Fast Talk: Linda Ellerbee
Linda Ellerbee has never been one to shy away from speaking her mind. The woman most respected for putting a human face on the news and what she refers to as her "big mouth," has moved from being an outspoken newscaster on each of the three major networks, to producing and writing for everything from MSNBC's Headliners & Legends with Matt Lauer to a show on the children of Afghanistan. Her work as writer and presenter on eighties newsmagazine Our World won her an Emmy, and she has watched Nick News (which her company, Lucky Duck Productions, started producing in 1991) pick up two more Emmys plus three Peabody Awards—one of which she herself holds for her coverage of the investigation into President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Ellerbee is also a breast cancer survivor, lecturer, and author of a series of children's books. She gave T+L an interview in between her trip to Afghanistan and the premiere of the show she produced for WE: Women's Entertainment, to talk about the large role traveling plays in her life, and why she will never stop doing it.
1. Where are you now?Why are you there? Where else would you rather be?
I am sitting at my computer in my office at Lucky Duck Productions. We are in the West Village on the island of Manhattan. Where would I rather be?Any place warmer than here.
2. How often do you travel?Is it usually for business or pleasure and how do you do it?
I travel regularly. Usually at least once a week, almost always for business, but after surviving breast cancer for ten years, I do try to make time—even on my business trips—to stop and smell a few roses. By that I mean I make time to take a long walk, or to go hiking, or to go see something specific to the place I find myself in. And I always try local food.
3. Where have you just returned from, and where are you off to next?
I've just come back from two weeks in Afghanistan. We were producing a show called Faces of Hope: The Children of Afghanistan. It debuted on Nickelodeon on March 17 and will air on Cable in the Classroom from March 22 to May 24. Afghanistan was an astounding experience. I have promised myself to return one day.
My next trip is to Houston to speak to an association of women journalists. It's my hometown and I'm looking forward to some really fine Tex-Mex food at Felix's, my all-time favorite Mexican restaurant. Then I'm going to be spending the month of May at a beautiful place called Perivolas on the island of Santorini, working on a new book. This one is about memory, travel, and food. I am so looking forward to this. You can't imagine how much.
4. You travel thousands of miles every year talking to people about breast cancer. What do your talks center on, and what are some of things that you would like to tell the general public about breast cancer that it may not know?
I talk about hope. I talk about courage. I talk about raising your voice to help change the world. I tell stories. I remind women it's in their interest to learn about this disease. I tell them to get noisy and get active.
5. You've produced a television show for WE: Women's Entertainment titled When I Was a Girl (premiering March 31), and an HBO miniseries about the women's movement in the sixties and seventies is in the works. Tell us a little bit about both, including what they are, how you got involved, and what role you play in them.
When I Was a Girl is a show about connections among women—and memory, which is always choosy. What we choose to remember says a lot about us. Besides, all of life, except for this very moment, which is now gone, is memory. We feature women from different backgrounds, such as Edie Falco from The Sopranos, the opera singer Denyce Graves, the astronaut Sally Ride, novelist Anna Quindlen, actress Elizabeth Perkins, and several other interesting, outspoken women. I'm rather proud of this; it's a moving show. You laugh. You cry. And maybe it sparks your own memories.
The F Word is an HBO project in development, an eight-hour dramatic series about the women's movement of the sixties and seventies. Diane Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg, Diane English, and I are producing it and we are terribly passionate about the project. We want young women to know their history before it's forgotten or completely misinterpreted.
6. What do you miss most about your days of being a newsreader on a regular nationwide news program?How does it differ from your recent work writing both for TV and a children's book series and producing TV shows such as Headliners & Legends with Matt Lauer for MSNBC?Why did you make the change from being in front of the camera to writing and producing in the first place?
Wow, a lot of questions lumped together. Okay, what do I miss?Very little, except now and then my competitive drive takes over, in which case I miss beating the pants off the competition. What's different now is that I own a production company and we sell shows to Nickelodeon, Lifetime, MSNBC, HBO, WE, A&E, Court TV, CBS, ABC—did I miss any?I'm my own boss. I like that. And I always liked writing and producing more than being in front of the camera. I don't like to watch myself on TV at all. It's painful.
7. Although your kids are all grown up, what are your top five tips for families who travel with kids?These can be packing tips, road-trip survival tips, etc.
• Take your time. When my children were two and three, we (including the dog) drove in an old VW camper from Seattle to Houston. Some days we made only fifty miles. But we have wonderful memories of that trip, or at least I do.
• Unscrew your head. Traveling with kids can make you insane if you're not relaxed.
• Be flexible. Changing plans in midstream may be a good thing.
• If you're backpacking, which I do often, whatever you do, don't forget your map and compass, and lots of munchies. And even more water.
• In a hotel, walk down the hall and touch every door between your room and the nearest fire exit, counting as you go. It's simple, and it could save your life.
8. What has been the biggest obstacle you've had to face in your travels?
Being a woman in those countries that value goats more than women.
9. What changes, if any, have you made in where you go and how you get there based on the new travel climate?Is there anything that could stop you from traveling?
I've made no changes, other than to pack even less than I did before. I was on a plane eight days after September 11, and I will continue to fly, cruise, sail, backpack, paddle, and drive. I refuse to let terrorism succeed in terrorizing me.
I love traveling, always have. There's nothing so wonderful as waking up in a new place. And I love traveling alone. If you're alone, you're forced to interact with the people where you are. If you're with someone, you can miss a lot while the two of you are talking only to each other.
10. If there's one thing you know now, that you wished you knew then, what would it be?
I know now that America may be the center of my world, but it's not the center of everybody's world, and that's just fine. The world is an exciting, varied, marvelous gift, as are the people in it. I believe in taking big bites. I doubt I'll stop. There's too much I haven't seen yet.
—Interviewed by Robert Maniaci