen as a victim and who gets the empathy of the public and how the reporters and the networks position that.

jarrett

It is wild that we’re having this conversation about your book in this time where we do have this case where there is a missing girl. And the case is very tragic, obviously. Right? We never wanna see this happen to someone. But then you also ask the question of like, “How many other Black girls are missing?” Right? And how many have we never heard their names? And I think this is a common thing with Black women, even if we’re talking about—through the perspective of like police violence against Black women. Right? Like we often hear the names of the Black men, but we don’t hear the names of the Black women. To pivot a little bit but staying there—you are a part of a really growing community of Black women that have important, large platforms that are getting to really tell important stories. Talk to me about what that is like. What kind of responsibility is foisted upon you and what kind do you take on, having that kind of responsibility?

tamron

Well, I just celebrated my 51st birthday. Shoutout to the over 50 crowd. It’s not as bad as you think. And, um—

jarret

[Chuckles.] You’re using a really good moisturizer, let me tell you. ‘Cause it is working!

tamron

Aaah! Listen! [Laughs.] Thank you! I’ll tell you, it’s interesting because I—as a child, I remember sitting with my father, watching the local news. My stepdad raised me and he’s the dad I say that God meant for me to have. He met my mother. He was 25 years older than my mother. She was his third wife. He’d served in the military for nearly 30 years and had come into our lives and was the dad of my dreams, if you will. The dad I wished that I had to take me to track meets and all of these things. In addition to being that type of dad, we watched the evening news all the time. That was our ritual. We watched the news; I grew up watching the news. I was news junkie, as a kid. A young woman. And I remember my dad turning to me when I came home with a whole report card of Cs and he said, as he was looking at this woman on television, “If you would get your grades up, you could be her.” And she was Iola Johnson. And she was the first Black woman to anchor the news in Dallas, Fort Worth. WFAA at the time was a storied ABC station. And so, Iola Johnson, Clarice Tinsley, there’s so many—Diann Burns, in Chicago. Allison Payne, who just passed away. Right? I remember with my dad, watching WGN—it was a superstation. And so, we would watch WGN news, ‘cause we were like, “Let’s see what’s happening in Chicago!” [Jarrett chuckles.] ‘Cause a Black kid in Texas, that was like the middle—that’s where you really learn what Black people were going through! Let’s go watch the news in Chicago! And then we watched a Buddy Guy show at night. And Buddy Guy would do the blues and we’d end our night with WGN. And so, watching Allison Payne and that generation of Black women anchoring the news in major, top 50 markets, they were pioneers. And so, now, going back to the core of your question—myself, Julianne Reed, you know, Jamele Hill, the list goes on and on and I don’t wanna leave anybody—

jarrett

Tiffany Cross. And—yeah.

tamron

Tiffany Cross, who’s my beloved friend and I adore Tiffany. This next generation of women who said, “Okay. We’ve learned that if you don’t quit this job, it will quit you.” ‘Cause they’re not eternal, right? You know. And what is our next play? When they come to us and say, “Weeell, we’re not gonna give you the contract. Or we’re gonna diminish your role.” Back in the day, it was, “Oh, I remember so-and-so! I saw her at the Target! She still looked good! You know, she was on channel—what’s that channel?” [Jarrett laughs.] You know, that was the conversation. “Whatever happened to her?! Oh, I ran into her at the grocery store. She still looked good! What is she doing now?” “I don’t know. Real estate. Something like that.” You know. And so, I think I’m a part of this group of women who saw the expiration date. Sometimes that comes far too fast for women and certainly women of color. Because I—I’ll tell you, I replaced the same, Black reporter—female—in three different markets. Three times.

jarrett

Wait, the same person?

tamron

The same person. I replaced her three times. [Jarrett reacts with shock.] And so, it was always a one for one. Right? [Jarrett affirms.] I would go in and you knew that you were not replacing the White guy or the White woman. And if there was one Black woman, you knew you were replacing her. They might have you there at the same time for a short period of time, but you were gonna go.

jarrett

Overlapping contracts kind of situation? [Tamron confirms.] To where it’s gonna ease one out and ease one in. Yeah.

