Tamron Hall is back, and she's ready to talk with America

Salon talks with the former "Today" host on the eve of the debut of "Tamron Hall," her new syndicated talk series

By Melanie McFarland

TV Critic

Published September 8, 2019 3:30PM (EDT)

TV personality Tamron Hall attends the ABC "TCA Summer Press Tour" Carpet Event at the Soho House, in West Hollywood, California, on August 5, 2019. (VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
TV personality Tamron Hall attends the ABC "TCA Summer Press Tour" Carpet Event at the Soho House, in West Hollywood, California, on August 5, 2019. (VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)

Tamron Hall is not a phoenix. Referring to her as such implies that she's rising from a career left in ashes, when the opposite is true. Hall's career was very much intact when she decided to walk away before the house she helped fortify caught fire.

From 2007 to 2017, Hall worked for MSNBC and NBC News, and in 2014, she became the first black woman to co-anchor "Today's Take," the third hour of the "Today" show. She was so successful in that role, particularly with longtime "Today" personality Al Roker at her side, that "Today's Take" regularly beat its syndicated competition in the time slot.

Maybe you know the next part of this story, either because you witnessed it from afar or lived some version of it yourself: In 2017, following years of hard work and positive ratings, NBC bumped Hall from her "Today" anchor slot to give the hour to Megyn Kelly, who the network lured over from Fox News.

Although NBC reportedly offered Hall a multimillion-dollar deal to remain with the network in what she has since revealed to be a lesser capacity, the veteran journalist chose instead to bet on herself, leaving her former employer to seek other opportunities.

Almost as much as a break-up tale, Americans love a good comeback story, if not more. So let's cut to the present day: Nearly a year after Kelly spectacularly flamed out at "Today" and was ousted from NBC after suggesting that black face wasn't racist, "Tamron Hall" is set to debut in multiple markets Monday across the country.

Between her departure from NBC and the commencement of this new adventure in weekday talk, Hall continued to host her Investigation Discovery series "Deadline: Crime"; had a son, Moses, with her husband Steven Greener; and, as she shared with fans on social media, continued "livin' her best life."

With the arrival of "Tamron Hall," produced by Disney–ABC Domestic Television, she'll be significantly adding to her responsibilities.

Hall's syndicated talk series is styled after conversational shows such as "The Phil Donahue Show" or "The Mike Douglas Show." It will be a classic daytime talk series enabling the host and the audience to dig into the topic of the day with celebrities, experts and give-and-take exchanges

Hall also has strong support behind the scenes in executive producer Bill Geddie, who co-created "The View," and co-executive producer Talia Parkinson-Jones, who joins Hall after a decade with "The Wendy Williams Show."

Hall was in bright spirits when she recently sat down with Salon to talk about the role she hopes her new show will fill in the daytime talk space. At the same time, she was absolutely candid about how she feels about her departure from NBC.

Salon: There was a lot of coverage of your exit from NBC. What was it like for you during that transition period? I ask, because I think that a lot of people related to your situation.

Hall: Absolutely, absolutely.

Salon: I'm guessing that you've heard that from a lot of viewers.

Hall: Oh, absolutely. I don't shy away from that question, because it was something that hit home to a lot of people: Where you're in a relationship and you put your all into the relationship, and the other person says, "You're not for me." Or you put it all in the job that you're in right now or one that you had before, and suddenly someone says, "You're not that person."

Inside, you're reconciling: "Wait a minute, I tried hard in this relationship with you. I did everything. I went on vacations and pretended to like your mother when I didn't — or every time you called me for an assignment, I was there. And then, suddenly, I'm not the one being picked." Like we're back in the schoolyard, and you're standing there — the last kid standing for dodge ball — and you're not being picked, and you don't know why.

I didn't shy away from talking about it, because . . . I didn't instantly know how relatable it was, but I knew my feelings were real. I knew that people around me — both colleagues and friends — all felt that it was a gut punch, too. It wasn't a badge of honor. I was embarrassed, but it also wasn't something I was going to shy away from. I was 46 years old at the time, and by the time you're 46, you really have a hard time masking things. You're like, "Here's what it is . . ."

