'Anchorwoman' Becomes the Story

A gorgeous model who wants to prove herself as a newscaster, without any experience.

A relatively new television station that wants to make a ratings dent in a very competitive market.

And a network that wants, and already has gotten, gobs of publicity from the situation.

Combine, stir, and serve as "Anchorwoman."

Premiering Tuesday, Aug. 21, the unscripted FOX series traces the quest of Lauren Jones -- a former Miss New York who also was a "Barker's Beauty" on "The Price Is Right" and a WWE diva -- to establish herself on the news team at KYTX, a CBS affiliate in Tyler, Texas.

Knowing the attention her presence could bring them, some co-workers welcome her. Others? Not so much.

The news director worries about being accused of letting journalistic standards fly out the window (and, indeed, he has been); the station's existing anchorwoman resents having a new rival with virtually no background in the job; and a female reporter aspiring to a network position hates what the new hire represents, in her view. Through it all, Jones has a staunch supporter in the man who brings her on board, KYTX owner Phil Hurley.

Interviewed in person in Los Angeles, Jones proves articulate and acutely aware of what her news tryout means for her and others. She reasons, "I think whenever there's a newcomer to any environment that others have been familiar with for some time, there is going to be a trial period. 'Is this person someone I want to accept or someone I want to cast out?' With that comes a bit of cattiness, but that's anywhere, even when I was a 'Barker's Beauty.'

"There was a competition for who was going to anchor at 5 p.m. It's been my dream to do this since I was a little girl. [The existing anchor] was the one who went to school for it, but I was the one who had the passion for it my whole life, so there was this battle. Why am I any different from any other journalist with an attractive face and an untraditional background? I have a college degree with a double major, I take this seriously, and I hope to continue building credibility."

Before hiring Jones, Hurley had launched other stations and been in various financial situations. "The CBS prime-time lineup is strong, and daytime is good, but your local news is going to grow much slower," he says. "I saw this as an opportunity to speed that process up. I knew I was going to answer to some critical comments, but I probably didn't estimate the intensity nationally, and I don't get it.

"All you have to do is look around at who's on the air and what's being covered," Hurley adds. "I have a former Miss Texas and a former Miss Houston on my staff, so I'm not doing anything I haven't done for years."

"Anchorwoman" sprang from a chance meeting between Hurley and executive producer Brian Gadinsky two years ago at NATPE, the annual convention of station managers and program sellers.

"He told me he had just bought this new station and he had a big job ahead of him," Gadinsky recalls. "In Tyler, the ABC affiliate has been around forever and has a huge audience share, and [Hurley] had to make a blip. I said, "What if a model/actress/famous person with no experience came down there to anchor the news?' We just kind of laughed it off, and I thought I'd never see him again, but I couldn't get it out of my mind."

Flash forward to finding Jones, described by Gadinsky as "more Reese Witherspoon in 'Legally Blonde' than Paris Hilton." She admits her very visible audition hit bumps along the way.

"There's that anticipation and those nerves," she says, "but you learn and grow from your mistakes and become what you become. My experience was heightened, so there were even more pressures cast upon me. To put those things aside, compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand was very difficult. It wasn't just learning the experience; it was being criticized and scrutinized at the same time.

"My mistakes are going to be on national television, but I'm just being me, so what does it matter if I make a mistake in front of my colleagues or in front of the nation? It's OK, because they're going to see me become the best journalist I can be. Hopefully, they'll root for me in the end. I've been given this opportunity, and I'm taking the bull by the horns. And why not?"

Since "Anchorwoman" is about a CBS station but airing on FOX, KYTX often is identified in the show only as "Channel 19." Though supported by the CBS station board's president, Hurley agreed not to show the famous CBS "eye" symbol on FOX's airwaves. At this writing, it was possible the FOX affiliate in Tyler wouldn't air "Anchorwoman" since it promotes a local rival so clearly; in that event, Hurley would run the show on his own station.

An admirer of Katie Couric, Jones finds it ironic to face a figurative firing squad at the same time as the "CBS Evening News" anchor. "The poor woman has been bombarded with these criticisms, and she's doing great. I'm proud of her as a journalist, and I can only hope to emulate a career such as hers. They even call her a sex symbol, then I come along -- so is she really 'sexing up' the news, or just doing what she does best?"

Jones' initial stint at KYTX is done, but her overall tenure there may not be. "Phil had given me 30 days for sort of a trial run," she explains, "and if he felt the ratings had improved and he trusted my ability to go forward, I would possibly come back. He has invited me to, and with the media frenzy, I'm just re-evaluating my situation and deciding whether going back to Texas would be the best career move."

If Jones ultimately does, Hurley would love it, but he's being realistic. "It's probably not going to be a matter of what the ratings show, but what other offers she gets," he says. "I'm in the 111th television market in the United States. If I was a gambling guy, I'd say she's going to get a better offer in a bigger market. She'll have to make up her mind."