tamron

100%. 100. And I had walked that walk many times, going into newsrooms around the country who’d brought me in to interview me. Obviously this was before I made it to the national news. And you’d see like, oh, there was that one news anchor at noon who was African American. Or the weekend. And you were likely being groomed to replace them. And so, I grew up with—watching some that had made it to this mountaintop of Black women, like Iola and Diann and all of these other great women who weren’t national, but they were local heroes. And they were more important than whoever was on national. And then, you realize that their careers were ended far too soon, or they didn’t have the opportunity to be on the national network shows, because they were all White males in the evening news and there was a formula of morning news. And it didn’t include a Black woman, hence the reason why I became the first Black woman in 60 years of The Today Show, to anchor the weekday.

jesse

Lots more still to come with Tamron Hall after the break. Stay with us. It’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

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jesse

Support for this podcast and the following message come from Green Chef. Green Chef is the first USDA certified organic meal kit. So, you can enjoy handpicked organic veggies and premium proteins without having to worry about where they came from. Enjoy new and nutritious recipes each week that are perfect for you and the whole family. Go to GreenChef.com/bullseye100 and use code “bullseye100” to get $100 off, including free shipping. [Music fades out.]

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jesse

Welcome back to Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. If you’re just joining us, our guest is Tamron Hall. She’s a veteran TV host and journalist. She currently has her own daytime talk show called Tamron Hall. You can catch it on most ABC stations. She’s also the author of a brand-new mystery novel. As the Wicked Watch follows a Chicago journalist who tries to crack the case of two murdered girls. You can buy it now at your local bookstore. Hall is being interviewed by our correspondent, Jarrett Hill. Jarrett also cohosts the Max Fun podcast FANTI. Let’s get back into their conversation.

jarrett

There are two things that you touched on that I really wanted to unpack a little bit, because your book is about a Black woman journalist who is covering these difficult stories. But you talked about having replaced the same Black woman three times and I think that—as a Black man in this business, I know that conversation I’ve had with my agent about like, “Yeah, they already have a Black guy. I know that they’re not gonna do that.” Right? Or, “They’ve—you know, they’ve got two Black people on that show. There’s no way that there’s gonna be another one.” And then to hear you say that you’ve replaced the same Black woman three times going to different places— Can you talk to me a little bit about the challenge that you feel or the difficulty of like having to go in and be the first or be the only? It’s a really interesting dynamic that I don’t think people oftentimes think about if they’re not in it.

tamron

You know, it is an interesting dynamic because—for example, at—when I first filled in on NBC nightly news—and I don’t even remember how my name got pulled from the lot. I filled in and it was a weekend, but it was nightly news. And someone in the building sent me a note—one of the career employees that had been there for many, many years, and said, “I think you might be the first Black woman to have ever filled in on NBC nightly news. [Jarrett reacts with shock.] And I thought, “What?!” I couldn’t—I was speechless! Right? And the same thing happened with The Today Show. And it was a really interesting crossroad moment, Jarrett. Because I thought, “Well, I don’t want that to be the headline!” Right? About me getting—I’m the first one. I want them to say, “After, you know, ten years of working hard and getting this and doing this, she got it!” But the headline was, in some cases, “The First Black Woman to Anchor or Host The Today Show Weekday.” And I learned to—I never did not accept it, but I was worried it left opportunity for people to discredit why I was there. [Jarrett hums in understanding.] And I’ll be very transparent with you about this: it harkened back to how I started there. At the time, the news director—or the—I guess they call him the, uh—the—I don’t even know what to call him at the network level—the president of news!—had reached out to me to join MSNBC. And this was around the Don Imus time. And what people didn’t know at the time, I had already been in dialogue to join MSNBC with the assurance that I would be brought in to be a part of The Today Show in some capacity. I wasn’t offered an anchor job, but I’d be used on The Today Show. Which is, you know, the holy grail. And I came in. I started negotiating. I was the host of a morning show in Chicago for ten years—a four-hour morning show that was doing very well and I was doing very well and very happy but looking for a new challenge. Again, being transparent, I said to my mother, “I don’t have a boyfriend. I don’t have any prospects of getting married. I don’t have a child. Nothing is holding me here, Mom. I’ve done it all in Chicago. Am I not supposed to take my shot?” And this was pre—you know, Lin-Manuel, “Not giving away my shot.”

