by Patricia Grandjean
Feb 18, 2011
02:00 PMBox Office
Q&A: Marysol Castro
Former ABC “Good Morning America” weekend weather anchor and features correspondent Marysol Castro, 34, has begun an exciting new gig—as weekday weather anchor and features correspondent for CBS’s “The Early Show.” A Wesleyan University and Columbia School of Journalism grad, she lives in Westport with sons Liam, 4, and Gavin, 1½.
You kicked off your new job with a CBS affiliate tour, is that right?
Yes. Erica [Hill], Chris [Wragge], Jeff [Glor] and I went to five cities in six days. Talk about "getting to know you." We were getting acquainted with CBS affiliates and in many cases their corresponding radio stations. Some need a boost in ratings, others are No. 1 in their market. It was basically just an introduction to say, "We are the new face of 'The Early Show': This is who we are, and we promise you good things." Obviously, as CBS affiliates, those people were very familiar with Erica, Chris and Jeff, who had been with the CBS family for many years. I'm the odd woman in.
We started off in San Diego, where it was 90 degrees. Dean Spanos, the owner of the Chargers, invited us to watch a game from his suite. That was lovely; something I'd never done before. Can't say that I've ever rooted for the team, but I did that day!
Were you previously acquainted with your new CBS colleagues?
Only in watching their work. I've been a journalist for just about 11 years. I remember watching Chris on "Entertainment Tonight" and WCBS in New York City; Erica I remember from her work with Anderson Cooper. So I felt like I kinda knew them.
I guess we all feel that way with people on TV . . .
Exactly. My sister, who also lives in Westport, says that people come up to her all the time and say, "So, your sister . . . what's she like in real life?" She always says, "Well first of all—her work is her real life, and what you see is what you get."
What is the feeling you’re getting on the street about your move to CBS? Some of your “Good Morning America” fans seem unhappy.
First and foremost, to be embraced by my “Early Show” colleagues was paramount. Literally within the first 30 seconds after I joined the team, they took me in as if I’d been part of the CBS family for years. That really does set the tone, because if we're truly in the business of "what you see is what you get," and if we're in the business of delivering the news in a way that is informative yet disarming to the viewers, that means that we can't have egos—we have to be ourselves.
In Westport, Liam goes to Earthplace. And at one point, all of a sudden the other mothers weren’t seeing me on “GMA.” People in town are very private; no one wanted to question me. And I sort of broke the ice and said, "Look—I'm moving and shaking." But when CBS announced my hiring, parents who I had never spoken to sent me these heartwarming e-mails—it seemed that in some odd way they were proud I was part of the community. When the announcement went out, I think five minutes later, my son's friend Sam—his mom immediately texted me and was like, "Omigosh, this is so exciting! I'm so happy for you!"
Listen, I’m in a business where you’re scrutinized from head to toe. But for every naysayer, there are two people who are really jazzed about my move.
While a features correspondent for “GMA,” you drove a pace car for the Indy 500 and did a trapeze act with Cirque du Soleil, among other ventures. What was most exciting?
Cliff diving in Hawaii was by far my most exciting and scary adventure. But I’m also proud of a feature I did a couple of years ago on undocumented immigrant students in Berkeley, Calif., which didn’t quite fit the model because it wasn’t personality-driven. It’s very easy when you’re on air to get caught up in “See, I’m a star! Watch me tap-dance!” I try to strike a healthy balance between letting me shine and giving my subjects the spotlight.
When you did the segment on Berkeley, what was your greatest challenge?
I was telling a story that no one knew. I'm the daughter of two people who came here from Puerto Rico—that doesn't necessarily make us immigrants because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. But I certainly "get" the issues surrounding immigration and those surrounding education, as a former English teacher. I can bring a certain perspective because I've lived those lives, not that I can speak for everyone.
When I came onboard at CBS and met Sean McManus [former president of CBS News and Sports; now chair of CBS Sports] and Leslie Moonves [CBS CEO], we talked at great length about not being one-note. You want to be multidimensional, and to do that you have to leave the studio; as anchors, you don't want to be tied to the desk, reciting the news and weather. We live for the breaking news, finding stories that are really interesting to shoot.
A weather anchor is not, strictly speaking, a meteorologist with a science degree and technical knowledge. But what’s your favorite aspect of the weather?
Natural phenomena. Early on in my run at “GMA,” in 2005, there was a constant parade of hurricanes, including Katrina. We went through the alphabet one-and-a-half times. That first year, when literally, every weekend a different hurricane was coming, I remember us all talking about “What exactly is a hurricane, and why do we never know what path it will take?” I remember reading something that compared a hurricane to a leaf floating down a stream, directed by the external obstacles it bumps into.
