Don’t Fence Her In

Hard news? Sports? Celebrity interviews? Entertainment Tonight host Nischelle Turner can do it all.

By Jackie Krentzman

Growing up an only child on a farm in Missouri where her family raised pigs and kept horses, Nischelle Turner was not an obvious candidate to become a media star. Not only was she a farm kid, she was also teased at school for her interests and way of speaking. She was called things like “white girl in a Black body” and “weird” because her tastes ran to Garth Brooks rather than the latest hip-hop or pop artist.

But Turner, cohost of Entertainment Tonight, was always her own person. The teasing didn’t faze her, nor did preconceptions of what a Black girl who grew up on a farm could someday be.

“I always marched to the beat of my own drum,” she says. “The very first album I got was Garth Brooks’s No Fences. The teasing never bothered me. I went back to my high school not too long ago and students asked what I would tell my younger self, and I said, ‘Your weirdness will win out—because all the things people thought made me weird growing up are the things that serve me well today.’
I never thought I had to explain my Blackness, because I knew we are not a monolith. I mean, I grew up in a family of Black cowboys who loved country music and walked around in ten-gallon hats and overalls—that’s who I am. I knew I was Black. Nobody could tell me I wasn’t.”

Weirdness wins out. Turner, who has won five Emmy Awards, embraces that unusual slogan to describe who she is—and it also describes her success. Weirdness, in this case, can be thought of as relatability. Turner in large part has shot to the upper echelons of TV as host of the No. 1–rated entertainment news show because everyone can relate to her. Her delivery and interview style are warm and welcoming. Stars open up to her. And so do everyday folks.

Turner didn’t set out to interview Tom Cruise and Michelle Obama before millions of viewers (Entertainment Tonight is watched by an average of four million people nightly). As far back as she could remember, she wanted to be either a lawyer or a print journalist. Then, when she was 14, she saw a Black woman anchor on the local TV station.

“I immediately sat up—it was like a bolt of electricity went right through me,” she says. “Those were the days before Oprah was really known, and she hadn’t made an impression on my soul yet. I thought, ‘Can I do that?’ ”

She decided she could and would. She took as many media and communications classes as she could in high school and continued at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She began her meteoric rise in 1998 when she joined WEHT as a reporter and fill-in anchor in Evansville, Indiana. In 2000, Turner was a weekday reporter and weekend anchor for WVUE Fox 8 in New Orleans. She next joined KTTV in Los Angeles in 2004 as a reporter on Good Day LA and anchor for Good Day LA Weekend. She returned to New Orleans a few months later to cover Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath for Good Day LA.

Reporting on the devastation of Katrina was one of the most memorable points in her career, she says, along with covering the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma in 2015, walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge (which she likes to call the “John Lewis Bridge”) with the Obamas and other dignitaries.

“These events melded the personal and the professional in me like no other story,” Turner says. “I called my mom as I was crossing the bridge. She grew up in the segregated South. We shed tears that day.”

In 2007, Turner received a surprising offer: to cover NFL games for Fox Sports. Turner had grown up as an avid sports fan (baseball, and the St. Louis Cardinals, are dear to her), so she jumped at the opportunity.

That gig raised her national profile and led to covering other sports for Fox Sports, and then branching out into other arenas. She began cohosting a celebrity-focused web series, Extra on Essence, targeted to Black women.

Her work there attracted the notice of Jeff Zucker, then president of CNN Worldwide and one of the deans of entertainment journalism. She was hired on at CNN to cover a multitude of events including the Grammys, the Golden Globes, and the Academy Awards.

While she was moving up and earning accolades, Turner says she still had a bad rap—she wasn’t thought glamorous enough, and networks were unsure if she had star material.

She dispelled that myth by working hard and staying who she was—an upbeat, relatable, girl-next-door type.

“I’m from the heartland. I am a Black girl who loves country music and reads comic books—I am a nerd,” she says. “I believe my success is due precisely to those attributes—who I am makes it easy for me to connect with people. No matter how different you are, I discovered, you can find a way to connect on a personal level.”

CNN saw her unique relatability to a broad audience and didn’t worry about whether she looked like a runway model. As Turner was showcasing her talent in news, sports, and entertainment, the brass realized they had a potential breakout star.

In 2014, she received an unexpected phone call. She was being promoted to cohost of Entertainment Tonight, the 41-year-old franchise widely considered the pinnacle of entertainment journalism. She was so surprised, she said, that she burst out in tears.

It didn’t take long for her to accept the offer. “CNN was the gold standard for news journalism, so why not join the gold standard of entertainment journalism?”

