Tamron Hall Wants to Put the "Talk" Back in Daytime Talk Shows
It's been a minute since Tamron Hall was talking on daytime TV.
For years, the journalist was a national news correspondent. In 2014, she made history when she became the first black woman to host the Today show on NBC, where she led Today's Take with Al Roker each morning for three years. Then, drama ensued.
In early 2017, it was announced that Hall would leave NBC after a decade with the network, and the announcement of a sudden departure was shocking. At the time, many didn't know for sure if Megyn Kelly's transition from Fox News to NBC News had something to do with Hall's departure, but it sure did look like it: before Hall left, she hosted the coveted 9 A.M. Today slot with Roker, which was followed by the 10 A.M. slot hosted by Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.
Megyn Kelly Today eventually replaced Today's Take in September of that year, and was swiftly canceled the following October after receiving mostly negative feedback. In the interim, Hall was pitching her own show to executives, and eventually landed a deal with ABC, where her new eponymous syndicated daytime talk show will premiere on September 9.
There have only been a few black women who have held the esteemed occupation of daytime television talk show host. There was of course The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Tyra Banks Show, both of which followed in the tradition of talk shows not necessarily led by celebrity or entertainment content (à la The Wendy Williams Show, for example), but by conversations with issues by real people. So, Hall aims to set herself apart and produce a show that harks back to some of that traditional talk format, popularized by the likes of Winfrey and Phil Donahue.
In her Culture Diet, Hall talks about returning to daytime television, the importance of not harboring resentment, and why she's just not that into Succession.
What are you doing to prepare for your big return to daytime TV? Any jitters or excitement?
We’re in the grind now. We hit maybe 23 or 28 cities promoting the show. I’m excited! I told my team a couple of days ago that it’s okay for us to be nervous and to worry, because you want to make sure you’ve crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s. But don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re going to give our best shot, we’re going to do the show that we believe in, the show that we’ve talked to people around the country who’ve told us it’s the show they want to see on daytime television. We believe there is an opening to have a show that is based on conversation, so don’t be afraid. Lead with pride in the product that we are presenting to the audience. It’s going to be okay.
That sounds like a very calm outlook to have before a big premiere like this one. Is that rare?
I think all of us at different points have faced challenges that we thought were insurmountable. Then, when you’re there, you are able to call upon things you didn’t know existed. Whether it’s in a breakup or relationship that you weren’t ready for it to end, but the other person decided it was time, or a new job in a new city and you’ve got the resume in hand and suddenly you’re in HR getting your ID and you’re about to embark on this new journey though you can barely log in with the new e-mail system, and you’re thinking, “Oh my god, I can’t get through this first day!” And suddenly you’re through the first day, you’re through the second day, and you’ve been there a month. It’s the same feeling, it really is. But you can never do it if you lead with fear.
What will your show do that’s different from the other daytime talk shows out there? How do you want to set yourself apart?
I think right now it’s really calling back to the lessons that we’ve learned from the traditional daytime talk genre. If you give people time and space, and a safe environment to talk, we will do just that. “Talk” is not the new It bag. It’s not the new fashion accessory. It never went out of style and it never will. When we look at the greats who’ve done it, as I refer to them, Phil Donahue, Oprah, they retired but “talk” didn’t retire. I think Ellen is the best that we’re watching in that space of variety and fun. Our show will be a complement. You have a mix of some of the various things that you see, but also we can sit back and have a conversation about relationships, about dating in 2019. There’s no show on TV right now in daytime that explores those topics. It’s that opportunity to talk about those things in the landscape today. Whether it’s appropriate or not, one of the first things people will ask you is who are you dating, are you gay, are you straight, do you want to date, I got a cousin, I got a brother. There’s nowhere [on television] where we can talk about those things, and that’s the first thing that we’d talk about if we met somebody for lunch or dinner.
As one of the few black women to host a solo daytime talk show, do you feel the weight of responsibility to represent black women on TV?
I don’t feel a weight of responsibility because I was also the first black woman to host the Today show, and I know that who I am today is because I was able to be the unapologetic southern black girl that I am. I think a lot of my heroes—Lena Horne, Diana Ross, Iola Johnson, who was the first black woman to ever anchor the news in Dallas Fort Worth, when I saw her on TV her presence made me feel that it was possible. This is such a thoughtful question, and it’s one of the best ones I’ve been asked, quite honestly. For me, it’s more the fact that I didn’t let someone define me. That I didn’t let a moment in time or a situation end my career or my journey. That’s the weight that I feel. It’s not black, it’s not white, it’s not female, it’s every person that has given 100% in a relationship and the other person gave 40, and then they break up with you, and you’re going, “Are you kidding me? I was shouldering the weight here.” I don’t feel a responsibility as a black woman because my community, every ounce of who I am, every part of my journey, I’ve been very authentic and clear. I’m an unapologetic black woman. I’m an unapologetic southern woman. I am who I am and I think that if I feel any weight it is the weight of proving that I didn’t compromise, and showing that I could create a show that would make you proud.
