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Jessica Dean: The Big Moments 
CBS 3’s co-anchor has seen a lot in the City of Brotherly Love
By Madison Russ

Linked arm-in-arm with Sharon Osbourne, Jessica Dean looked right at home – as if she was behind her own CBS Philadelphia anchor desk – sitting and chatting with the ladies of “The Talk” about everything from celebrity feuds to the difficult topic of whether to continue treatment during stage IV cancer. It’s the kind of switch she’s often making – reporting light-hearted features and hard-hitting news back in her own city.

When the hypothetical question was raised: Would it be better for a woman with stage IV cancer to die alongside her husband after falling asleep watching TV or continue treatment, Dean – who actively volunteers for various cancer societies – spoke up.

“It’s those ordinary moments that really make up life,” she said to Osbourne, a cancer survivor herself. The Talk co-host Aisha Tyler nodded. “When you look back on it, it’s those moments – watching TV with the person you love or sitting on a porch or having dinner together – but in a way, it’s a peaceful way to go.”

Jessica Dean appeared as a guest host on CBS’s “The Talk.” She’s shown here with (from left) Sara Gilbert, Sheryl Underwood, Julie Chen, Sharon Osbourne and Aisha Tyler. Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS

It’s been a big year for the local anchor, who was one of only a handful of anchors plucked from CBS stations across the country to join the Hollywood talk show, filled with a lot of all-but-ordinary moments. It comes at the heels of covering the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and Pope Francis’ visit to the city. But if she was ever nervous to head to The Talk or cover some of the city’s most prominent affairs, it’s hard to tell.

“These are people who are pretty well-known. You realize that everyone is human and Sharon Osbourne is a very famous person, but she’s also a mom, a woman and a human. That was the big takeaway for me: They’re all real people,” she says.

“I think it comes across on the show, and I think that’s why it’s so successful, because people can connect with them and relate to them. Sharon is so relatable; how many moms out there talk about their kids? Or have gone through health scares?”

As Dean reflects on her time on The Talk, she’s gearing up to head into the studio to start filming for CBS 3’s Eyewitness News at 5, 6 and 11 pm, and Eyewitness News at 10 pm on The CW Philly 57. Every day is different, she says, but today is more of a typical day: She’ll head in around 3:30 pm to start filming promos before looking over the 5 and 6 pm newscast. Sometimes she’ll have a story she needs to work on. Then it’s off to the races – doing newscasts, more promos and the digital brief, which she also anchors. By midnight, she’ll be settled in at home.

“This sounds kind of flippant, but I get this question a lot: Yes, we do our own hair and makeup,” she says. The cameras are also all automated now, and the newscast that comes into viewers homes each evening is actually manned by just a few reporters and staff.

“When we’re doing the news, it’s me, Ukee and someone running the prompter. Then Kate and Don will come in to do sports and weather. But really, it’s three or four people in the studio at the time,” says Dean.

Going on The Talk, she says, was a “full-circle moment” from when she interned on a nearby studio lot in Los Angeles during college. It’s been a long road from Little Rock, Ark., where she got her start in TV – and where she once said in an interview that she covered “murders and tornadoes” – to the anchor desk alongside Ukee Washington. But she says not much has changed in that time, especially not her love for local news, which started early.

“I watched it religiously. Maybe that tells you all you need to know,” she says with a laugh. “I really wanted to do this.”

In those early days, Dean admired that reporters could dip into peoples’ lives to learn about them. She also had a particular love for Diane Sawyer and her high-profile interviews.

“I kind of wanted to be in the middle of the action. Whenever I looked at the adults who were journalists, they had interesting lives and met interesting people. Their work mattered in a way. They could inform people, sometimes they could help people. That’s what really drew me in.”

Jessica Dean and co-anchor Ukee Washington during the Alex Scott Foundation Telethon.

Dean got her wish: One day, she might be doing a playful segment with her 7-year-old lab mix, Finn, to figure out how dogs think (turns out, Finn is classified as a “socialite,” and she’s particularly cunning.) Other days, she’s got that “front seat to history,” covering the big events.

Now with the New Jersey gubernatorial race coming up, she’s excited to be in the middle of the debates and flex her political muscles – something she’s quick to say she enjoys. From political heavy-hitters to exclusive one-on-ones, there are plenty of stories that stick out in her mind, like the time she sat down with Torago Flint, a man who was shot after protecting others from a Rittenhouse Square robbery.

“Talking to him, I was like, ‘Why? Why would you put your life on the line for people you don’t know?’ It’s stories like that, where you think, ‘This is something that was good for everyone to hear today,’” she says. “I got a story out there that was worth hearing. It’s not every day you meet someone who’s willing to put themselves on the line for someone else.”

Still other days she’s reporting live, breaking news, sans prompter, unraveling events and facts as they come to her. Through it all she’s learned something big: to trust herself.

“You can learn the basics of news gathering and learn what ethics are, and learn all the hypotheticals in your head, but when you’re in the field and it’s happening, and there’s breaking news and peoples’ lives are at stake – that’s the stuff you learn by doing and interacting with people. Sometimes, we meet people on the worst day of their lives. How do you do that in a caring, thoughtful way? It’s things like that you have to learn along the way, and it comes with time and with experience,” she says.

“When you put it all together in a more philosophical way, you have to learn to trust yourself. Sometimes you’re going to have two facts, and you have to get that to the viewer at home and make them understand why this matters, here’s what we know and why this matters to you, too.”

There’s a fine line between empathizing and not taking the all-too-difficult moments home, something Dean has had to learn how to balance and leave at the door to focus on her family. Her husband, she says, has been tremendously supportive through every turn – weird hours, traveling and all.

“It’s interesting – for me, you have to keep that thread of humanity. You have to keep that feeling that these are real people this is happening to. To be able to do that, you have to open your heart a little bit and be human and empathize. You can’t be a robot and do this work,” she asserts. “You have to have a heart.”

“There are days, with certain stories, they follow you home and gut punch you. You are only human, and you can’t help but sit with that. I think that’s a good thing – it matters.”

 

October 2017
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