She doesn’t plan to wear a bow tie, as her predecessor, Charles Osgood, famously did for the 22 years he presided. And for the first time in its 37-year history, the program won’t be hosted by someone named Charles.
But that’s about it.
“I assure you I’m not coming in and shaking anything up,” says Pauley, explaining that, when executive producer Rand Morrison seemed to open the door to any tweaks she might propose, “I laughed and said, ‘Rand, it ain’t broke!'”
Steady-as-she-goes has been the “Sunday Morning” credo since the debut of this distinctly low-key news magazine in January 1979. Sure, some viewers will miss the reassuring governance of Osgood, 83, who stepped down two weeks ago (but will continue to make occasional appearances), just as it was hard to say goodbye to founding host Charles Kuralt when he retired in 1994 after 15 years.
But Pauley isn’t exactly an unknown quantity. For two years, she has contributed stories to the program and substitute-hosted for Osgood.
And when she debuts this Sunday (9-10:30 a.m. EDT), she will be two days shy of marking 40 years since her arrival on NBC’s “Today” as co-anchor alongside Tom Brokaw at the tender age of 25.
“That’s astonishing to me,” says Pauley, who, according to math, if not her youthful appearance, is now 65.
Weathering the occasional sniffle from what she calls “a grandmother cold,” a condition she ascribes to one of her two infant grandkids (she has three grown children with her husband of 36 years, cartoonist Garry Trudeau, creator of “Doonesbury”) , Pauley has pulled herself away from preparing a segment for Sunday’s broadcast.
She says she didn’t land the “Sunday Morning” gig until last month, following Osgood’s Aug. 28 announcement of his leave-taking.
She acknowledges that she had heard talk months before that she might be in the running as his eventual successor.
“I work at a news organization, and at a news organization there is buzz,” she says with a smile. “But from my perspective it was little more than that.”
Now she’s starting a new chapter at a point when many people are retiring, or wish they could, or wish they weren’t being forced to.
But finding new opportunities in mid-life and beyond is what led her to “Sunday Morning” after several years of guest reports on that subject for “Today,” then, in 2014, a best-seller titled “Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life.” She and her book were featured in a story that aired on “Sunday Morning.”
Now she laughs when reminded that, to keep pace with the two hosts who preceded her, she’ll be anchoring “Sunday Morning” until she’s at least 80.
“But I wouldn’t have believed it if I’d been told at the beginning that I would be on the ‘Today’ show 13 years,” she says. “My first contracts with NBC were for 13 weeks.”
Then, after “Today,” she spent another decade at the network as an anchor of “Dateline NBC.”
“My career has been pretty much a surprise at every important juncture, including this one ahead,” she says, but adds, “There’s a significant difference this time: While I didn’t see it coming, I don’t think it was a lucky accident.
This is the first time where I put myself in the path of an opportunity I hadn’t foreseen. The book was about a subject that interested me a lot, and when I wrote the book, I created this opportunity.”
Meanwhile, she can still marvel at the windfall of good fortune that sparked her overnight stardom on “Today,” where she inherited Barbara Walters’ anchor chair.
Asked to account for her enduring success in the TV news business, Pauley replies puckishly, “I think I know,” and explains that, only decades into her NBC tenure, did network bosses share with her the viewer research they had gathered.
“I was told that the word most consistently associated with my name was ‘authenticity.’ If they had said anything else, I would have gone ‘pooh.’ But authenticity? I said, ‘Yeah!’ For better or worse, I just didn’t know how to be anything but myself.”
“I’m sure I worked for people who would have liked me to be a little bit Grace Kelly or Barbara Walters, with some Connie Chung thrown in. I would hear things like that, and I would listen and not change a thing. Because I didn’t know how.
“But I can live with that,” she says, and intends to keep at it. Even on the eve of her latest change, Pauley isn’t changing who she is.