jarrett

I was gonna say, before Hamilton was saying that. Yeah.

tamron

This was before Hamilton! I was saying, “I’m not giving away my shot!” Now, it wasn’t the opportunity that I’d envisioned. I thought I was gonna come in as a fill-in news reader or something on The Today Show. But they said, “Here’s what we have. We have a spot at MSNBC, and you can join the day part version of MSNBC.” I agreed to take the job and join with the hope of being able to build my career from there. I remember going on a blog when it was announced and—this was—‘cause Twitter started around 2008, so it was—we weren’t all into tweets at that point. This was a blog of some sort. And it called me “Token Hall”, in reference to my being hired— [Jarrett sighs heavily.] —and connection with Don Imus. I had already been hired before Don Imus! But the person who wrote it didn’t know it! And it infiltrated my heart, my mind, and my soul. So, then when I become the first Black woman to host The Today Show, I don’t want it even in the headlines! Not because I’m not proud of it. Not because I didn’t want it to be a source of inspiration. But because the first thing I thought about was, “Token Hall is now joining because they have to put her there. Because they must be in trouble about something.” Versus, “She’s brought in great energy, great work. She does great reporting and—” Whatever the resume presented, which I believe was a good one, [chuckles] and a great case for it! Instantly, in that moment, I chose to think about Token Hall. [Jarrett hums sadly.] And shrink myself down and my accomplishments and what this meant for the next generation of journalists to see that.

jarrett

I think that’s such an interesting thing, because we also always hear—from Black folks—the conversation about having to be twice as good to get half as far. So, then to have to be extraordinary and then to get it and then to be reduced down to, “Well, you only got it because—” Right? “Because you’re Black. Because they—Don Imus said some things about Black women that were terrible.” When the truth was, you know, “I’m killing it over here. For ten years!” [Tamron agrees with a laugh.] Right?! And like—

tamron

In Chicago! I’m kind of—you know, I’m kind of doing things! [Jarrett agrees.] You might not live here, but—you know! [They laugh.] You might wanna—

jarrett

“I’m a baddie! Do you see me?!” [Tamron laughs.] Like, “I still look good!” [They laugh.] Right, right. No, I mean, that’s an interesting thing, because it’s so frustrating and painful. I’ve been really intrigued lately by the unique effect of the impostor syndrome on Black folks. And I think that when we think about Black people and our engagement with impostor syndrome kinds of feelings, it’s not just internal. Right? Like, there are so many markers that are external that are telling us that we don’t belong here. And we’re believing it ourselves. Right? [Tamron agrees.] And so, to hear that, it breaks my heart and I fully understand what that moment is, because it’s not an exciting thing all the time to have to be the first and to be reduced to that. So, I get that.

tamron

Yeah. Yeah, and it is! It’s a—it’s a—it’s a battle. And this is probably the most I’ve ever talked about it, honestly, outside of my family circle. Because I had a fear that the story then would be misused! “Oh! She wasn’t proud to be the first Black woman!” Or, “She didn’t want people to know!” And I’m like, “Well, how could you not know? Have you seen me?” [Jarrett agrees.] [Chuckling.] You know, it’s like—and so, it’s that—it’s an interesting dynamic. But I’ll tell you, after I left The Today Show and the two years of building my daytime talk show, I was on the speaking circuit, and I so I was doing a lot of speeches about domestic violence and surviving it and what I had learned through the death of my sister. And so, that became the thing that filled my soul and nourished me while creating the talk show. And I was at an event and they—you know, they read the bio before you go to the lectern or whatever. And someone said, [whispering] “Should we take out that you were at The Today Show?” And I said, “You better not! I earned that spot! I earned that spot.” [Jarrett laughs and agrees.] And I forever will be proud that I was a part of the most storied morning show in history and that I was there and that I—I pray that I represented Black people well but represented journalism well and that I showed why I left with student debt from Temple University. [Laughs.] Why—

jarrett

Hello! C’mon!

