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August 12, 2011

Women Running the Show

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katie nelson

Katie Nelson Thomson with Barbara Walters.

Photo Credit: Heidi Gutman/ABC

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The Night Owl
Katie Nelson Thomson, 43, Senior Broadcast Producer, Piers Morgan Tonight, CNN

What I do: I recently started running a team of top bookers for Piers Morgan, in the cutthroat nighttime zone, after years of producing for Barbara Walters.

Crazy adventure: When I met with Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh in prison, he said he wanted to marry me.

Proudest accomplishment: I like challenging viewers to think about the news in a different light. For instance, I arranged the first interview with John and Patsy Ramsey after their daughter JonBenet was found dead in their basement. In my research, I discovered that much of what has been said and written about the Ramseys was completely untrue. At the time, there was widespread consensus that they were responsible for JonBenet’s death, based on reports that there were no footprints in the snow, meaning no one had entered the house. I obtained copies of the crime-scene photos, which told a very different story: In fact, there was only a smattering of snow on the ground that day; there were footprints; and there was evidence of entry in a basement window. Another example: I met Michael Jackson and was struck by how different he was than the "Wacko Jacko" he had been made out to be. It was particularly evident in the kind of caring and involved parent that he was. I loved it when he showed me how he made his son laugh by moonwalking! I think our interview helped to show this, and also allowed him to describe the toll the paparazzi can take on a star. The same was true with Monica Lewinsky, who was and is intelligent and poised, and who was very brave to open up in our interview the way she did.

Major mishap: Occasionally, I'll pop up in paparazzi photos, like a "Where's Waldo?" In one photo, I'm with Monica Lewinsky, identified as her 20-something friend. In another, I'm sitting behind Michael Jackson's children at his memorial. And I'm in a video of a Fidel Castro interview — hugely pregnant — in the classroom where we were filming.

Best part of the job: Being a witness to history. I worked on the first interviews with President Bush, Rudolph Giuliani, and Vladimir Putin after the 9/11 tragedy. I often meet people in the news long before their stories are public, and it is always fascinating.

What it's like to work with Piers Morgan: He's totally unflappable. He can go from judging flamethrowers on America's Got Talent to doing an intense segment about Mideast unrest on CNN.

How I got my start: I ended up in TV accidentally. I was planning to start law school when I did a summer internship at the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C. I got an offer from the show The McLaughlin Group, and decided to go for it.

Word to the wise: If you want to be a producer, be prepared to give up a portion of your life because you can’t control when news breaks. On the other hand, be prepared to set a few personal boundaries, because certain life events happen only once.


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