New CBS3 anchor strives for honesty, authenticity
There came a moment when aspiring TV journalist Jessica Dean realized the job was not going to be like her favorite show growing up, Murphy Brown.
She was working for the campus station at the University of Southern California on her way to a degree in broadcast journalism when mudslides struck the area.
"They gave me a camera and said, 'Good luck. See you in two hours,' " recalls Dean during a lunch on South Broad Street. "I was in the hills, holding the umbrella with my chin and the camera in my hands. The wind is blowing, the rain is hitting me in the face, my feet are in the mud, and my hair is plastered to my head. At that moment, I realized, 'If you're in this for being glamorous, there are easier ways to be on TV. So you'd better like this part of it.' "
It's fortunate that she doesn't mind getting dirty, because on CBS3, where she makes her debut Sunday night after the Emmy telecast, they're going to be working the Little Rock native like a mule.
Starting Monday, Dean will be coanchoring the news at 5, 6, 10 (on CW57), and 11 p.m. alongside Chris May, who, by odd coincidence, also hails from the capital city of Arkansas.
The affable 29-year-old is eager to pitch in.
"She wasn't one of those folks who just want the news handed to them," says Austin Kellerman, the news director at her previous station, KARK. "She isn't content to read off a teleprompter. She was always asking questions of the reporters and producers."
It has been a meteoric rise for Dean: from her first station in Fort Smith, Ark., to a couple of jobs in Little Rock, which ranks 56th among American TV markets, a few notches below Wilkes Barre-Scranton, to the anchor desk in Philly where she replaces Susan Barnett.
She and her husband, Blake, are still getting their bearings in the city where they arrived less than two weeks ago. Her preliminary impression is that Philly is pretty much as advertised.
"The perception of Philadelphia is that it's a tough, busy, working city," she says. "When I started talking to people in Little Rock about moving here, everybody wanted to talk about food. A lot of them knew it was a big food city."
In a subsequent e-mail, she says, "There are certainly some foods from Arkansas I will miss now that I've moved to Philly. Of course, I immediately go to barbecue. The perfect plate involves pulled pork slathered in either a mustard-and-vinegar-based sauce or molasses sauce, with a side of baked beans and slaw. It makes me hungry thinking of it. But I know there are some places in the area that do barbecue, so I'll have to add them to the ever-growing list of places to try."
An inveterate TV fan, Dean will be monitoring the Emmy awards on Sunday as she prepares for her first broadcast.
"I'm really cheering on House of Cards," she says enthusiastically. "We watched the whole thing in a binge marathon, and then I woke up and was like, 'Where are we? What time is it?'
"For comedy series, I'm going Veep because it's very funny in a witty way and I like smart humor," she says. "Behind the Candelabra - that was insane. The performances, the costumes, the whole thing. I was totally taken away by that."
With her grueling new schedule, it's especially important to Dean to hold on to some kind of personal life.
"You have to find a balance," she says, "because that's where you learn to connect with people. If I spend all day every day in the studio, how do I know what your day is like? How do I connect with you? I need to do that."
She plans on using the same on-air approach that got her here: being as honest and genuine as she knows how.
"On the anchor desk, it's really important that I'm the same person you see walking the dog or bump into at the supermarket," she says. "If I don't jibe with you, that's fine, but what you see is what you get."
Philadelphia will be getting a good long look at Jessica Dean starting Sunday night.