What makes Real Sports so successful?
The whole point of Real Sports is to have a handful of stories that are well-told, and that are looked at differently from what you normally get from newspaper or normal TV coverage.
I think what Real Sports does a lot of shows aren't able to do, is to have a really good look under the rocks of stories. The fact that there are no commercials is a big factor. There is a big advantage to being able to tell a 10 or 11 or 12 or sometimes even 15-minute story, that has no break, because the narrative builds, and the emotions build, and the story gets to wind its way, without any kind of break. You don't have to break the story down into, into separate components. It gets to unfold.
What kind of stories do you most enjoy covering?
I am the woman on the show. I get the "chick stories." [LAUGHTER]
I like stories that have a lot of heart. I like stories about underdogs, or athletes who are trying to come back from being down. I like the personal stories like that. It's not just gender. It's generational, as well. I am a mother of two, so I guess I like stories about kids. Or about grownups who behave like kids. I tend to like the quieter stories, the ones with people you might not have heard of. They have every bit as much right to have their story told as the best stars in the business.
Give us some examples?
I did a story about a bunch of kids who play inner-city polo. And that one knocked me down, because not only were the kids very special, and finding a way out of this hellhole existence that they live in, but the woman who started the whole thing and who keeps it going, had such a remarkable heart and a great generosity of spirit. She is utterly unsung. She makes no money off of this. I mean, everything she gets from it is helping save one kid at a time. And those are the kind of stories that I really enjoy.
And I did a story about a guy, Danny Andrews, who is the first-ever Division I track and field runner who is an amputee. I couldn't believe he existed. It was a three-day shoot. I cried all three days. And it's not like he tried to make me cry. He felt absolutely nothing but normal about his whole life. Oh, yeah, he lost his leg. And he was, you know, a soccer star, who lost his leg. And, all right. So he just sort of picked himself up and kept on going. He is just one of the most remarkable athletes I have ever met.
What was your first Real Sports story?
I did a profile on Charles Barkley. Talk about a lay-up. [LAUGHTER] All I had to do was say, "So, Charles." And he did the rest. I mean, that guy is just a walking, talking sound bite. [LAUGHTER]
What have been some of your other personal highlights?
I did a story about a wonderful person, a golfer named Mallory Code. She was only 16 years old at the time and now she plays for the University of Florida. She was just ridden with one kind of disability after another. She had MS, and she also was diabetic. This is a kid who might not even be alive, except that she took such great care of herself. She made sure she was home-schooled, so she wouldn't be susceptible to germs. She was absolutely an exquisite person to meet, inside and out. She didn't resent her situation. She didn't feel sorry for herself, at all. It was just a life affirming, meeting this kid. I was old enough to be her mother and I spent the whole time just learning from this child. She has a wisdom, far beyond her years. Her experience had made her into one of the one of the great athletes I think I have ever met.
Does it help you that you were a professional athlete when doing a story?
It helps. It's surprising to me that people react to me as though I were an ex-jock. I played professional tennis for a couple of years. But I guess I am better known for speaking about tennis. It helps because I'll be talking to a baseball player, or a football player, or a basketball player I have never met before and as I am going to shake hands with them, they are saying, 'So what's the story with Serena? So what, what's going on with Venus?' Or, 'Is Capriati sleeping with Matthew Perry?'
I think they presume that I know a little bit about sports, because I have played professional tennis. I know what it's like to win. I know how easy it is to lose. I have been clammy and sweaty myself. And I think there is a certain cache to that. But more and more people say to me, "Hey, you are the chick from Real Sports. Yeah, I watch that show." [LAUGHTER]