tamron

[Laughing.] Why I did it! It’s like—and so, I embraced it all. And it taught me a lot. I’ve learned something at every spot and every stop of this journey, including why I was meant to be there and why it wasn’t meant to last.

jarrett

Yeah. I said you’d mentioned two things that I wanted to touch on. One was replacing the same Black woman. The second was The Today Show. And I—I wasn’t exactly sure how to talk about The Today Show, but you feel like you’re pretty open about it and I would love to talk to you about it, because I think that—when we’re talking about being Black, we’re talking about being a journalist, being a Black woman journalist—I know for a lot of Black folks that saw what happened to you at Today—and I’ll speak for myself. I was upset about it. Right? [Tamron chuckles.] I was like, “Oh, no they didn’t!” Right? And I was upset about it, and I remember hearing that you’d gotten a talk show and like, [shouting] “Did y’all hear about Tamron?! Did you hear about the show, though?!” [Tamron laughs with delight.] You know? Like, I was so excited for you, because I felt like you had been wronged in so many like very specific ways. And we don’t have to use other people’s names that were involved. [Tamron confirms.] But I am curious about the conversation you were having with yourself as you saw this getting ready to happen and then how you made the decision of what you wanted to do?

tamron

Well, honestly, I wish it was a strategic, beautiful plan that I had. You know, the reboot. It wasn’t. It was what my mother did as a 19-year-old single mom coming home with a baby. She figured it out. It’s what my grandfather, who had a second-grade education, could not read, who signed his name with an ‘X’, who nearly lost his land because of a shady insurance dealer who went into little, small towns—which happened all across the country—and preyed upon the poor and the Black. And had them sign over the mineral rights to his home with an ‘X’. He figured it out. He figured out how to raise his family after his wife died and how to keep his dignity, where he was the barbeque pit man who handed out the sandwiches at the people at the gas station. And still, on Sunday, had his Stacy Adams on and his beautiful felt hat that was crisp and clean. [Jarrett affirms several times.] And got in his green Buick and drove to his Methodist church. He figured it out! And so, I figured it out. I knew that—again, going back to the earlier part of our conversation—was that I am my backup plan. I didn’t have and don’t have a trust fund. I didn’t have millions in the bank. So, what was I going to do? Was I going to be, “Oh! Remember her?” Or was I going to figure it out? And so, the plan included, “What had I done? What was my weapon?” Well, I’ve been on—at one point in time, I believe it was four or five shows on seven networks. And so, let me map this out for you. So, The Today Show airs at the same time around the country. I was on the 9 o’clock hour of The Today Show. I would run over to MSNBC and was on at 11 o’clock. There were some days that The Today Show third hour was on, I’m live on MSNBC. So, now we’re in California time. And then Deadline: Crime would run a marathon. And then Sister Wives, which is another show I hosted, was on. You could turn on—or get one of those big boards. It would be The Today Show, up. I was live on MSNBC. I was taped on Deadline: Crime. Taped on Sister Wives. And then I might be on an appearance on Dr. Oz. So, there I was on multiple shows at the same time! And nobody else was doing it. And nobody noticed. There were no articles about me saying—you know, the hardest working woman in showbusiness! Like—oh, I think there was one. [They laugh.] That no one read. But you know, I didn’t have a PR team pushing out that story. I was just putting my head down and doing the work and taking the gigs that—we have to take multiple gigs to show our versatility and our diversity and to equal the income of our peers. [Jarrett affirms.] Because we talk about economic disparities and it’s hard to talk about it in the context of TV, because there are people who make millions of dollars and you can’t fuss about, “Well, I had a hundred-thousand-dollar contract, and they had a million.” ‘Cause like, you should be lucky to have the hundreds of thousands! But you’re like, “Wait a minute—” But very few are making, you know, this kind of money other than a certain type of television personality. News personality.

