Deborah Norville: What is the gift for 20 years? It's probably not very good. Wait, I know this, because I just had my 20th wedding anniversary. It's porcelain. So maybe we'll have celebratory china made in honor of our grand achievement here.
TVGuide.com: That sort of longevity in the broadcasting industry is a grand achievement. Why has the show been able to maintain over the years?
Norville: I think we've always been on the balls of our feet. Like when you play tennis, if you're flat-footed, you're not going to make a good shot. We stay on the balls of our feet and we change quickly. If you look at the shows when we came on the air — the syndicated newsmagazines — they all went away. Hard Copy, A Current Affair, American Journal stayed in what I call the "beach-blanket-bingo mode" for way too long. Inside Edition realized that the gotcha-celebrity stuff had run its course. I think that's why I was brought in from the networks, from a CBS newsmagazine and the Today show, because that had credibility and they wanted to get away from the T&A stories and beach-blanket-bingo stuff to concentrate more resources on consumer stories, investigative work and personal stories of people who've had challenges and triumphs.
TVGuide.com: Basically, not going overboard with tabloid-style celebrity news has been the key.
Norville: The critical thing is to present the viewer with a story that has some degree of realness. We have to do the celebrity stuff. Everybody has to do that. Look at how [TV Guide] changed three years ago. [It] looks like People magazine, but [it's] still in business. The audience has a voracious appetite for celebrity news, but it can be satisfied with hors d'oeuvres. You don't need to serve up three-course meals of the stuff. Other shows do that with varying degrees of success. That's not what we do. We'll give you a tidbit about Britney Spears or her stupid sister or whatever nitwit of the day is making headlines and you'll be up to speed on the trash, but you won't feel you've wallowed in it and therefore have to wash.
TVGuide.com: You've always been critical of the heavy media coverage devoted to the Britney Spears and Paris Hiltons and Lindsay Lohans of the world....
Norville: Look out the window! Look at what's going on in our world! Right now, there's a very important election going on. This is a critical decision that each of your readers and our viewers has to make. So yeah, Jamie Lynn Spears is deciding what she has to do about a baby, but we're keeping an eye on the candidates and what they're talking about. Dare I say it, but we may even talk a little about the issues.
TVGuide.com: That sounds refreshing. So what's the most memorable story you've ever covered for the show?
Norville: The week they sent me to be an inmate at the Davidson County Jail in North Carolina was by far the most memorable story. It was not my idea. I did not volunteer and I resisted mightily, but when I have to do something I want to do it well. It was in 2000 and at that time the incarceration rate in local jails was increasing at a rate of nine percent a year. So I was put in Cellblock A in a 12-by-16 common room. There was one picnic table, a communal shower and three individual stalls that had two bunks a piece. At one point, there were as many as 14 people in there, which meant eight girls were "sleeping on the beach," as they put it.
TVGuide.com: How did they protect you in that environment?
Norville: They couldn't. That was the other thing. I know they hired me for my stellar writing skills and incredible repartee, but I'd like to think my face has something to do with it. Needless to say, it was a bit of a negotiation, but I eventually got an insurance policy and Inside Edition agreed to have a guard on their payroll, getting paid overtime to be in the cellblock with me 24-7. I felt a little better about that, because the women in there were the toughest bunch of broads you'd ever seen in your life.
TVGuide.com: You're celebrating your 30th year in broadcasting. What is the one piece of advice you'd give your younger self if you could go back to when you were starting out?
Norville: The only advice I'd give her is the same advice I give to everybody — trust your gut. Listen to your intuition. I'd probably want to give Deb the intern a heads-up about the whole Today show thing, but you're not allowed to, because that alters history. I wrote a book called Back on Track after all that happened, and Chapter 8 is titled, "The Experts Aren't." The Titanic was built by experts. The experts aren't always right. When the experts at NBC told me to let them handle the press silliness when I succeeded Jane Pauley, they put a gag order on me. The only thing I would've done differently is speak up for myself and trust my gut. The net result was that I got kicked out of the job. So if you're a reasonably well-educated, well-informed individual and your ethics are pure, your intuition will guide you. That's probably what I'd tell a young Deborah or anybody starting their career.
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