The CBS anchor was perfectly happy in her career when she got the call that changed her life

By Mary Green
June 19, 2019 03:17 PM
Gayle King outside CBS offices
Bryan Derballa

In 2011, Gayle King was happily hosting a TV show on OWN and an XM radio show, and was the editor-at-large of O the Oprah Magazine, when Chris Licht, CBS’ former vice president of programming,  came calling. Licht wanted to shake up CBS’ morning broadcast, and that began with bringing in new anchors.

“I loved the radio show, I loved the show I was doing on OWN. I still love working at the magazine. The call from Chris literally changed my life,” King recalls in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.

In 2012, King, Charlie Rose and Erica Hill launched CBS This Morning, a news-heavy format that steadily grew its audience with exclusives and special on-location reporting, whether from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico or the southern border.

RELATED: Gayle King Reveals the Nicest Thing Oprah Ever Did for Her

King took the show to another level in March with her interview with  R. Kelly, who has been charged with 11 counts of sexual abuse (which he denies). As Kelly grew increasingly agitated, leaping out of his seat in anger, King never lost control, and was able to calmly defuse the situation.

“It escalated rather quickly,” King tells PEOPLe. “It went from 0 to 200. When it’s happening in that moment, you don’t really feel it. I could tell he was getting a little angry, I could see that, but I didn’t expect it to go there. When he jumped out of the chair, and he’s hitting, and he’s screaming, and spit is flying because he’s angry, I just thought, ‘You can’t respond in kind to that.’ If you respond in kind to that, then we’re both off the rails.”

Instead, King simply repeated his name, Robert, and eventually Kelly continued the interview.

King with CBS News President Susan Zirinsky
Bryan Derballa

Watching that happen in real time, CBS New President Susan Zirinsky says, “I called the West Coast and I said, ‘Gayle King is doing the most impactful interview I’ve ever seen.’ What was so brilliant about her handling of that interview was that she didn’t react in the moment, she was able to step back and see it from the wide angle. She didn’t flinch, she didn’t lose composure, she stayed focused and poised, and because of that, she was able to bring him back.”

RELATED: Gayle King on ‘Witnessing Self-Destruction’ of ‘Very Troubling’ R. Kelly During Raucous Interview

The interview went viral, and King was launched into an higher stratosphere.

This spring, King signed a new contract at CBS, and Zirinsky told her she wanted to revitalize the morning show. The anchor admits she was concerned at first. She told Zirinsky, “It’s like we’re starting from scratch, Susan.” The news chief told her, “We are not starting from nothing. The core of this show is strong. What we need to do is find the right people.”

King and CBS This Morning Executive Producer Diana Miller
Bryan Derballa

Zirinsky brought in Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil and tapped star executive producer Diana Miller to helm it.  “Diana is the perfect person—intellectually and spiritually — for this job,” says Zirinsky.

Miller, who works with the trio each day, says, “They are three of the most curious, hard-working and inspired journalists we could have sitting around the table. Gayle comes to the studio every morning bright with excitement to share our show with America. She is incredibly engaged in every story we tell. Anthony’s incredible career and range of experience combines with a unique approachability. He can deliver even the toughest news and you feel that you’re in good hands. Tony is quick-witted, down-to-earth and finds nothing boring. He loves to discover that nugget of news that you might not know.”

Anthony Mason, Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil
Jeffrey Neira/CBS

Miller continues, “America is noticing Gayle because Gayle notices all of us. She says what you’e thinking, she asks what you’re wondering. The beauty of Gayle is that even when a moment is about her, it feels like it’s about everyone. Maybe because we all wish to be a little more brave, bold, and authentically ourselves. Just like Gayle.”

  • For more on Gayle King, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

King adds, “It is very sweet to have this kind of success at this stage in your life, when you weren’t even trying.”

CBS This Morning airs weekdays at 7 a.m. ET on CBS.

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