Jane Pauley, who’s been one of the most recognizable faces at NBC News for 27 years, is stepping down in May, the New York Times reports. The paper says that the 52-year-old ”Dateline” host shocked network executives by declining to renegotiate her expiring contract. She tells the Times that she’s writing a book, and while she may return to TV in the future, she does not plan to sign on for a long stretch at another network’s news division.
Explaining her decision, Pauley said, ”I think women think a lot about cycles, biological and personal. This year another cycle came around: my contract was up. It seemed an opportunity to take a life audit.” Pauley has two grown twins (her children by husband Garry Trudeau, the ”Doonesbury” cartoonist) who went off to college last year. ”I keep walking by bookstores and seeing titles talking about second acts in life,” she said, adding that she now wonders ”what’s next, or even, what is it I really want to do?” She said she won’t miss at least one aspect of her job: ”I’ve always had a lot of ambivalence about fame and celebrity.”
Pauley has surprised NBC execs this way before. In 1989, when Deborah Norville joined ”Today,” Pauley asked to be let out of her contract and left the show, where she’d been a co-anchor since 1976. (Norville, who was seen as having pushed the older Pauley out the door, was unpopular and was soon replaced by Katie Couric.) NBC managed to keep Pauley in the fold by launching ”Dateline” for her, where she’s had a primetime perch for the last decade.
Ratings for ”Dateline,” which airs three times a week, have declined in recent years, as have those for other networks’ newsmagazines. NBC News president Neil Shapiro told the Times that Pauley’s departure wouldn’t affect his decision on whether or not to cut back on the show. He also said he had not yet made a decision on who might replace her on the program.