It always cracks me up . . . today is pretty cold in New York City, and it makes me laugh that as New Yorkers and people who live in New England—all of a sudden it's December and we're still shocked that it's freezing! Like we don't know this is going to happen every single year.
What did you study as an undergraduate at Wesleyan?
I was a government and English major. I was going to go to law school and become a senator. The university career center at the time was skewed toward investment banking, and though I never took a single math class, I was courted by J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs. I was going to take the job at Morgan—I had already deferred law school—when a friend’s mom, a college dean, said, “Mary, you need to teach. The world doesn’t need another investment banker.” So, two months later, there I was at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, teaching 9th- and 12th-grade English. Best decision I could have made, even though I was making far less money than I would have in investment banking.
How did your work as a teacher inform what you do now?
If you can discuss Homer’s Odyssey at 8:30 in the morning in front of a group of eight cantankerous seniors who want nothing more than to go back home and sleep—and who can smell fear a mile away—doing live TV is nothing.
I knew from the beginning I’d teach only a few years. I also coached women's varsity volleyball, and wanted to coach the team to a state title, which I did. Meanwhile, I’d changed my mind about law school, too. I still wanted to go back to school, but just for writing. I started applying to NYU, Columbia, the Iowa Writers Workshop. In the process, the application for Columbia School of Journalism showed up at my door. My best friend, who was also my roommate at the time said, "This is perfect for you," and I was like, "I don't even watch the news." But—this is full disclosure— my favorite show had always been the CBS Sunday Morning show.
So, I thought, "OK—but this is the best journalism school in the country; I'll never get in." A couple of months later . . . I pursued the graduate broadcast program; for my master's thesis I did a 30-minute documentary. I learned everything you could possibly learn about the different facets of the job, covered all the same stories the local affiliate news stations were covering. Shortly after I graduated 9/11 happened, so I learned how to use a camera, learned how to produce, write and edit.
Right after Columbia, I worked at News 12-The Bronx. I only wanted to be a producer; I had no desire to be on air. I wanted to write. One day, this director wanted to see a piece I had produced before he put it on air. He didn't see a "stand-up"—that's the part when a reporter comes on camera to talk about the story. So he ordered me to go out and shoot one. So I inserted myself into the piece and at 6:08 p.m. my mom called me: "Am I watching you on TV right now?" That seems a long time ago. From there, I went on to WPIX-11.
When my contract there was up, I'd been looking all over the place—and "GMA Weekend" had just started on ABC News. One of the things that people who are critical of the news don't understand is, these positions don't come up every day. So if they see you—and they ask you and you're interested, you'd be a fool not to say yes. So I lost my weekends, but it was another great training ground. I worked with some of the best journalists in our business.
How did you happen to come to Westport?
Through my sister Melisa Diddio. She brought me over. I was obviously born and raised in New York City, but i had a family and Connecticut seemed like the way to go. Even though Westport was farther out than I wanted to go, I wanted to be near family. I admit, when I first got there, I felt a little odd. But I've made peace with the place and I love it. You feel like there are people who have your back. Making friends was tough, because obviously I have a brutal schedule. But I've met a group of women who will be with me the rest of my life.
To me, Westport has a lot of the same energy as New York.
It does! From what I understand, there used to be many more mom-and-pop shops. I gravitate towards Dovecote—I'm in there more than I need to be. I did swim classes at the Y with my kids, and it was inevitable: the routine usually went library, swim class, sandwich down the street at Oscar's. It's been sad to see a couple of stores go vacant and remain that way as long as they have—that's my litmus for when we bounce back economically. I've lived in town for six years.
Do you have a plan for your career?
It's not that I don't have one . . . i give myself very freely to this process. This is a business that will eat you up and spit you out. Everyone is ready to see you fail. This move to CBS has definitely been a game-changer. To be on National television five days a week is akin to "arriving." If ever there was a time I want to tell the best story ever, it's now. My goal was never to get the best ratings; it's to be the best journalist I can be.
So do you have a particular story in mind?
Oh, yes. David Friedman [executive producer of "The Early Show"] thinks I'm crazy, and it's a very hard turn from what people have seen me do. In Juárez, Mexico—it's the drug-cartel capital of the world; 3,000 people have died this year alone in these brutal drug murders—this 26-year-old law student, also named Marysol, has become sheriff. No one else wanted the job, as all of her predecessors have been killed, but she believes in her community, in the people who are not involved in the drug trade. She’s declined all interviews so far—I’ll just have to do the first. She's the Joan of Arc of her time.
How are you planning to handle your new hours? You must have to be up at some godawful time.
3:30 a.m. It's what I did for "GMA," just five days a week. I have no circadian rhythm.Q&A: Marysol Castro