By Rory Winston
“One day all this will be yours’ begins the hackneyed phrase. As for what ordinarily follows: ‘A tract of land,’ ‘a house,’ or ‘a list of inconsequential chattel.’ What we don’t expect is a gun used by Bonnie and Clyde, an amusement park, a valley’s worth of dolls; that is unless we’re watching Fox Business Network’s new smash hit Strange Inheritance – a show that not only manages to live up to its name, but has itself been bequeathed the most invaluable and surprising treasure in the form of a polished and perspicacious show host, Jamie Colby.
With remarkable acumen in both legal and business matters, Colby is a hybrid talent whose areas of expertise beg the same question her show asks: How did one person come into possession of such distinct gifts? In her case, the question could be reformulated to: How has a TV news anchor acquired an extensive understanding of everything from disposition law to financing given the highly competitive and focused mindset that success in television often demands? To further complicate the anomaly, ‘Enter the seemingly insouciant blonde who – unlike the rest of the city – appears approachable, interested and well rested.’
Never the Meek
With a benevolent smile, Jamie dismisses my comment about her having been a child genius (attending University at 14 and getting her JD by 22) insisting instead, “Precocious maybe, but primarily it’s about my philosophy which has always been: to remain unafraid. That’s what allowed/allows me to try new things. I didn’t start out with ‘Hey, I wanna be on TV.’ I studied to be a doctor then switched to accounting. Since I was too young to take my CPA exam I did a couple of years at law school. When I graduated I decided to work in the entertainment industry so I sent thousands of resumes to LA & NY. I was applying in some office when ‘Bombastic Bushkin’ (Henry Bushkin, lawyer to Johnny Carson and Joan Rivers) entered. ‘Hey kid what are you doing here,’ he asked. Since I didn’t know enough to be intimidated I said, ‘I’m looking for work… you got anything for me?’ He told me come back the next day… and I said ‘how’s 11?’ Looking back, Bushkin was probably just being polite. But to his surprise I was there the next day at 11; and next thing I know, I’m in.”
Never one to be meek, Jamie was just out of law school when she inherited a battery of exciting projects and got to meet everyone from Joan Rivers to John Travolta. Since Johnny Carson regarded her as a wiz kid, he took her under his wings. “My ears were always opened,” Jamie explains, “10 years of law, many varied projects; I learned how to have everyone who left the negotiating table feel like a winner. It’s the same ‘thinking on the go’ knowhow you need in a breaking news situation. You prep yourself zipping through 100’s of pages. Then you go on the air with just 2 words. Like I did with: Ford Died. On the spot, I had to explain all of America the significance of President Ford’s life and legacy.”
“That I can do”
When her grandmother had cancer, Jamie met her surgeon. “He was tremendously kind,” she admits, “We fell in love. He was going to be Chief of Surgery at St. Vincent’s in the Village and he talked me into moving to New York with him. He was much older… Getting married, changing jobs all in the same week. Not recommended.”
Though born and raised in Forest Hills, Queens, Jamie no longer had any family members in New York. With a mandatory 6-month waiting period as stipulated by the NY Bar Association, she was balked from practicing law locally. When a friend of hers – an agent – asked her to fill in for a client on maternity leave at NBC, Jamie – in true Chorus Line manner – leapt at the opportunity: “Teleprompter…?” – ‘That I can do.’ “Report on legal and business issues?” – ‘I can do that.’
“Again, I was unafraid despite being like a deer in the headlights with my French braids. Nevertheless, just two days after I started, I was sure that TV afforded me the opportunity to help a much larger number of people than I could with pro bono community service.”
After her brief stint at NBC was up, Jamie headed to a station on Long Island (WLNY, Channel 55) where – because of her background as a gourmet chef – she was asked to do a cooking show relating to quick meals and the regular working family. Again, without hesitating, Jamie jumped in. As she says, “I shot, I edited, I wrote and I did 3 news packages a day. Once promoted, I got to anchor the 11 o’clock broadcast – at 50 dollars a day!”
“About two years in, the station owner says ‘a friend’s child is desperate for a kidney.’ And everyone at the station is like ‘oh, wow, we just did your other friend’s grocery store opening etc.,’ but I said: why not? So I did the story. The kidney comes through. Suddenly, an executive producer from Extra calls, saying ‘I saw your piece and would you like to be a national correspondent. ‘
From WLNY, Jamie literally leapfrogged to WCBS prior to moving on to CNN. Then, on a beautiful morning in 2001, while reporting on a mayoral primary, Jamie heard the first plane hit the Twin Towers. “So we switch immediately to a different kind of story, interviewing a man who works for Boeing, but happens to have been at the Hilton Millennial Hotel’s 50th floor when… Well, I ended up talking to a lot of survivors that year.” Just two years after winning the Gracie Allen Award (2000) for investigative reporting, Jamie won the coveted Edward R. Murrow award in for her coverage of 9/11 – a fact that Jamie forgets to mention. Jamie appears distracted. “Yeah, I was traumatized,” she confides. “There were some people who talked about it later like it was a film;” there is an unprecedented vulnerability to her delivery. “I mean one woman said, ‘Oh yeah, I saw that 9/11 thing on TV but I didn’t know anyone in the buildings,’” she breaks off.
After a slight pause, Jamie resumes, “I just kept learning. Then a FOX News executive calls me in 2002… First I think it’s my brother who’s playing a practical joke on me again… but no, Fox likes my stuff. Anyway, CNN was really nice about it when I told them the position I was being offered. They threw me a farewell party and.. well, that was 12 years ago. “
“Fox gave me a front seat into history. I covered a lot of things. Military things. People needed to know why our troops had to go protect us. What it’s like for them when they get back. Post-traumatic stress. The works. I got personally involved. In the past it was with helping homeless women; since 9/11 it was with helping our returning patriots. Coming to terms with the war, cleaning their credits, going to rehab and getting their lives in order. They’ve been through so much for us.” Besides her charity related projects, Jamie is renowned for mentoring others, believing it’s an obligation to pass on what you know.
When the concept for Strange Inheritance came along both she and the network saw the show as a perfect fit for her. Jamie had the interdisciplinary background to make it work. Legally aware of what it meant to accumulate wealth, she could grasp how disposition was governed. “These were tremendous stories,” explains Jamie, “These people are real characters… Our team scouts the best stories by way of folklore, word of mouth.” Debuting with the highest ratings ever for the net, the show is loved for many reasons. As Jamie concludes, “Women love it because its about families and characters. Men because of guns and cars and… kids watch and learn about baseball card collecting and different things.”
Enthralled by New York, Jamie admits to being ever more capable of enjoying the nuances on offer. “The old Jamie didn’t take a breath till she got home at night. Like most locals, I ran about frantically without time to consciously experience. The new Jamie is way more Zen. I see the smiling faces, I take in the streets, I appreciate the museums, the parks, the restaurants, the theaters, I experience all that is New York including being able to stay in all day and order anything and everything up.” Forever undaunted, Jamie is truly media’s child – one whose sheer gumption has led her from behind the camera to in front of it, and one whose already prodigious repertoire continues to grow. Jamie is living proof that it is not the meek who shall inherit this world’s strange wonder.