You can take the reporter out of politics, but you can't take politics out of the reporter.
More than 18 months after leaving daily TV in search of a kinder, gentler life, anchor Judy Woodruff will return to the grind Feb. 5 as a senior correspondent for Jim Lehrer's NewsHour on PBS.
"Politics is in my blood, I guess," says Woodruff, 60, who left CNN in June '05 after 12 years as an anchor. She did a documentary for PBS and taught journalism at Duke, her alma mater.
"I can't stop paying attention whenever I hear a story about Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton," Woodruff says. "I want to know more. Unlike normal people, my blood pressure goes up and my ears start twitching. It's almost a Pavlovian response."
In her new position, Woodruff will lead in-studio discussions, report from the field, and conduct interviews for NewsHour. Also, she'll be a backup for anchor Jim Lehrer.
Woodruff and NewsHour go way back. She served as chief Washington correspondent from 1983 to '93, and her new documentary, Generation Next: Speak Up. Be Heard, now airing on PBS, was produced by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. (PBS has ordered a sequel for fall.)
Last fall, during the course of Woodruff's research and reporting for Next, NewsHour execs pitched her a regular slot on their roster.
"It just appealed to me," she says. "I never went into this with the idea that it was going to happen. I really believed I was turning away from daily journalism to do longer-form pieces."
Covering politics - Woodruff's drug of choice - closed the deal. She signed a contract through '08.
"When I started to see how fast this campaign was unfolding, the idea of not being connected to it in a regular way didn't feel right. This made a lot of sense."
Woodruff has covered every presidential election since 1976. As NBC's White House ace, she covered the Carter and Reagan administrations. "I've never not paid attention to politics," she says.
Well, not exactly never.
Our Judy had a "normal childhood. I played in playgrounds and so forth." The politics bug didn't hit until college, when she switched majors from math to political science.
Like all political junkies, Woodruff is in a lather over the '08 race - the most wide open in half a century. (You can look it up, she says.)
"It's a campaign of heavy hitters. There are so many people in both parties who are taken seriously in their own parties. Nobody in the race is just a 'Who is that?' "
Another race - for the Benjamins - has driven a plethora of candidates to declare early, according to Woodruff.
"They're all out there frantically trying to raise money and figure out what their message is. We are faster out of the gate with this election than we've been with any presidential election. Ever.
"It costs so much to get TV airtime, pay for the consultants, hire the media experts, the pollsters. Raising money is one of the best ways to say to the world, 'I'm being taken seriously.' "
Citing polls, Woodruff says Clinton, Obama and former senator and vice presidential nominee John Edwards are the Democratic front-runners.
For the Republicans: Sen. John McCain, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and ex-Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney.
Cooper re-ups. He would have loved Anderson Cooper for The Early Show, but CBS's Steve Friedman gives props to CNN boss Jonathan Klein for re-signing the network's golden boy.
"Klein did a very smart thing. He wrapped him up before anybody could come and get him. He [Cooper] is a terrific talent."
Cooper, 39, last week signed a new deal that reportedly doubles his estimated $2 million salary. He'll continue contributing reports to CBS's 60 Minutes. No comment from CNN other than the usual blather.
Friedman says he's spoken to Cooper only once, when the 360 anchor was promoting his memoir.
"I said, 'We'll see you in two years,' " Friedman jokes. "He likes where he is. As I tell everybody in this business, if you like where you are, stay there.' "
'10!' stays. Contrary to buzz, NBC10's 10 a.m. weekday chat show, 10!, is not in jeopardy due to Today's addition of a fourth hour in the fall, a station rep says.
Today will run from 7 to 11 a.m. beginning in September. Since NBC owns Channel 10, there's no question that it will carry the new 10 a.m. hour.
10!, with Lori Wilson and Bill Henley, "will absolutely continue," says the rep. No new time slot yet.
Contact TV columnist Gail Shister at 215-854-2224 or email@example.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/gailshister.