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So What Do You Do, Maggie Rodriguez, Co-Anchor, The Early Show?

Battling hurricanes, schlepping camera equipment, and besting Today with CBS's early morning anchor

By Alissa Krinsky - February 27, 2008
"It's proven to be a dream come true," says Maggie Rodriguez of her new gig, as co-anchor of CBS' The Early Show. It's a long way from her start as a "one-woman-band" at a Miami cable station, which had her lugging her own camera as she covered breaking news.

The station was Dynamic Cablevision, and Rodriguez worked there part-time while also employed at WLTV-TV, Univision's Miami affiliate, as an associate producer and assignment editor. Her big break came in 1992, during Hurricane Andrew, when many reporters at WLTV literally weren't able to get to work. According to Rodriguez, her bosses said, "Let's give her a shot", and put her on the air. Her stories were then picked up by the Univision network broadcasts, and she was on her way.

Rodriguez was born and raised in Miami, where she was anchoring (for WFOR-TV) when she got the call from CBS to move to New York. "I was in Miami, thinking I would stay there forever -- because I met my husband there, we settled there, we were happy there -- but then a wonderful curveball came my way late last year!"

Distance has not separated her from her Miami-based mother -- the two talk each day to discuss that morning's show. "Everything from my outfit to the questions I ask," Rodriguez says.

It's evident that her family is a source of pride for Rodriguez, whose parents fled Cuba to settle in America. "I'm very, very proud to be a Cuban-American, representing my community -- and Hispanics -- in such a high-profile way. I really am. Especially because I know that my parents worked so hard and overcame so much to give me the opportunity to go this far."

Name: Maggie Rodriguez
Position: Co-anchor, CBS's The Early Show
Resume: Rodriguez began her current job in January of 2008, after joining CBS News as co-anchor of the Saturday Early Show in June of 2007. Previously, she was the main anchor at Miami's CBS O&O, WFOR-TV (2000-2006) and an anchor/reporter at KABC-TV in Los Angeles (1994-2000). Prior to that, Rodriguez reported and field produced in Miami for the Univision Network (1992-94) and reported for cable station Dynamic Cablevision (1991). She got her start at WLTV-TV, Univision's Miami affiliate, as an associate producer, field producer, and assignment editor (1990-91).
Birthdate: December 12, 1969
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Education: B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and Spanish, University of Miami, 1991
Marital status: Married with a two and a half-year-old daughter
First section of Sunday Times: The front page -- "I read it every day. On Sunday, my guilty pleasure is (the New York Post's) Page Six. But the Times I devour cover-to-cover every day, Sunday included."
Favorite television show: How I Met Your Mother
Guilty pleasure: Chocolate. Chocolate cake. Chocolate anything.
Last book read: I'm still reading A Thousand Splendid Suns

You've made the jump to the 'big dance' -- network TV -- what did it take to get there?
It took 15 years of honing my skills. It took a solid foundation of news reporting and anchoring, coupled with all my life experiences. I was just ready. At 37 I was ready for this job -- it was perfect for me.

Why do you think the CBS brass chose you as co-anchor?
They tell me they chose me because they recognized my experience, my versatility, and they could tell that I feel comfortable in front of the camera, which I do.

With your new job, and moving to New York, what has been the biggest adjustment for you in all this?
The biggest adjustment has been getting used to apartment living versus house living! In Miami, we lived in a large house -- we had five bedrooms -- and in New York, we're renting a two-bedroom apartment that costs more, and is about four times smaller, than our house in Miami. So it's tough -- you're living in cramped quarters -- but in a way, it's made our family closer. Literally and figuratively.

Your executive producer on The Early Show is Shelley Ross, who has been described as talented, and intense. How do you find Shelley's style?
I agree that she's both talented and intense, and I wouldn't have her any other way. She is infectious. She doesn't just talk the talk, she walks the walk. She works as hard or harder than anyone on that staff. She's exhilarating in her ideas and in her pursuit of furthering the story and making it better than you would see it on the other stations, finding a different angle. I learn from Shelley every day, and [working with her every morning is] one of the things I'm most excited about, because she helps me think outside the box and just reach for the stars when it comes to getting a guest or furthering a story.

I have found Shelley to be an asset. I have seen a change in our show since she got there and I directly attribute it to her energy, enthusiasm, and tireless work. I'm a huge Shelley fan. And I think that she expects a lot, because it takes a lot to be No. 1.

Why has it been so difficult, over the years, for both The Early Show, in all its incarnations, and for Good Morning America, to compete in the mornings against the juggernaut that is Today?
People are used to watching the Today show, and it's very hard to break people of their habits, especially when the Today show is a perfectly good show. But I think that people are always open -- in fact, hungry -- for something fresh, and new, and better. And if you put the best show on TV in the morning, and word gets around, I firmly believe that eventually, people will tune in, and check it out. You have to earn it, slowly. It's tough to break people from their habits.

What does The Early Show do differently than its competitors -- why should a viewer take a time-out one day from GMA or Today or Fox & Friends and check out your program?
Well, hopefully, you will like the team. Hopefully you will like Maggie, Harry [Smith], Julie [Chen], Dave [Price], and Russ [Mitchell]. Hopefully you will see that we all get along well, you will see that we all bring something different to the table. You will immediately notice our experience -- which we all bring to the table -- and you will see that The Early Show is getting more and more exclusives with top newsmakers. You will see that we are tackling stories that are fresh and current and relevant, not doing the same old morning stories in the same old usual way. We're thinking outside the box. And I really believe that you'll see the energy and the enthusiasm and the hard work just by watching it. I hope, anyway.

