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So What Do You Do, Ed Gordon, Host of Conversations with Ed Gordon?

The veteran interviewer on the future of broadcasting and scoring exclusives

By Andrea Williams - May 15, 2013
Award-winning journalist Ed Gordon has interviewed countless celebrities and political figures for the likes of BET, Dateline NBC and the Today Show, during a career that has spanned almost three decades. While young journalists opt for the get-famous-quick approach, Gordon is decidedly old-school, coupling proven skills with an enduring work ethic that recently resulted in the nationwide syndication of his show, Conversations with Ed Gordon, produced through his own company, Ed Gordon Media.

"Back in the day, you hoped to get on with a network or station, and you could work there for 20, 25 years and retire there, and that was the model," he told us. "In today's world, you take a look at somebody like Oprah or Tyler Perry, and it's about producing and owning your content."

Name: Ed Gordon
Position: Host of Conversations with Ed Gordon and founder of Ed Gordon Media
Resume: Started as an unpaid intern at Detroit's PBS affiliate. Became host of the weekly talk show, Detroit Black Journal, in 1986 while freelancing for BET on the side. Named anchor of BET News in 1988 and went on to host several other shows with the network, including Conversations with Ed Gordon and BET Tonight. Correspondent for CBS's 60 Minutes Wednesday, NBC's Today and Dateline NBC, NPR's News and Notes and Our World with Black Enterprise. Currently hosts the nationally syndicated radio show WEEKend with Ed Gordon and his signature TV interview series, Conversations.
Birthdate: August 17
Hometown: Detroit
Education: B.S. in communications and political science, Western Michigan University
Marital status: Married
Media idol: Bryant Gumbel and Ed Bradley
Favorite TV shows: Scandal, The Voice, 60 Minutes and The Cosby Show. "Either you wanted your family to be like the Cosbys, or you were glad your family was like the Cosbys. I think it helped change America to some degree."
Guilty pleasure: Gordon Ramsay
Last book read: "I am getting ready to start the book on the morning television wars, [Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stelter]. I'm not a big reader because I read so much for work."
Twitter handle: @EdLGordon

When you were named the host of BET Nightly News in 1988, the network was still fledgling. What do you think about the fact that now the network has no daily, or even weekly, news program?
That's a hard question in the sense that it just depends on who you ask. Some people think that BET should just get out of the news business because it's "entertainment" -- Black Entertainment Television -- and if you're not going to be serious about it, why dabble in it? BET will tell you that "the numbers just don't justify the return, and we've attempted to do it on any number of occasions." So it's really difficult to kind of make the argument in the middle.

You know, I see both sides of the coin. I think that people are going to have to not just look to BET to provide news. There are any number of other outlets out there, and, if BET is not servicing that fix, we ought to demand that other people get in the game, as well. I never thought that BET should be the only one. Competition makes, I think, better work on all sides. So, for as much grief as BET takes, and, I think, sometimes they should take it, there are other places that should take some grief [too].

"Now, it's very hard to get an exclusive interview because people just don't believe in talking to one person."

What is your advice for securing an exclusive interview?
Well, it's not as easy as it used to be in what I call the "old days." I mean, it used to be that you got an exclusive and it was exclusive, and you were the only one who could talk to that person for, let's say, at least a week, or a month, or during that period. Now, it's very hard to get an exclusive interview because people just don't believe in talking to one person. They'll talk to you, and then Dr. Phil and Entertainment Tonight and everybody else. So, I think what you want to shoot for is getting someone to talk to you in a way they don't talk to everyone else.

Your new show Conversations with Ed Gordon will be nationally syndicated on all 10 NBC owned and operated stations. How did you go about getting NBC to sign on?
I wish I could tell you that I had a lot to do with that, but we have a great team that works with us, and the gentleman who was in charge of going out there and selling the show in syndication reached out to the folks that make those decisions, and we were very pleased that all 10 NBC O&Os took the show. Over the years, I've been very proud of the [interview subjects] I've been able to get, and the caliber of them and, most importantly, what they've talked to me about. I've had the opportunity to talk to people who open up to me in ways that they don't open up to most interviewers, and I hope that the people that made the decision that they were going to take the show saw some of that.