Salon: There's also the matter of — ahem — who was picked to fill your slot, too.

Hall: You know what? It didn't matter. It really didn't. Look, I'm going to keep it real. There were some aspects of it that I didn't understand, but I've never met Megyn. I never had an issue. If we were friends, and she came to me and said, "This is the offer," I'd be like, "You absolutely better take it, and you better try to kill it." It wasn't a personal thing, and it wasn't personal with NBC. My show is right now on several NBC affiliates. It was a decision made by a handful of people.

I knew that my journey was bigger than that, in the sense of — bigger in that this wasn't going to define me. This wasn't going to be that moment that I look back at my career with regret, or sadness or shame.

I've been doing this since I was 18. I've been working since I was 14. My grandfather had a second-grade education. When I think about a bump in the road like this — and this man survived all kinds of things. I don't tell you that to have some "Coal Miner's Daughter" story. I tell you that, because that's how I was raised. It wasn't going to define me — in print or in my heart. It just wasn't.

Salon: There are a lot of examples of talk shows hosted by people with lower profiles than yours. You've had this long history of being a known personality in front of the camera, and you're also a journalist who many people are familiar with. There are things that you have in your favor that previous hosts didn't.

Hall: Yeah, no. I don't feel that way.

Salon: Why?

Hall: I guess, because I've always seen myself as the underdog. I've never felt that I was the person that people bet on. Over time, you get a good makeup team, a good hair person, a good stylist and people see an exterior that looks confident. But inside you're not always as confident.

When I look at the mirror, I see seven-year-old Tamron, who had a single mom. Some of those things don't ever leave you. With that said, I've been given a heck of a chance to win now.

Yeah, there have been a lot of shows that have come and gone — some quicker than others. I am a TV junkie, and I could probably spout off an opinion about everything and every show. I think what makes us different is what you mentioned. I do have a news background. At one point in time, I was on five different TV shows. I was on the "Today" show. MSNBC. I was hosting "Sister Wives" — one husband, five wives, 17 kids that I got to know over many, many seasons. Then, the next thing you know, I'm popping up jumping out of a helicopter with Bear Grylls.

Salon: And you've done true crime.

Hall: I've done "Deadline: Crime" for six seasons, and then I was hosting the Macy's Fourth of July [Fireworks Show]. In some capacity, I was popping up on someone's television. I think that that gives me a unique, organic lane.

I was just at Essence Festival with 20-something thousand women of color, and then I'm going to Boston for a night at the Wing to hang out with probably an audience of predominantly white women. I feel comfortable in both, and they feel comfortable with me.

I think part of the authentic journey I hope that I've lived is that I walk around my neighborhood in Harlem, and black women say, "Girl, go get 'em." Then, I'm in Arkansas, and there's the typecast southern white woman who says, "Tamron, is that you? I miss you on TV." I'm both their girls. In their heads, I'm both their friends. That is a part of the unique lane that we have with this show — one that I didn't design.

Trust me, I was on five shows, because I was trying to work. It's like the old "In Living Color" skit where the Jamaican person has all the jobs. I'm not Jamaican, but I had all the jobs.

Salon: "Hey, mon." Yeah, I think every woman of color has had that feeling.

Hall: That was me. So here I am on five or six different shows, not realizing I was building a relationship with different types of people, and the "Deadline: Crime" community, the "Today" show community. We were just taking all of these versions of me — all real, authentic versions of my life, and of my career and my personal life with my sister — and bringing them to one location. That's the unique lane that I have, and that's what gives me confidence on the days that I look in the mirror and I see the person that executives sometimes don't want to bet on.

Salon: The point I was going to make about talk shows, particularly daytime syndicated talk shows, is that a number of them take on a very specific lightweight feel. To me, I think that's the reason a lot of them didn't necessarily move forward after a season or a certain number of episodes.