tamron

So, anyway—so, there I was with these multiple shows, and I said, “Okay, I have an audience that liked me on The Today Show.” So, let’s call that audience middle America, which I don’t like that phrase ‘cause I always tell people Chicago and Detroit are middle America, and when you say that phrase you’re not talking about those cities. And that’s middle America. And so, we know that’s kind of code. So, middle America, Today Show, if you will. MSNBC, that’s coastal. Right? Then Deadline: Crime. No one who was watching Deadline: Crime—I felt—was watching MSNBC. In fact, when I would go home to Texas, they didn’t even know I was on MSNBC. They were like, “That’s the crime lady.” [Jarrett chuckles.] So, in my rural Texas, I was the crime lady there. And then you have an audience that watched Sister Wives. And then you would see an audience of people who liked my fashion and followed me on social media for my clothes and all of that. I’m a tree and my branches are many! How do I bring this diverse group of people who, when I’m in Harlem, a Black woman says, “Go get ‘em, Tamron!” Just like you just said. “We not—listen, we’re mad for you!” And then I went to Little Rock, Arkansas, and this woman from central casting—I mean, white pearls, southern belle—said, [with a southern accent], “Go get ‘em, Tamra.” She had never watched MSNBC; I promise you that! [Jarrett laughs.] So! I thought let me pull in these very different audiences who enjoy me—all of them being authentic version of me, but not one definition. Because that’s also what happens to people of color and women and Black folks in the media. We become one thing. We’re gonna call you when Trevon Martin was killed, but we’re not gonna call you about another story. So, you’re only useful when the topic is Black, not in both. So, I—here in front of me—had these opportunities to build an organic audience with people who enjoyed different aspects of my work. How do we turn this into something? And that’s how it really started. So, that’s what I was thinking. I wasn’t—I couldn’t be mad, because I was trying to win. And what did winning look like? It looked like me getting up off the ground and me doing what Iola Johnson did for me, for others. To say, “They don’t get to end your presence.” And so, Iola Johnson did for me—she showed me by example without knowing my name until I was in my 30s that I had a chance to meet her in person. And so, I wanted to think about all of the next generation of journalists who think, “My gosh! If that can happen to Tamron Hall, what chance do I have?” Because I remember having an agent tell me, “There’s no way they’re gonna let go of a Black woman for a White woman. It doesn’t happen.” I fired. So, that is— [They laugh.]

jarrett

I was like, “I’m sorry, whaaat?”

tamron

Yeah! Because he thought like, “Nooo! You know, people understand that you need to—” And I was like—that was an actual conversation that happened. Not my current agent, I promise you that. But—and I didn’t wanna be kept just ‘cause I was Black. I wanted to be kept because I was doing a good job! I didn’t want them to be afraid of an HR complaint. I wanted them to understand and recognize that I was of value to the viewer and to their company. But by the way, that’s okay.

jarrett

I’m intrigued by that. I think that you’ve got such an interesting story that really kind of spans so much time, but also so much—so many different kinds of experience that makes you such a unique voice for a talk show. And one of the things I was really curious with, when you were taking on this show and now you’re in your third season—finally got an audience back, which is great. [Chuckles.] And I’m sure, like—right, as a host, I know how much different it feels with no audience. [Tamron agrees.] But I’m really curious, how are you approaching your show differently in such a crowded media landscape? When daytime talk shows are having such a difficult time to connect with audiences and to stay on. And you’re doing it quite well! [Tamron thanks him.] But like how are you approaching it differently?

