Coach DeVito: Former D-FW anchor now calling the plays
02/01/07 02:27 PM
By ED BARK
IRVING -- TV anchors need love, nurturing and sometimes a kick-start when they're stalled. Maybe their energy is down a quart or their rapport with desk mates seems forced, faked or flat-out fraudulent.
This is where Jolene DeVito can help. She's not Supernanny or Professor Higgins. But the 37-year-old ex-anchor knows how the game is played -- and how to play it better. She used to be a raw rookie, too, and was coached by the very company that now employs her -- Irving-based Talent Dynamics.
"These anchors are so hungry for feedback, it's crazy," she says. "News directors have a whole lot going on, all kinds of things on their plates. And they don't necessarily have time to sit down and really give their anchors feedback in a way that's constructive and helpful. We speak 'anchor' in ways that news directors don't or don't have time to."
Born in Richardson and a graduate of Berkner High School, DeVito broke into the news biz as a reporter for KLTV-TV in Tyler. She moved up to NBC affiliate KXAN-TV in Austin before returning home in 1999 to anchor at Belo's new 24-hour cable venture, TXCN. Talent Dynamics beckoned after TXCN got downsized to a skeleton crew and Belo8 decided not to find a spot for her. Now she's one of six coaches for a company whose confidential client list includes both Belo and D-FW stations.
"I love what I'm doing here more than I ever thought I could," DeVito says. "I can't imagine the circumstances under which I'd go back to anchoring."
Married with two young children, daughter Avery, 3, and son Carson, 6, she's also wedded to North Texas.
"This is home. Kids and family and all that. I'm not goin' anywhere. I fought to get back here. This was always my personal and professional goal. I'm not one of those who could just throw a dart at the map and go anchor the news there."
She remains a closet anchor, though. "It's still full of anchor clothes that I have absolutely no use for," DeVito says. "All those bright, bold colors and the purple pantsuit that made me look like Barney. I should let anchors shop in my closet, 'cause I'm not wearin' those clothes anymore."
She now hits the road about 60 days a year, conducting two-day coaching sessions in markets ranging from Cleveland to Myrtle Beach, S.C. Anchor teams in need of bonding also travel to Talent Dynamics' home offices, which include a small studio used to simulate newscasts.
"There only so much we can do to make people like each other," DeVito says. "But we can make them understand why he or she communicates the way they do. It's like marriage counseling in a lot of ways."
Bad body language or over-the-top voice inflections are the root causes of many anchor failings. DeVito recalls telling one client, "OK, I know you're crossing your arms just because you're cold in the studio. But look how it makes you look. It makes it seem like you hate your co-anchor."
Overselling stories is getting out of hand, too, she says. "It's like crying wolf. If you give me the stuffed animal parade at the same energy level that you give me the serial killer, I ain't buyin' it. So we talk about that a lot."
DeVito especially enjoys aiding and comforting the early morning afflicted. It's a booming growth area in many local markets, second only to late night newscasts in both emphasis and profitability. But the hours can be killers, especially on women, DeVito says. She counsels them to get to a gym immediately after getting off work. And to lay out the morning wardrobe the night before. And oh yeah, establish an ironclad sleep routine and go very easy on the catnaps.
"Otherwise you'll fall into bad habits," she says. "You can run on adrenaline for about a year. And after that you just start fallin' apart. You get sick left and right. It shows in your skin. It shows in your crosstalk. And it's very easy to put on weight."
Her words carry weight with most anchors because she's been in the arena, endured the grind, taken the lumps.
"I always tell my anchors, 'The last thing I'm going to do is try to take you out of your own skin. If I'm asking you to do anything that's just not you, you have the right to overrule me. And I have the right to fight back if I'm convinced it's the right thing for you to do.' "
It's all done very privately. No TV station wants to acknowledge publicly that its anchors need to be schooled in the art of acting naturally and not like Ted Baxter. So Jolene DeVito comes and goes without calling any attention to herself. Her clients are left to be recognized in supermarkets. She returns home to further fade from view.
"I'm not up for public consumption anymore," DeVito says. "I can wear my hair the way I want, dress the way I want to dress, go out and not have to put on a smile."
Being anchored without having to be one: priceless.