It’s just before 11 a.m. on a Wednesday at Hearst Tower when Gayle King — carrying a purse, a shopping bag and a ripe banana — walks briskly into the building flanked by two assistants. She has already spent the morning co-anchoring “CBS This Morning” with Charlie Rose and Norah O’Donnell, a weekday gig that broadcasts from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Wearing four-inch patent leather color-blocked Christian Louboutin heels, King is already on to the second part of her day at Hearst, where she moon- lights as editor at large of O, The Oprah Magazine — i.e. her best friend’s glossy.
Although she has been a journalist since the early Eighties and has carved out a broadcast career of her own, King is best known for her friendship with Oprah Winfrey. That friend- ship has thrust King into the spotlight and given her a kind of celebrity that none of her colleagues at Hearst possesses. But it’s easy to forget, as King coolly sprinkles self-deprecating jokes with humorous tales about her career — that is, until she drops the “O bomb.”
But it’s not done in a boastful way; King met Oprah in 1981 when they were working at WFSB Channel 3 in Hartford, Conn. King would eventually work with Oprah, joining O when it launched in 1999, and also working as a special correspondent on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Good Morning America.” She also has hosted “The Gayle King Show,” a live, weekday program on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network since 2011.
Here, WWD talks with King about her views on whether morning shows are still relevant, Megyn Kelly’s new gig and why Oprah signed on as a contributor to “60 Minutes.”
WWD: Let’s talk about your career. You set out to be a journalist, but now you’re also a celebrity. How do you balance that?
Gayle King: You know, I don’t feel that. Listen, I majored in psychology, so I intended to be a child psychologist because I still love listening to people’s problems. I’m still good at giving people unsolicited advice. I love that. Or I was going to go to law school because I thought it would be cool to be arguing your case in front of a jury. That’s what I intended to do. I fell into TV quite by accident but once I was in a newsroom for the very first time, I was hooked because I loved the adrenaline. There was a breaking story that day and people were running around to get the news on the air. I thought, Jesus, how do you get to do this? So, that’s how it started. The bulk of my career was in TV.
WWD: How did you get into magazines? Was it hard?
GK: Ellen Levine [then Hearst Magazines’ editorial director] and Cathie Black [former chairman] approached Oprah about doing a magazine. Ellen gave her such a good sell in terms of the written word. That’s what got to Oprah. She was in Chicago at the time and I was working on the news in Connecticut. They said, “We really need to have someone in the office who understands your voice and sensibility, what about your friend Gayle?” Oprah said, “She’ll never do that because she won’t leave TV,” and that’s what her friend Gayle said at the time, too. I was just about to re- sign my contract and I said, “Let me think about that.” I came up and met with Ellen and Cathie and that’s how my magazine career began.
When we first got into the magazine business it was really like Stevie Wonder leading José Feliciano, meaning it was the blind leading the blind — no disrespect to Jose or Stevie. We were sitting in the meeting and we didn’t even know what a TOC [table of contents] was. I can remember Oprah sitting in a meeting and going, “Why do we have to have so many ads?” And I could see the people at Hearst going, “AIEEEEE!”
WWD: Now magazines are so much more than print. How has your role changed since you’ve been working at O?
GK: The print edition is still our baby and still our crown jewel, but we also know this is 2017 and we embrace all the platforms — whether it’s the iPad, whether it’s Twitter, whether it’s Facebook Live. You can interact with the readers. We’ve had fun with Instagram. We know all of that has to be embraced and we like to do that, but for us this [print] really is the crown jewel. With growth comes change. We’re open to change and to all possibilities. You know, we were in a meeting the other day planning a story and saying, “How can we have a digital component to this?” We never did that before. Now we’re thinking, can this story have a digital component and can we shoot it too? We’re not going to be the fuddy duddies going “digital?” That ship has sailed.
WWD: Would you ever be a on a cover with Oprah?
GK: I personally don’t see that. We’ve only done that with FLOTUS Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Oz. and Bob Greene. We’ve done that very sparingly. I personally don’t see it. We have no plans to do it. Do you see that selling?
WWD: Why not? You should have an anniversary special for your friendship.
GK: It’s a big deal when we put someone else on the cover. We did Rosie O’Donnell when she was working with OWN. So, we do it for special occasions. Right now we have no special occasions that involve Oprah and Gayle.