How can other professionals best position themselves in their careers to be able to have access to those opportunities?
You know, again, that's one of those questions that I wish I had the answer to because I would probably have a lot more things on TV if I knew… You know, there are a lot of people who've given up trying to get on commercial television and have gone to securing their own YouTube channels, and I think, at the end of the day, that's going to be the future of broadcasting. People are just going to put stuff out there. They're gonna have their own YouTube channels, and eventually you'll be able to buy things from those channels.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Tracey Edmonds, Award-Winning TV and Film Producer?

But I think one of the things that people have to understand is it takes perseverance. Unless you're just phenomenally lucky -- and I don't even say talented, 'cause there are a lot of talented people that don't always get the breaks -- but, you know, phenomenally lucky, you get an opportunity to get on. 'Cause you think about the landscape of television, it's just really hard to get on TV, you know? And 7 p.m. on almost every channel out there has been taken for the last 25 years by a game show or an entertainment show, and they're locked in with contracts for another 10 or 15, so that landscape is gone. So, when you're even talking about a syndicated show, there's just so little landscape to get your show on that it's gonna take some time, and it's going to be difficult, and you're going to face challenges where you'll be disappointed, because you think you have the show and you're not going to be able to find a place for it. So, you gotta persevere and keep pushing and get out there and do what you have to do.

Do you think that the YouTube culture has created a need for instant gratification, especially among younger professionals, that preempts their willingness to persevere and pay dues?
Well, yeah. I mean, our society has moved to instant gratification; it's not just young people… You can become a star overnight with YouTube or a reality show where you're really just pretending or exaggerating yourself. You can do that and not have had any other experience in the business. So it's a different business, but most of that fame is fleeting… You know, there are one or two people who found a way to make themselves relevant and really found a career in the business, but 90 percent of the people who come up that way, they're hot for a year or two and then you don't see them anymore.

I try to tell young people all the time, learn your craft; learn where your craft is headed. The news that we did when I started is certainly not the news today. The programs that we produced when I started -- certainly not the programs that we produce today... So, you gotta figure all that out, and it's hard for young people who want to make their mark on the world, particularly if they're just getting out of college and have been out for a few years.

"The news that we did when I started is certainly not the news today."

You've said that the aim of Ed Gordon Media is to "create projects that will rival those of major producers." Detail your strategy for doing so and the type of content you plan to produce, outside of those featuring yourself.
We're working on two documentaries as we speak. I've been traveling the country doing some of that. One is a faith-based project and the other is a documentary that we're really excited about, that I think people will find entertaining and fun, and we've got a lot of celebrities involved in that. So, we're working on that simultaneously with producing the quarterly specials. Part of the issue is finding the team that will work with you. I've been blessed to work with some of my team for over 20 years now, 25 years. So, it's really about finding content that you believe will work in the market that you're trying to service, and that's the key: knowing your audience and convincing advertisers and others that you know your audience and what you're producing will be worth them advertising with and putting money behind.

How does being the boss on the business side affect your job in front of the camera?
It doesn't other than you don't have anybody to answer to in the sense of, if you want to do something, you don't have to sit and argue or try to convince somebody else that this is the way to go. The other side, and the obvious side, is that you're the one counting pennies now. It's a lot easier to spend somebody else's money; I'll tell you that much. You have to watch as tightly the change of a plane ticket, because you're gonna incur extra costs. Yes, it comes out of the budget, but you don't wince as much as you do when it's your money.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Tracey Edmonds, Award-Winning TV and Film Producer?

Andrea Williams is a freelance writer based in Nashville. Follow her at @AndreaWillWrite.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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