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Author/anchor/survivor Norville remembers the not-so-good-old Today daze

Author/anchor/survivor Deborah Norville in Dallas. Photo: Ed Bark

Her stormy tenure on NBC's Today long has been yesterday's news. Still, it ties into the title of her latest book, The Power of Respect. Did Deborah Norville get any at all during the time she bridged the gap between Jane Pauley and Katie Couric?

During a recent book signing and "PowerLunch" speaking engagement at sprawling Prestonwood Baptist Church, Norville makes no effort to resist this bait. Nearing 15 years as anchor of the syndicated Inside Edition and with six books to her name, she's no longer the coltish "Other Woman" who allegedly schemed to drive the older Pauley from her Today desk job in late 1989. Being a self-assured survivor doesn't entirely remove the sting, though. Norville still seems to remember Today as though it were yesterday.

"I don't think 'disrespect' is a strong enough word for what they did to me. I was vilified," she says during an interview with unclebarky.com.

Norville, 51, says this almost agreeably. Her lips don't purse and her eyes aren't narrowing. But still . . .

"You can sit today and look back at all the coverage, and it's hard for your jaw not to drop at what they did to me," she says. "The only thing I would do differently is ignore NBC admonition not to talk to the press. They forbade me to speak to anybody. It was an information blackout. And the result was, I was torpedoed."

Norville, teamed with Bryant Gumbel on Today, soon found herself in the shadow of another "Other Woman." Katie Couric wasn't blonde but she sure was cute and perky. She subbed for Norville during her maternity leave, which instead became permanent. In spring 1991, Couric officially replaced her, ending Norville's 15-month tenure on Today, which had fallen behind arch rival Good Morning America in the hotly contested breakfast hour ratings race. Most of the blame was heaped on Norville.

"I've been underestimated every step of my career, and I knew I was being underestimated then," she says. "I won an Emmy during that period, so it clearly wasn't that I was a poor reporter or asked bad questions. I was younger and blonder than Jane Pauley. That was apparently my huge failing."

Norville had a shortlived national radio show and also briefly worked for CBS News before replacing Bill O'Reilly as Inside Edition anchor in March 1995. All of her books have been written since then, including two for children, one on knitting and an account of life after Today titled Back on Track: How to Straighten Out Your Life When It Throws You a Curve. She's also the married mother of two sons and a daughter.

"The 'younger thing' has certainly taken care of itself," Norville says. "And the 'blonde thing' -- anybody can be this color. I'll give you the phone number of the guy who does it every six weeks. What I've always tried to do is prove to whoever employed me that they had not made an error in judgment. And that maybe there was a bit more to Deborah Norville than they might have first thought. I don't worry about that anymore, but that was something that certainly was of concern in my early career days."

She mostly writes her books in early morning or late night hours, but occasionally researches them while on the job at Inside Edition.

"I mean, how long does it take you to write an 18-second intro into 'Balloon Boy's mother admits it was all for media attention?' That doesn't burn up a lot of my brain cells or take a lot of my time."

Inside Edition airs at 4:30 p.m. weekdays in D-FW on CBS11. It's something of a fast-food appetizer for the meatier trio of 5:30 p.m. network newscasts, which come January will have women anchoring two of them. Couric still presides over the CBS Evening News and Diane Sawyer will soon succeed Charles Gibson as anchor of ABC's World News. For a brief time in the early 1990s, Norville substitute- anchored weekend editions of the CBS Evening News. She now plans to watch Sawyer.

"I'm huge fan," Norville says. "Diane made it OK for blondes to be smart in television. I personally owe her a lot, just because of her intelligence, grace and dignity. I think she's going to be great. I would watch that space."

She's otherwise happy to be called "a survivor" in a business where Pauley's gone into virtual eclipse and Couric is still constantly battling her detractors.

"But you know what, when any of us come into this world, no one in that delivery room says, 'From here on out, kid, it's gonna be fair.' So you can either moan and groan or you can say, 'Man, I'll show 'em.' "

Norville figures she has.