Hall: I agree with you on that. Listen, when you look at traditional talk, which is what we're creating here, you would go and turn on the television and at any given time there was a different topic. I'm a huge, huge Mike Douglas fan, and I watched the old episodes. You would see all of a sudden there would be Muhammad Ali on with Yoko [Ono] and John [Lennon]. They would talk, and it was real conversation.

At some point, the successful model became more variety and fun, and that's what you see right now. I'm a huge fan of Ellen. I honestly think that Kelly [Clarkson, whose syndicated series also debuts this week] will have her show, and it'll have its lane. But that's very different than what we're doing.

I'm able to have a town hall tomorrow on gun violence; and then the next day do an interview about moms, and life and the five things that I've found that helped me through these first three months; and then pivot and have an inspirational topic of a book and something that people relate to because we're all trying to get up when we feel down.

We have a range, and it's all natural to me. I'm not being taught how to be a journalist. I'm thankful to have had 25 years of journalism experience. That's kind of what I think makes it different, and it makes it more traditional and gives us a lane that doesn't have an occupant right now. I'm the HOV lane of traditional talk.

Salon: I was going to say, one thing that for unfortunate reasons is missing is . . . I hate to say his name, but Charlie Rose, I think, brought a lot of substantive, issues-based interviews, as did Phil Donahue —

Hall: I'll tell you this story. Prince told me . . . and I don't know if I've ever told anybody this: A couple of months before he passed away, Prince asked, "If I wanted to go and talk, who would I talk to? Whose show would I go on?" I said, "Hello, I'm on a show!" And he said, "But it's three minutes — it's four minutes. Where would I go?"

At the time — and this was prior to the things that have developed in Charlie's career and life — he said, "Charlie Rose." I remember getting so mad at him. I'm like, "You can't go on someone else's show!" It's: "Hello, I belong to you. You belong to me. You cannot do this to me." He ended up not doing it, of course, after I said, "You cannot do this." But that's what he said: "Where do I go? Where do I go to talk?"  I suspect he was talking about things that we now know, but where would he go?

Salon: In the past the answer would have been Oprah.

Hall: Or Phil Donahue.

Salon: Right.

Hall: Listen, Rolonda Watts is a close friend of mine. Rolonda had four years of a successful show. She left her show. People forget that. If you got the ratings Rolonda got, you'd be happy. You'd be like, "Yes, I'm going the happy dance."

Ricki Lake — I ran into her at a restaurant when I had just announced I was pregnant. She walked over,  and she started giving me advice. She's very much an outspoken mom, and her journey and what she's gone through personally.

Ricki Lake — think about it. You don't run out of topics when you're just talking. When you're just talking, you rip off your mask. I rip off mine. We have a conversation. Yes, talk went through different variations of tabloid, and you try to react to the audience. And executives get in, and they start correcting. But the core of traditional talk is exactly what you and I would talk about tonight at seven if I said, "Meet me for a drink."

Salon: When this comes on, it sounds like a lot of comparisons between what you're doing and other shows will be made, particularly between your show and what's happening on "The View" in terms of topics of discussion.

Hall: It's different, because obviously with "The View" it's an ensemble. And I've been a part of an ensemble. You're finding a different rhythm. You've got five or six people, and you're finding a rhythm. I do believe it's just like . . . If we went to dinner tonight, and there were five people at the table, we'd have a good time. We'd talk. Now imagine the two of us together just one-on-one, and we're chopping it up. We're going to dig deep in that. And that's what our show will do, I believe. You'll have this chance to connect one-on-one with me with the participation of our audience. But the central tether will be this one host with the guests, and then it breaks off into these lanes.

We'll have our audience. We'll have our social media. But the anchor — the hook — is between you and me rather than trying to find a rhythm with four other people, five other people. I think that's what makes us different.

Listen, my executive producer created "The View." People are still copying the show 25 years later. That's a compliment to him and a compliment to "The View." But I think — again, looking at the lane and looking at what's out there — having a solo host, having Disney bet on me as that solo host was a tremendous boost of confidence. It's also because they saw that the lane is not occupied in the way that you and I fell in love with traditional talk.

The text of this conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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