WSB-TV’s quarterly celebrity interview specials hosted by Monica Pearson (”Closeups”) have disappeared off the air with no fanfare after two decades and more than 170 celebrities.
“I miss it,” Pearson said at the recent Frank and Tanya Ski Local Legend luncheon. “I enjoyed it.”
With the growth of Web gossip sites and a multitude of entertainment news shows, celebrity interviews are no longer all that special, she said. “By the time we aired an interview, it was old hat,” she said. “There are too many other access points.”
Another factor: Pearson is planning to retire in 2012. “The reality is Chuck [Dowdle] is gone. John [Pruitt] is leaving soon. Next will be me,” she said. It’s going to be Jovita Moore and Justin Farmer taking more and more of the responsibilities, she said.
She thinks the gradual transition will keep WSB strong and the shift not so jarring. “The quality of work is there,” she said. “Our reporters are the best in the city. The numbers will stay there. Jovita and Justin are truly the future of the station.”
WSB-TV’s Steve Riley said the station may have ended the quarterly feature but will still have Pearson do specials as needed. For instance, last fall, she did one focused exclusively on Oprah Winfrey, who is leaving her show in 2011 and once vied for Pearson’s job at WSB-TV in the 1970s long before she got her talk show.
The specials came about two decades ago, Pearson said, because she was “getting bored doing one thing.”
Among her favorites were Barbara Walters and Andrew Young. Ted Turner “was a hoot,” she said. She was warned Dolly Parton would be difficult but she was “like an old friend.” She was tickled when Smyrna’s own Julia Roberts saw her, she squealed in recognition. “I grew up watching you!” she exclaimed to Dolly.
She chose not to repeat people with one exception: Oprah Winfrey, who has been a big name on the ABC affiliate. Toughest question to ask was Britney Spears when she was a teen-ager and Pearson queried her about whether her breasts were real or not. The interview ended at that point after she hemmed and hawed.
Pearson’s assistant at the station kept a list of every celebrity Pearson has ever interviewed. Here’s virtually the entire list, more or less chronologically from what I can gather:
Audrey Hepburn, James Earl Jones, Hank Aaron, Randy Travis, Peter Jennings, Charlton Heston, Corbin Bernsen, Sally Jesse Raphael, Wayne Newton, Carroll O’Connor, Whoopi Goldburg, David Justice, Willie Nelson, Andrew Young, Spike Lee, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jane Fonda, Jimmy Carter, Diane Sawyer, Robin Williams, Cab Calloway.
Michael Jordan, Martina Navratilova, Trisha Yearwood, Patti Labelle, Arsenio Hall, Tammy Faye Bakker, Brett Butler, Fabio, Curtis Mayfield, Halle Berry, Ron Howard, Kenny Rogers, Billy Crystal, Tony Bennett, Dennis Franz, IMAN, Hugh Downs, Wynonna Judd, Lee Haney, Travis Tritt, RuPaul, Reba McEntire, Samuel L. Jackson, Elton John.
Vince Gill, Dr. Laura Schlessenger, Jeff Foxworthy, Rosanne Cash, Leslie Nielsen, George Jones, Andrew Young, Richard Simmons, Geena Davis, Sinbad, B.B. King, Shirley MacLaine, William Shatner, Morgan Freeman, Tom Selleck, Tanya Tucker, Chris Rock, Anthony Hopkins, Chuck Leavell, the Allman Brothers, Francis Ford Coppola, Jennifer Aniston, Dwight Yoakam.
Babyface, Sandra Bullock, Yanni, Harry Connick Jr., Tom Joyner, Kathy Kinney, Alan Jackson, the Indigo Girls, Barbara Walters, Cyndi Lauper, Britney Spears, John Travolta, Billy Dee Williams, Camryn Mannheim, Neal Boortz, Bill Goldberg, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Love Hewitt, D.L. Hughley, Jude Law, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Shania Twain, Denzel Washington, Regis and Kathy Lee, John Grisham Dominic Chianese.
Vin Diesel, Magic Johnson, Sarah Ferguson (Dutchess of York), TLC, Joan Rivers, Madonna, Bishop T.D. Jakes and his wife Serita, Monica, Rick Rockwell (”Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire”), Bill Maher, 99X Morning Show (Leslie Fram, Steve Barnes, Jimmy Baron), Billy Elliot, Julie Walton, Jeff Bridges, Jamie Lee Curtis, Oprah Winfrey. Julia Roberts’ mom Betty Motes, Arthur Blank, Barry Manilow, the FX guys behind “Jurassic Park.”
Tea Leoni, Arianna Richards, Chris Tucker, Pulitzer Prize winning kindergarten teacher Maggie Edson, Cabbage Patch Doll inventor Xavier Roberts, Billy Bob Thornton, Isaac Hayes, Danny McKnight (led the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993), OutKast, Bow Wow, Christina Aguilera, P. Diddy, Jimmy Buffett, the Wayan Brothers, Mike Luckovich, Charlotte Church, Frank Ski, Robertt Redford. Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri.
Michael Stipe of R.E.M., Gabrielle Union, Diana DeGarmo, Rhubarb Jones, Annie Leibovitz, Bruce Willis, Scott Peacock, Robin Roberts, Usher, local doctor Bobbie Bailey, Cynthia Tucker, Karen Handel, Dr. Helene Gayle (CARE president), Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Anthony Williams, Quincy Jones, local vocal coach Jan Smith, Paula Deen and her sons Bobbie and Jamie, Joel and Victoria Osteen, Ty Pennington, Sara Blakely (Spanx founder), Mylon LeFevre, Freddy Cole, CoCo Brother, Jamia Simone Nash