No Plain Jane
by Maurine Jensen Proctor

LDS Co-anchor Wakes Up America

Jane Clayson, anchor for THE EARLY SHOW.
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/CBS

When Jane Clayson’s alarm rings at 4:00 o’clock every morning, she resists the temptation to roll over and snooze on. It is a wake-up call to be taken seriously, for by 4:30 a car will arrive for her, and she’ll thread her way through New York’s dark streets to the CBS studio where she co-anchors the Early Show with Bryant Gumbel.

Once there, it’s a hurried routine. She sits in makeup for a half hour “depending on how tired I am, and how big the bags under my eyes are.” She scans four national newspapers-the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and USA Today. Head full of news, she is filmed for affiliate teases at 6:30, and then at 7, the national spotlight is upon her. For two hours, in the $50 million streetside studio, whose backdrop is a window on the bustle of New York, she must be alternately enthralled by Martha Stewart’s corn chowder or incisive in questions to Senator John McCain. She must smile and banter, analyze and comment knowing that all eyes are upon her.

How does she mesh with Bryant Gumbel?

Are her questions sophisticated, her manner easy?

Do we like her dress, her hair, her outlook?

Will the ratings rise and fall based on the turn of her head?

It’s a squeeze of pressure for a Relief Society teacher in the Manhattan ward, but for Jane, it’s the “funnest two hours” of the day. She told a reporter when she first nabbed the prize morning co-anchor spot a year ago that she didn’t drink coffee, but “the adrenaline will be enough to get me out of bed..” Good thing. One of the only things that CBS execs. asked about her religion when she was first interviewed for the job was how could a morning anchor get along without a cup of coffee on the table? She said water would do, and found out it’s the choice of nearly everybody on the set.

She’s cool under pressure, smiling and poised, seemingly unflappable even in her easy banter with Gumbel who liked Jane from the beginning as a co-host to count on. The confidence comes, she says, from knowing who she is.

Surprise Call
A graduate of Brigham Young University in communications, she anchored and reported for KSL television in Salt Lake and then moved on to be a correspondent for ABC in Los Angeles. She had won several prestigious awards including an Emmy; she had been to Kosovo covering the air strikes, thrust to the scene of the world’s top news stories, yet she was still surprised when in June 1999 she got a call from CBS asking if she would come to New York to interview for the anchor job.

“When they called me to come and interview for this, I never thought I would get this job-ever,” Jane said. ” I thought it was an opportunity to have a great time talking to some people who I thought were very interesting. I went in without any expectations.”

Surely, that was part of the allure. In that world where having your best side toward the camera matters so much, here was a fresh young journalist who was not going to be defined by whether she got this job or not.

“If I have this job, great,” says Jane, “but my identity is not caught up in whether I have to do this or be that. Whether I’m doing this job or something else in five years, it’s fine. It probably takes a secure person to see beyond title and position, but there are a lot of good people out there for whom this means nothing.”

In the Media Spotlight
Jane’s new job immediately got the attention of the national media. She was front and center, under the magnifying lens of a press spinning out stories. One journalist wrote “CBS News wants ABC News correspondent Jane Clayson for its new morning program, but ABC is trying to keep her from leaving.”

Quipsters called her a Cinderella-not knowing that a Fairy Godmother could neither add nor subtract from what Jane held most important. They said Bryant Gumbel had a new Jane, opening up the comparison between her and Jane Pauley.

The Washington Post wrote, “Jane Clayson doesn’t want to talk about whether she drinks caffeinated beverages and she dislikes telling reporters her shoe size, but she can’t wait to meet the “ordinary people” who think that hanging around a streetside TV studio is a great place to be at 7 in the morning, and wants to learn everything about their lives.”

More daunting was the scrutiny CBS’s new Early Show would be facing. “CBS had had an unfortunate history in the morning,” said Jane. “The other networks have had 30 and 50 year head starts. For us to come together in a new studio with new producers and create what we have is an incredible endeavor,” she said.

The ever-acerbic Tom Shales of the Washington Post commented, “How excited are we supposed to get over the fact that CBS has revamped its morning news program for the umpty-umptieth time? Panting, breathless, veritably hysterical with heart-pounding anticipation? In terms of tantalizing prospects, this one ranks in the vicinity of adding another slice of pickle to a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.”

New York Bound
Worry about what was said about the possibilities for the new show or herself did not eat at Jane as she went east in the fall of 1999. In college when she had first started appearing on television, her grandmother, Beulah Clayson, had asked her, “Don’t you ever get frightened on TV?”

“Grandma,” she answered, “I’m not afraid to say it, if I just know what to say.”

She was concerned enough about answering the press’s questions about her faith, however, that she sought priesthood counsel and a blessing before she began the rounds of publicity. “What do you think they are going to ask me about our faith?” she wondered out loud to her mother as they drove east with her boxes of belongings headed for a new life..

Homestyle Values
That new life was not enough to make her head spin. “I may live on the 30th floor of an apartment building in downtown Manhattan,” Jane said, “but that doesn’t mean I forget the good values I was taught or the pioneer heritage that I come from.”