We have a really aggressive team of producers and bookers who are out there, and they are fighting to get people to talk to The Early Show before they talk to anyone else. We got the son of Osama Bin Laden to do his first live interview with us. He had done the Today show, but he had only agreed to do that on tape. We got him to do it live. And he spent five minutes live with us, on TV. That's just one example of many that I've seen recently.

Do you watch the competition? What do you think they do well?
I do, I TiVo all the morning shows -- you have to know your competition. That's just smart on my part, I think. I think anyone should know their competition.

I think they have talented people on their staffs. I'm a big fan of Matt Lauer and Diane Sawyer. And to their credit, they are well-known names. They have that advantage. And the rest, I don't think they do better than we do.

Tell me about your first job in television, when you were a one-woman-band.
I lugged a big deck, because I used three-quarter inch gear -- so it was a big camera deck on my shoulder, the size of a heavy suitcase. You're eager, so you're decked out in your suit, and you've got all your makeup and your hair is done. And then you have this thing hanging on your shoulder, you're carrying a tripod, and a camera.

I appreciate freedom of the press in a way that I think maybe other people don't. And in a first-hand way, because I saw freedom taken away from my parents.

I think that all the other local crews felt sorry for me. Because they would watch me come in, carrying all this stuff ... and setting it up ... and I would shoot my own stand-ups. I'd press record, I'd run around, and I'd stand there, and record it ... and I'd go back and I'd look at it ... and half the time I'd discover I chopped my head off. Then I'd have to re-shoot it.

It was absolutely grueling. But there's nothing that can replace that experience, because I know how to do everything. I have an appreciation for every single step of the process, because I've been there. It was invaluable, it really was, but thank goodness I only had to do that for eight months -- it felt like eight years.

You are a first-generation American -- your parents were born in Cuba. How has this shaped your perspective as a journalist?
I appreciate freedom of the press in a way that I think maybe other people don't. And in a first-hand way, because I saw freedom taken away from my parents. As they left a Communist country, they left everything behind, their homes were seized, they had to start over and build their lives in a new place, and speak a new language because they didn't have the freedom to express themselves in their homeland. So I have an appreciation for that that maybe others don't.

I try to keep the focus and highlight issues that relate to the Hispanic community, because it's my community. So I want to make sure that nobody forgets about it. And we're obviously a major player in this country.

You speak English and Spanish fluently, and you speak Italian and French conversationally. How have you benefited personally and professionally from being multi-lingual?
I've benefited from being bilingual in the obvious way -- I got to start my career in Spanish TV and successfully crossover to English television. But in small ways, speaking a little bit of Italian and French helps me when you go on stories and people speak that language ... I feel that it helps me better relate to more people, and that's always your goal.

You met your husband, a Telemundo ad sales executive, when you both worked for WFOR-TV in Miami. Do you talk shop at home a lot, or do you fear you'll OD on the television business?
We talk about it all the time. He helps me more than anyone. My husband is my biggest fan and my biggest critic, and my mentor and my sounding board. Because he's in the business, he 'gets' it. He has such a unique understanding of exactly what I'm talking about, and he helps me through it. It's not all we talk about, but I consider it a blessing to be able to talk to him about it.

You keep journals in your spare time -- what was your last entry about?
My last entry was when I had just gotten the job (as co-anchor of The Early Show) ... and the next day, or two days later, they sent me to Nebraska to cover the shooting at the mall. And I was writing about it -- I took my journal on the plane -- and I was writing, I said, "I just got this job, and my first assignment as anchor of The Early Show is this..." And I remember that [NBC's] Natalie Morales and [CNN's] John Roberts and [ABC's] Chris Cuomo were all on the plane with me. It was just very exciting. And I wrote, "I hope I nail this assignment."

In our pre-interview correspondence, you mentioned that you wrote in your journal once about your daughter's conception, which happened on the same day you anchored wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Jeanne [in 2004].
I keep a journal for my daughter -- ever since I found out I was pregnant I've kept a journal for her. And I think the entry that she'll find most interesting, when she's old enough to read it, is the story of how she was conceived. My husband and I had been trying for a long time to get pregnant -- so we were being very strategic about everything. So I had to be at work covering Hurricane Jeanne. And we were on the air wall-to-wall. They gave us a very short break during which we stayed at the station and slept on a cot, or went to the hotel next door and slept for a few hours, and went right back on the air.

During my break, I chose to go home in the middle of the storm, dodging palm fronds, my car shaking from the wind, because I knew that if I wanted to get pregnant that month, that was probably my only window.

So I'm risking my life to get home -- very important business to take care of! -- I got home, and then I raced right back to work. And nine months later, my daughter was born, during Tropical Storm Arlene. So she was conceived in a hurricane, born during a tropical storm.

Any hint of a future broadcaster in the family?
No ... she's been on TV several times. Maybe she'll be a singer -- she's very musical. But I don't know that she'll be a broadcaster. And that's okay.

Who goes to bed earlier, you or your daughter?
I go to bed earlier. Is that sad or what? I'm the one with a bedtime. I always say to her, "Mommy's got to go to bed, good night!" and she says, "Good night, Mommy." And she shuts the door, and then I hear her and my husband chatting away in the living room, and I think, "What's wrong with this picture?"

Alissa Krinsky is a contributing blogger to TVNewser.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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