What do you want people to take away from seeing you on daytime television?
I want people to watch my show and see themselves in my show, whoever you are. But absolutely black women. Absolutely, I want the next little Tamron Hall to see that she can do it, but I also want the white boy who may be gay or it’s unclear where they stand in this world to see, she didn’t let them push her around. She was an underdog, too. She didn’t give in.
NBC removed you from their 9 A.M. Today slot, eventually gave the slot to Megyn Kelly for Megyn Kelly Today, and you left the network. When Kelly’s show flopped, did you feel vindicated at all?
Not at all. Because it was never “Tamron versus Megyn.” Megyn, if she was my friend at the time, I would’ve said, “You better take that job! A million dollars, woo!” [Laughs.] Absolutely, I would have encouraged my friend to go get it, see if you can do it. She didn’t walk in and tell me to leave. That was never the case. So, I didn’t feel any vindication. It was never about revenge. And by the way, I don’t think I would be able to recover from it if I was weighted down by that. You know? I think that part of the reason that I was able to reboot, recharge, and put my flag down in those pitch meetings and say to a room full of skeptics, “This is who I am,” was because I wasn’t weighted down with revenge. Keep in mind, I pitched and sold this show before her show ever got canceled. So it wasn’t as if the people I was pitching to said, “Okay now, Tamron will only work if Megyn fails.” No one said that! But the reality is, I sold my show well before that played out. Months before that played out. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do it if I was weighed down with the need to be vindicated or some revenge.
Let’s move into some of these Culture Diet questions. Since you are a journalist, I can imagine people want to know, what's the first thing you read in the morning?
The Bible. I read from the Book of Psalms a lot because it is more self help, you know what I mean? It’s kind of that, “If you feel this way, here’s how you can pull through.” And I don’t say that because it’s a religious text. While I am a person of faith, I’m quite aware of the differences. I studied world religion in college. It’s more “armoring up.” I do transcendental meditation as well, right after reading the Bible. Those are the things I need to armor up, to prepare my mind for whatever is to come. That is the first thing I do in the morning.
How do you get your news?
A litany of blogs. I don’t get the newspaper anymore because I just don’t. [Laughs.] It’s like, I don’t know who does, I jokingly say. But I read everything online. At any given time I can literally go from The New York Times to The Shade Room, easily, and look at the range of culture there. I’m a journalist at heart so of course I pick up all of the traditional papers and read all of those things. That is part of my journey as a television journalist. Of course, I see what some of the bloggers are talking about, and reading entertainment is not my “guilty pleasure” and I don’t like when people refer to it as a guilty pleasure. What do you have to be guilty about? There’s a reason we love movies, there’s a reason we love celebrity. So I dive into it all, honestly.
What are your favorite social media accounts to follow?
I love reading several posts from some of the women I follow who have carved their identities in the social media world. Luvvie Ajayi is a writer that I quite admire. I really appreciate her voice and she writes very thought provoking pieces a lot, and I will peruse her Instagram to see what she’s talking about that day.
What books are on your bedside table?
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. I’m also reading a memoir from Rick Ross, Hurricanes.
What TV shows have been keeping you up at night?
I binged Mindhunter. I’m obsessed with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I love black-ish. I love Tracy Morgan’s The Last O.G., it’s the most underrated show on TV, but I guess I’m wrong because the ratings were great the second season. That’s kind of my range. When I was pregnant I would go back and forth between Maisel and The Last O.G. I don’t know what they could possibly have in common, but it’s phenomenal. I guess because they’re both based in New York. I love documentaries, and the Netflix cooking series.
As someone who works in the New York news media, I have to ask: do you watch Succession?
No, I don’t. I’ve seen the ads for it, but I don’t watch it. I’m a Game of Thrones person. But because I work in it, I don’t need to see it on TV! I don’t really want to watch a show about the stuff I do every day. [Laughs.] A dramatization about the drama I live with? I’m good, thanks!
What's the last movie you saw in theaters?
What podcasts have you been into lately?
Oprah’s Masterclass. My podcast game is weak, I have to admit! I try to carve out as much time as I can, but I do have people send me excerpts constantly from podcasts, so I guess I get the
“Cliff’s Notes” of podcasts sent to me all the time.
What's the last song you had on repeat?
Gloria Estefan “Coming Out of the Dark” and Demi Lovato’s acoustic version of “Sorry Not Sorry.” I probably played that 17,000 times last week. The acoustic version, she kills it! It’s like fire.
What's the last concert you went to?
It was at The Shed in Hudson Yards. It was a curated night from Quincy Jones, he curated a night of talent from around the country. Steve McQueen, the director, teamed up with him. It was phenomenal.
What's the last thing you do before you go to bed?
I don’t know because I’m so tired I legit close my eyes as soon as I hit the bed. I guess I exhale. There you go. Waiting to exhale? I exhale. I usually go to bed about 11 P.M., and I’m up about 5:45 A.M. It’s not too bad. Listen, when you turn 48, you get a break. For 25 years, I had to be up every day around 4 A.M., so this is a break.
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