Jane is her mother’s namesake. She had one of those golden, abundant childhoods where attention was lavished by two parents bent on developing her capacities. Her Harvard-trained father, a cardiovascular surgeon, loved deep gospel discussions. Her mother wove her talent for strings into the three children like a thread in a linen cloth. Together the four of them formed a string quartet that was always on call to perform.

Early on, Jane was a member of the Sacramento Youth Symphony that placed first in an International Youth and Music Festival. She traveled extensively with her family, and they lived for periods of time in Boston, Scotland, and Nashville. It was an international upbringing, a nurturing of the spirit and mind, and Jane was a sponge taking it all in.

Jane’s mother quipped, “When we lived in Boston, Jane developed a Bostonian accent. When we lived in Scotland, she developed a Scottish accent. When we lived in Nashville, she sounded like a Southerner.” Every where we went people asked her, “Are you from Boston?” Then, “Are you from Scotland?” “Are you from the South?” The lesson of her youth was that home had less to do with location than with an inner compass that pointed to true north.

“She was always a communicator,” said her Mom. “When Janie was little, she loved Charlotte’s Webb. Years later, I found the whole book underneath her dresser, hand-copied and written in Janie’s hand.” Determination, drive, fascination with ideas-that marked Jane.

Childhood for Jane was the perfect backdrop for a life in the spotlight. In the gospel talks with her Dad and the hours of musical harmony with her Mom were countless, almost invisible teaching moments.

Her mother advised her, “You can’t let the praise define you in life, because then the criticism will destroy you.”

A Sad Chapter
Jane also tasted the ashes of sorrow which helped deepen her perspective. Janie, Hannah and David-the three children in the family were close from their hours of playing and performing together. Who could have supposed their threesome could be divided? David kept up on the Vivaldi Concerto for four violins even when he was little.

Then one morning when David was 11 years old, he awoke dizzy just out of the blue. Jane’s mother took him to the hospital where she learned he had a large brain tumor. It was a shock, the beginning of a time of anguish. The young violinist who could keep up on the violin with anybody soon couldn’t talk except through his eyes. It was just at the time when Jane was supposed to leave for BYU to accept her music scholarship.

“Janie questioned whether she should leave and go away to school just then. We decided that she should go,” said Sister Clayson. “Yet after she left, once in a while he would look at me with sad eyes. I asked, ‘Are you missing Janie?’ His eyes communicated yes, and immediately, she’d be on the plane home.

“Life took on a new perspective with his death,” said Jane’s Mom. “We all learned how fragile and irreplaceable every moment is. Jane won an Emmy for her story ‘Charly’s Wish’ which was about a boy in a similar situation to David’s. She had empathy and understanding for his situation that could not have come in nearly any other way. There’s not a day goes by that we don’t miss and think about David.”

Jane’s First Year
Jane has had a dynamic, remarkable year. She got to play her violin for Isaac Stern on his 80th birthday, fly to Australia to welcome in the new millennium with a handful of journalists. She’s interviewed Colin Powell and George Cloony, has probed every major newsmaker and presidential candidate, including doing George W. Bush’s first live interview on any network morning broadcast. She has gone back on the anniversary of the Columbine shootings to see how religion had helped the Colorado town recover.

Does her value bias ever come through? “My job as a journalist is to be balanced and fair, but I do try to stand up for important principles. O. J. Simpson was scheduled to be on our show, and I refused to interview him. I wouldn’t do it, and they removed him from the production schedule.”

A recent program is typical of Jane’s life. Looking cool in blue, she smiles confidently as the cameras roll on the set of the Early Show brought to us “from Fifth Avenue in the heart of New York City.” A parade of stories begin which Jane prepared for most of the day before poring over files compiled by producers. Bryant Gumbel interviews Israeli and Palestinian officials in the Middle East. It is heavy news as scenes of violent street fighting flood the screen. Then Jane is on to interview Karenna Gore Schiff, Al Gore’s daughter. She has prepared tough questions. People have said that Karenna’s father has too many “lies and sighs” in the presidential debates, Jane notes, asking for a response. They are tough questions; Karenna answers well.

Then there is a change of pace. It’s cold today in New York. Jane and Bryant banter about the wind chill. In the next hour, Jane will move deftly through a series of moods. She is the guru of hard news, then the lightweight interviewer talking with a fashion consultant on what to wear. A film rolls showing a discussion she had conducted earlier with Bette Midler. Jane tells her, “We think of Bette Midler as this wonderful, larger-than-life person, but you say you live a quiet, normal life,” Bette takes the opportunity to explain that she is down-to-earth, but admits that her job is 15 hours a day with hardly a moment to breathe. Jane nods. Nobody could understand better. It is Jane’s own feelings that Bette is expressing.

Jane sees herself much like everybody else-except she has to go to bed at 9:30 every night. She interviews Bette Midler, Susan Sarandon, and Sigourney Weaver, but her mentors are her mother, grandmother and sister. She loves her job, but it is just a job, not her identity. At the end of the first year of being on point every morning, what lingers in her mind are the ordinary people who live with beauty and courage around the world.

What is important to her after a year in the national spotlight is what was important to her before-“knowing that I live with integrity in everything that I do, that I live with a spirit of compassion, and that I am a reflection of my deeper belief system, and that I have the strength of character to live a good, moral life. I’m grateful for my family; that’s what defines me, that’s what makes me whole.”


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.