WWD: I want to talk about “CBS This Morning.” Is it hard to balance hard news with the morning show banter?
GK: No, because I think it’s called life. I think the news is hard, it’s entertaining, it can be light, it can be comical. It can be all of the above. To me, that’s just a well-rounded newscast. Our mantra at CBS is the news is back in the morning. That’s not just shallow to us. Our numbers are changing. They are going up and others’ are going down. People stop me on the street and say, “I like what you do because I know I’m going to get something of substance.” That’s very gratifying.
WWD: Who is watching morning shows today as there are more working households? Is that audience shrinking?
GK: We’re all trying to get out of the door in the morning. Here’s what I think about morning news: It’s still one of the programs that people are watching in real time. When you look at primetime TV, I know very few people who are watching it in real time now or even afternoon talk shows — are people watching in real time? But for morning news, people want to know as they are getting dressed, as they are getting ready to leave [for work], “what has happened in the world overnight?” Morning news is a sure-fire way to find out what that is. I personally love and celebrate the fact that you can go to bed and the world is one way and you wake up and it’s totally different.
WWD: Do you think Megyn Kelly will be a disruptor in the morning show space?
GK: I think that remains to be seen. What I know is that Megyn Kelly is very good at her job. She’s a badass. I would never, ever count her out. I think it’s a different genre. I think it’s a different format. I don’t think that there’s anything that she can’t handle and that she can’t do.
WWD: Are there any stories that you’d still like to cover?
GK: Everybody still wants the first interview with the Pope. Everybody wants Kim Jong-un. There are certainly big interviews that everybody is trying to get, but in terms of sto- ries that we haven’t covered, I think we can pretty much cover anything we want to [on the morning show]. When it applies to magazines, one thing I’m excited about is we’re about to do something about race. We’ve never tackled that before [in the magazine]. It’s a subject that makes people very uncomfortable. We’re going to do a whole big thing. I’m really excited about that. We had a great thing with Oprah with this election. It’s in the March issue. She talked to Trump voters and to Hillary voters, and there was one moment during the interview where this woman said, “I’ve never been this close to a Trump voter before. This is so interesting.” They started out with tears and a little bit of tension. By the time it was all over, they were hugging each other and exchanging numbers.
I think that speaks to the beauty of what Oprah can do in terms of connecting women in particular. I walked out of that and I said, “God, I so miss this.” I don’t miss the day to day of the “Oprah Show” because I know that she had done it. She was number one for 25 years and she can’t top herself. But there are certain times I do miss — and certainly during these times — that I said to her, “God, I wish we had your voice in some way, form or fashion.” We did not record [that inter- view] on TV. They were taking videos and pictures, but I thought, “God, I wish people could see that.” That led to politics and we’re going to do something on race.
WWD: Did you have any input on Oprah’s decision to be a special contributor to 60 Minutes?
GK: Certainly after the interview with the women, that started bubbling up with her. I think that CBS had reached out to her years ago about doing something. She didn’t really put much stock in it. I think there were conversations at very high levels about it, but Oprah always does what she wants to do. So, when you say, “Did I have any input?” The decision is always hers. Did I weigh in and think it was a great idea? Yes, yes and yes.
WWD: Would you want to do 60 Minutes?
GK: 60 Minutes is the crown jewel, the holy grail of TV. So yes, of course, but I’m not lobbying for 60 Minutes. I’m really happy doing what I’m doing at CBS This Morning. I don’t know anyone in the TV business who would say, “Nah, I’m good.”
WWD: What do you make of fake news and how the Trump administration is interacting with the media?
GK: We have a job to do and the administration has a job to do. It is our job when things are put out that are really so totally and blatantly incorrect and false, to respond to that. I think at CBS we do that very well. Have there been some instances where you can say there has been some fake news? It has been proven that there are people putting out fake stories. Does that exist? Yes, but just because somebody hollers, “Fake news,” it doesn’t mean that it’s fake news. You have to be very discerning when you’re watching the news today to make that decision. I take great pride in knowing that CBS has never been lumped into the category of delivering fake news and there’s a reason for that. There are all sorts of checks and balances and we’re never in a rush to be first unless we have all the facts. We don’t play the game of, let’s get out there and do it first without verifying and triple-checking and sometimes quadruple-checking a story.