tamron

Well, I try to talk about the things you’re talking about. You know? I know that that’s a catchphrase for the show, but that actually came up in a conversation. That’s how it became the catchphrase for the show. I was talking with someone, and I said, “Look, I love variety TV. I love to laugh. I love fun. But what we learn from traditional television, daytime—whether it was Mike Douglas, obviously the great Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue—is that they talked to people—one of my favorite episodes of the Mike Douglas Show was Ali and Sly from Sly and the Family Stone talking about, at that time, this White supremacist. And they’re on this, you know, yuckety yuck show and they are getting in it. And so, for me, you know, the first season of the show—where was I in my life? I’d just had a baby, so I wanted to talk about mommy stuff, baby stuff, and warm the audience up to me. Right? Because that’s what you do when you sit down to meet someone for the first time. And for many people in daytime, they were just meeting me for the first time. It’s a different audience than where I lived in morning TV and in cable. So, I came in really authentically being, “Hey! Here I am! Hi! Tamron from Luling. You might have heard about me! You might have heard I lost that job. Well, that’s not the whole story. So, let’s talk about it.” And so, that was the first section of the show. Then the pandemic happened. So, we had to pivot to the shows from home. And then George Floyd was assassinated. So, then that was my first—outside of COVID—opportunity to tell this side of my journey and have a show called Hear Us Now, where we heard from all of these young people. And I said, “I don’t wanna book anyone over 40. And I wanna process this through their lens.” And so that then became the news Tamron and all of this version of me that I think people appreciate and I can give a interview and talk about these substantive—so-called substantive things. I think anything can be substantive—and bring that. And now, season three, I had a list of celebrities that we could talk to—like you. We can find a book or an author or anything. And I said, “Everywhere I go, people are talking about two things: the mask mandates and critical race. And half the people don’t even know what critical race means.” And what is the through line? And in all my years of reporting, I have not seen people go to physical blows in front of children at schoolboard meetings. It harkened back to the fights we would see with the conversation over integrating schools. Right? And I’m like, “This is kind of the same visual! These people are punching people over kids wearing masks and the boogieman of teaching race in school has become real.” And I’m so confused, because I grew up in Texas and in the sixth grade, I learned about the Holocaust—lifechanging moment of empathy and understanding of another group. How did Texas teach that and now they don’t even wanna talk about Japanese internment? You know, all of these things. And when did we become afraid of teaching history and talking about race? ‘Cause that skipped me. We wouldn’t be here if the fear level of this kind existed.

tamron

So, I was compelled to kick off the season with this conversation. But the challenge of the difference is the version that would’ve happened on The Today Show, perhaps. Because you have to play, you know, both sides here. This is one side, one side [trails off]. Or on MSNBC, where you’re like okay, I know if I don’t ask these fire questions, people gonna tell me to do my job—which they love saying. [Laughs.] The cable news crowd loves telling you to do your job. Okay.

jarrett

Right, and which question you didn’t ask. Exactly, yes.

tamron

[Laughing.] Right! They will light you up like the fourth of July. And you feel the pressure to go in ready! Right? And then there’s the daytime version of this conversation. Which, again, harkens back to Oprah going to that county that would not—

jarrett

Forsyth County. I was thinking about that as you said that, yeah.

tamron

Forsyth County would not let Black people buy in that county. You know, Phil Donahue—and as I said, you know, when Yoko Ono and John Lennon filled in on the Mike Douglas Show and talked about what they were—so, harkening back to some of that TV that I obsessed over, now we’re ready. And no one’s doing it in daytime. Because we did and networks did heavily invest—and probably rightfully so—in the fun. The lighter fare. The games and all of that, which I watch, and I love. But no one was occupying this lane! And it was one that was a natural fit and comfortable for me to do. But how do you have it in daytime? Where you’re not neck snapping somebody and where you’re not easily painted as the angry Black woman. Right? ‘Cause now I’m in daytime, where affable matters, but sometimes you just gotta be honest. And I don’t have to play both sides. So, I was able to say, respectfully, to one of our guests—who had seemingly threatened, and I think post people and reasonable minds would have interpreted his words as a threat, outside of the schoolboard meeting in Florida, where he said, “You won’t be able to show your face in public.” I don’t know how else to process this. Turns out, he didn’t have a kid and—in the district or at all! And he’s outside in near brawls saying he was against the mask mandate. So, the daytime version of me, I am able to say to him, “You are 100% wrong.” And I don’t have to say, “I respect your opinion.” Because I don’t. But I can still ask him questions without demanding that he relent, or he say I’m right. I can just ask it! And the audience at home can clearly see.

jesse

We’ll wrap up with Tamron Hall in just a bit. When we return from our break, Tamron tells us what she learned about herself while she was writing the characters in her new novel, As the Wicked Watch. It’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