She may not have thought she would ever be a candidate for such an elevated role, but others sure did.

“Nischelle Turner is at the top of her game when it comes to hosting and interviewing. She’s a master at her craft, and celebrities respect her skills as a seasoned journalist,” says ET’s executive producer, Erin Johnson. “She delivers both news and memorable moments to the audience in every interview she does, and when she’s not in front of the camera, she’s contributing behind the scenes with ideas and enthusiasm.”

Turner works closely in front of and behind the camera with her cohost, Kevin Frazier. They have a readily visible chemistry, which means stars are eager to participate, and the audience is frequently delighted.

They both agree that part of their success is their strong personal bond.

From left: Rachel Smith, Matt Cohen, Nischelle Turner, Kevin Frazier, and Lauren Zima of Entertainment Tonight.

“I’m lucky enough to work with someone who I consider family,” says Frazier. “Which means that sometimes your family member will pull you up and have a tough conversation with you. Nischelle has been so good for so long—she has truly done it all at the highest levels—so I trust her instincts on everything, every day. Entertainment, sports, news—please show me a woman in this business who has done more!”

Turner also gushes when asked about working with Frazier. “Oh gosh! It’s really what you see is what you get,” she says. “There is not an inauthentic moment between Kevin Frazier and me on this show. Viewers appreciate that. Sometimes he drives me nuts. But I would run through a wall for him. He is more than a friend—he’s family. We can rely on each other—never let the other fall. We can also be self-deprecating, and we can take a joke. Our viewers feel like they are hanging with their good buddies on a nightly basis.”

Since joining Entertainment Tonight, Turner has had the opportunity to interview a wide range of celebrities, from Tom Cruise to Michelle Obama. A highlight was an interview at the White House with the then–First Lady (“She opened her arms for a hug, and I stepped on her foot! I was horrified!”). Another high point was the walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She has also gotten to know her idol Oprah Winfrey, and Turner and her mom have spent time at Winfrey’s Montecito home.

And that’s not all. Turner likens herself to a five-tool baseball player who can do it all and do it well. Her sports hero is the Cardinals’ José Oquendo, who was known for having played every position on the field at least once in his career. Therefore, despite having her hands full with ET, Taylor is continually improving her skills and broadening her scope. She is also the host of Secret Celebrity Renovation and, in a first for her, has directed the show, too. On top of that, she hosts The Big Podcast with former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal.

“Working with Shaq is so much fun!” she says. “He is extremely smart and has the biggest heart. Not only do I get a bellyful of laughs on the show, I have also learned so much about business and life from him.”

Reflecting on her incredibly varied career, Turner says, “I certainly never dreamed of hosting a renowned national entertainment program. I was hoping to be a foreign correspondent like Christiane Amanpour! But all my life, I have come from a place of ‘yes.’ I don’t turn down new opportunities that will make me stretch—I embrace them.”

Turner is very aware of how few Black women are represented in the media, on both sides of the camera. She says she still has to fight battles every day to get a seat at the table. She’s also acutely aware that she has the ability, even the responsibility, to help open the door for others.

Her advice for aspiring women of color in the media industry starts with having a thick skin and being prepared for hundreds of noes before getting a yes. “People are not lying when they say you must work twice as hard to be given half the credit,” she says.

She also advises finding a mentor. “Get yourself a Kevin Frazier! We have worked together for many years, and thankfully he has always been a sounding board for me, especially in those days when I felt like I couldn’t continue.”

Turner goes on to say, “Make the effort to try to genuinely connect with everybody in your organization. Sometimes you can change people when you connect with them one-on-one. That may mean stepping outside of your box, but that’s a good thing.”

She counsels women to be true to themselves. “Stay steadfast in who you are,” she says. Turner knows how hard that can be. She says that despite her extraordinary success, she still has to fight imposter syndrome. “I always wonder if someday everyone will realize what a fraud I am!” she says, laughing. “Given where I came from, I figured I’d be working some nine-to-five job. So I sit in gratitude every day.”

She regularly reflects on the many ways her upbringing shaped her, including instilling in her the notion that she need not let life fence her in.

“My grandmother used to tell me, ‘Dream bigger than your surroundings,’ ” she says. “That is something I cherish and never forget.” DW


“Nischelle has been so good for so long—she has truly done it all at the highest levels. Please show me a woman in this business who has done more!” — ET co-host Kevin Frazier

The post Don’t Fence Her In first appeared on Diversity Woman.

* This article was originally published here