WWD: When you interview a surrogate from the Trump administration, how do you get through the spin? Have you interviewed Kellyanne Conway?
GK: I think she’s very good at her job. I marvel at her. I said to her, “You are so good at your job.” In the end, the truth always wins out. It always does, no matter how many times you tell a story that isn’t true. In the end, the truth comes out. There’s either video evidence or photographic evidence. I think the American people are smart consumers.
WWD: But are they?
GK: I know, but [Trump] — the American people have spoken. He definitely touched a chord in this country. I don’t think we as a country can ignore that. There are people in this country that felt their voices were not heard, and now I think everybody is listening. But you know, I have great respect for the office of the presidency and I re- ally do believe that Donald Trump wants to do a good job. I love the message that Barack Obama said—that we want him to succeed because we want the country to succeed. I’m sort of following that. I think there’s been a lot of frustration for a lot of people, but at the end of the day we all want this country to survive and thrive and be the superpower that we know it is.
WWD: What’s your media diet?
GK: The New York Times, USA To- day, The New York Post, The Daily News, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, too. I get up at 3:30 a.m. and I immediately start searching the news. My alarm goes off, I take a bath every day because I think good hygiene is important. I hit the ground running and I always send notes in the morning.
WWD: What time do you go to sleep?
GK: It’s crazy. I don’t sleep well. I haven’t slept well since menopause over 10 years ago. But don’t cry for me, Argentina. My sleep schedule is crappy, but the job is morning TV. I knew what it was, so you just sort of roll with that.
WWD: Could you live without the quick pace of the news?
GK: I could live without it, but I like it.
WWD: I read that you’ve never had wine and you don’t drink. Is that true?
GK: It’s true.
WWD: But you’re a journalist.
GK: There are a lot of drinkers in the newsroom and in the magazine. When I was in high school, I was a member of the Christian Youth Organization and we had a retreat and somebody brought in a keg of beer. I drank a lot of that and I got so sick, throwing up sick. I said, “I never want to feel that way.” It was very traumatizing. I realize it was cheap keg beer but it left such an impression on me. I have that and blueberry yogurt. After [drinking] I had some blueberry yogurt.
WWD: And Stedman [Graham Stedman, Oprah’s boyfriend] doesn’t drink either?
GK: Nope. It’s true. Oprah finds us both very boring. She’s a wine connoisseur. She has a very extensive and exclusive wine collection. She has bid on wines in auctions. She drinks wine, so yeah, she thinks we’re boring.
WWD: I heard that you’re friends with Howard Stern. Is that true?
GK: This is the thing: Howard Stern had said many unkind things about me and about Oprah on his show over the years. I was at a party—Bryant Gumbel and Hillary Gumbel’s Christmas party a few years ago—and who comes walking in the door but Howard Stern. I couldn’t get over to talk to him fast enough. I said, “Howard, I just have to ask you, why do you say such mean things?” And he goes, “what are you talking about?” I gave him a couple of examples of mean things he said. And, he said. “I don’t remember saying it but it sounds like me.” [Laughs]. I think he really didn’t remember saying it and I think his wife is a doll. If she’s so lovely, how can he be that? I talked to him for a while and I realized this was all schtick for him. Now, when I see him, we’re very cordial to each other.
WWD: Does Howard have anything in common with Oprah?
GK: Not that I can see at this moment. I don’t know if she feels the same way that I do about Howard Stern.
WWD: If you were starting out in media today, what would you do differently?
GK: I would be more tech-savvy.
WWD: Would you still be a journalist?
GK: Oh yeah. I still love this stuff. I love it. I encourage anybody who feels passionately about it to do it. I love it. Look what we get to do, the people you get to meet, the places you get to travel, the meetings you get to see, the access that you have? I say we have a front row seat to history. Who doesn’t like that?
WWD: Who would you like to interview if you could interview anyone?
GK: I would say O.J. Simpson if he would tell the truth and you can take that however you want to take it. I’ve reached out to him. He ignores me. Bruce Springsteen. The Pope. Then I love William and Kate. Jay Z and Beyoncé — they have a standing invitation.
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