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Music: Light, rhythmic keyboard over drums plays in background. Tre’vell Anderson: Hey there, beautiful people! Did you hear that good, good news? Jarrett Hill: Something about the baby Jesus? Tre’vell: Mm-hm! He’s coming back! [Laughs.] Jarrett: Or—do you mean the fact that Apple Podcasts has named FANTI one of the best shows of 2020? Tre’vell: I mean, we already knew that we was hot stuff, but a little external validation never hurts. Okay? Jarrett: [Through laughter] Hosted by me, writer and journalist Jarrett Hill. Tre’vell: And me, the ebony enchantress myself— [Jarrett laughs.] Tre’vell: —Tre’vell Anderson. Jarrett: FANTI is your home for complex conversations about the grey areas in our lives; the people, places, and things we’re huge fans of but got some anti feelings toward. Tre’vell: You name it, we FANTI it. Nobody’s off-limits. Jarrett: Check us out every Thursday on MaximumFun.org or wherever you get your slay-worthy audio. [Music ends.]

music

Thumpy rock music.

jesse

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. You’re listening to Jarrett Hill’s conversation with Tamron Hall. Hall has her own eponymous daytime talk show. She’s also the author of a brand-new novel, a murder mystery called As the Wicked Watch. Let’s get back into their conversation.

jarrett

I know that we’re getting short on time, so I wanna make sure to talk a little bit more about Jordan. [Tamron affirms.] So, Jordan Manning is the character that you have imagined, dreamed up, and written for your first novel here, As the Wicked Watch. And I just wanna know—first things first, where did you find Jordan? Because Jordan is not Tamron, right? [Tamron confirms.] But like tell me about finding Jordan and how much of Tamron is in Jordan.

tamron

She wasn’t hard to find, because I created this character based on experiences in the newsroom. When I went in to pitch this book, I didn’t know how it would be received and I was stunned that, after a few meetings, everyone I met with wanted to buy the book. They wanted to back the book. And I think it’s because she is a protagonist like we’ve not seen before. As I said, she is a little bit of Nancy Drew meets Angela Bassett when she throws the flame and burns up the house in Waiting to Exhale. [Chuckles.]

jarrett

It is trash. [Laughs.]

tamron

Trash! And a little of Carrie Bradshaw, even, as we get ready for a new Sex in the City right now. And so, she—and myself!—but she’s also different people, not just women but people that I’ve seen and encountered in this business. So, her name—Jordan Manning. The book is based in Chicago. Michael Jordan. And what is the counter to Michael Jordan? The Mannings. You know, so that’s where her name—‘cause I wanted her to always have a yin and yang. So, basketball-football. Black-White. You know. The storied African American, you know, player who people fell in love with some days, didn’t like for others ‘cause they felt that he didn’t speak up enough and now we’re back—all of these things. And then the Mannings. Like, where— So, this counter-story is why I picked the name. She was easy for me to follow because I followed her, really. I followed whatever came to my mind as I was writing on Saturday mornings with my coffee. I still make my coffee. I’m a Starbucks person when I’m really down, but most of the time I make my own coffee. I’m very old-school that way. And I sit at home and write. And so, her story really starts in Texas, where she’s from and where I happen to be from, but very different backgrounds and different journeys. But I believe, for me, it’s more about her forensic scientist side. She studied forensics and she has that knowledgebase that I did not have, as a journalist. And she incorporates that in reporting it. And she doesn’t even know if she really wants to be a reporter! She ends up here and people keep telling her she’s really good at it and that she could go places—maybe the network. But she’s one of one, in that room. And so, following her through this case—the hard part has been marketing the book! Selling it! Meaning: doing these interviews like this! Right? I’m used to doing the interview! I am not used to being interviewed! So, Jordan poured from my soul. She resolved some things that I had issues within the newsroom in a way that she can. She asks the question, “Why is this young, Black girl’s disappearance not the headline?” And gets into a confrontation. I wish I could have. You know? And so, she’s able to go in these spaces and places that I could not. And I feel that that was the effortless part. And I know everyone talks about writing and I’m sure it is very hard and the second one probably will be very difficult for me, but there were so many things, Jarrett, inside of me that I’ve witnessed as a journalist, as a crime reporter, that I feel that it helped me create this world of truth for this person who was really and is really seeking it.

jarrett

What did Jordan teach Tamron?

tamron

She taught me not to wear stilettos anymore, because she constantly complains about her feet hurting while trying to report out— [They laugh.] A lot of—there are a lot of—

jarrett

Not the answer I was expecting! But I’ll take it. [Giggles.]

tamron

Right! A looot of times, she’s in ending up in stilettos after being out reporting all day long on the pavement and her feet start to hurt and she wonders why is it she didn’t wear sneakers. Men are in their flats, you know, their little shoes, reporting man shoes I guess you’d call them. [They laugh.]

jarrett

Man shoes!

tamron

Female reporters are—women reporters are in these stilettos all day long. And that is even something, you know, to be discussed. I used to tell people, if I wore the same dress in a month, I’d be just—"What are you thinking?! You wore that dress—!” You know, men in this business who, in many cases make way more than their female counterparts, have one suit and two ties. And he gets to save his money for a boat or whatever. A trip to Aspen. And women in this business have to exhaust our—people think I—listen, I get loaner clothes now. I’m in daytime TV. I’m in entertainment. [Jarrett affirms.] That is not the case in news! And so, it’s a little different. But no, she—that is the thing that I wish I had done different. [Chuckles.] That Jordan said, “My feet hurt! I am not wearing these stilettos on the side of this crime scene all day long.”

jarrett

That is such an answer from a fashionista journalist. [Tamron laughs.] I love that answer so much. Tamron Hall, I’m really excited to have gotten to spend this time with you. I really hope that everyone goes out and buys the book. The book is called As the Wicked Watch: The First Jordan Manning Novel, from Tamron Hall—Emmy award-winning journalist with the Emmy sitting right there behind her on the set, letting us all know what it is and what time it is. [Tamron laughs.] We appreciate it, Tamron. Thank you so much. [Music fades in.]

tamron

Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

music

Relaxed, thumpy synth.

jesse

Tamron Hall. As we said before, her debut novel is As the Wicked Watch. You can buy it online or at your local bookstore. You can also watch her show on most ABC stations. Our thanks to our correspondent, Jarrett Hill, for interviewing Tamron. Alongside Tre’vell Anderson, Jarrett hosts the Max Fun podcast FANTI. Every week, he and Tre’vell give their funny and smart take on all of the nuanced and complicated stuff in today’s culture—which is, nowadays, an inexhaustible source of content. [Music fades out.]

music

Bright, brassy music.

jesse

That’s the end of another episode of Bullseye. Bullseye is created from the homes of me and the staff of Maximum Fun, in and around greater Los Angeles, California—where, [laughing] here—here at my house, a tree fell on it. Um. Not the whole tree, but a giant branch. Oh, by the way! Here’s a fun fact! When a giant branch falls off a tree, it totally makes the like sound that a tree falling over in a movie makes. That crackling, cracking sound is exactly what it sounds like in real life. Our show is produced by speaking into microphones. Our senior producer is Kevin Ferguson. Our producer is Jesus Ambrosio. Production fellows at Maximum Fun are Richard Robey and Valerie Moffat. We get help from Casey O’Brien, as well. Our interstitial music is by Dan Wally, also known as DJW. Our theme song is called “Huddle Formation”, recorded by the group The Go! Team. Thanks to them and to their label, Memphis Industries, for sharing it with us. You can also keep up with our show on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We post our interviews in all of those places. And I think that’s about it. Just remember: all great radio hosts have a signature signoff.

promo

Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

About the show

Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

Bullseye has been featured in Time, The New York Times, GQ and McSweeney’s, which called it “the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world.” Since April 2013, the show has been distributed by NPR.

If you would like to pitch a guest for Bullseye, please CLICK HERE. You can also follow Bullseye on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. For more about Bullseye and to see a list of stations that carry it, please click here.

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