Shari Dunn, the new morning anchor of the CBS 58 morning news, didn't follow the regular career path that most reporters take to wind up working in their hometown.
Before the Nicolet High School and Marquette University graduate landed a job in TV in Milwaukee, she worked as an attorney and lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and New York City. After a spot on "Oprah" and an appearance on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," Dunn decided it was time for a career change.
Dunn says she literally had a "what do you really want to do?" moment -- and decided wha she wanted to do was TV.
Dunn began freelance reporting for Court TV, and eventually landed at the NBC affiliate in Tyler, Texas, using the experience she accumulated as a Madison news intern in college. Finally, this fall, she applied for a job with WDJT-TV in Milwaukee and stepped behind the anchor desk just a few weeks ago.
We caught up with Dunn in the latest Milwaukee Talks.
OnMilwaukee.com: Before you tell me how you wound up back in Milwaukee, tell me your story about Oprah.
Shari Dunn: When I was in New York, I knew this girl who owned a dating coffeehouse. Oprah had contacted her about the concept. They have these books and when you see someone cute, you tell the staff. They set up the meeting at the coffeehouse, so you don't have to give out your information. I met (the owner) casually, and she asked me if I would agree to be one of the dates. I said, sure that would be fun. I did the date, and the producer on the Oprah show said she really liked me, and asked if I would try four more dating services. They'd fly me to Chicago, and I'd explain to Oprah and Gayle (King) how it all works. I was like, OK. I couldn't have asked for that. So I did this half-hour segment of me sitting up with her.
OMC: Did you maintain your connection with Oprah?
SD: No, not really.
OMC: The Nicolet High School thing didn't help?
SD: No, it didn't do much for me.
OMC: Did you find love from the coffeehouse?
SD: No, I did not, but it was a good platform for me. Alas, I still have not found love. Still looking, by the way.
OMC: Then what?
SD: This woman from Court TV contacted me and had seen me on Oprah. She asked if I wanted to do some legal commentary for them about divorces and celebrities. I said sure. That got me on air and talking. At that time I also got an agent. I went out and did some demo things to go with my Court TV experience. I knew I really wanted to pursue broadcasting but I was really going to need money. I decided to go on to the daytime edition of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
SD: It was totally crazy, but I did. You take this test and after you pass they interview. The girl who was interviewing wasn't feeling me, but the girl next to her was. I won enough money that I didn't have to work for the next two years.
OMC: How much did you win?
SD: I don't like to say. I did not win $1 million, but I won a lot.
OMC: What question did you end on?
SD: I'll never forget that. Which Broadway musical was the first to win a Grammy? I had really studied for this, and I knew the answer. I had won before the question, and I got totally out of focus. I got up and yelled "Oklahoma," and it was. I sold my apartment in New York and moved to Los Angeles and lived there for two years. I did a lot of freelance work.
OMC: That led you to your first anchoring job in Tyler, Texas. What was that like?
SD: It was market 108. Milwaukee is 35. I was in Tyler for two and a half years. They brought me in because of my experience as an attorney, but my reel was good. I was the main anchor at 5 and 10 p.m.
OMC: There's a big difference from anchoring and being a legal analyst, right?
SD: They put me behind the desk, and it worked. For me, anchoring comes natural. I've always had an aptitude for it. I love to report, too. This skills necessary to being a reporter -- all these are skills that being a lawyer has given me. It was good for me, and I think it was good for them ... but then I had an opportunity to come back to Milwaukee.
OMC: Tell me how that happened.
SD: As always, I'm trying to look ahead. About a year ago, I began looking aggressively with my agent. Over Thanksgiving, I learned of a position here at CBS-58, and I had an audition, sat behind the desk. It went really well, and I got called back. I've been here four weeks, because I didn't want to leave Tyler on two weeks' notice.
SD: It was hard. I had lived in big cities my whole life. I was used to people walking down the street and doing things. Even if you waste a day in Manhattan, it's the best way to waste a day. It was a huge personal sacrifice.
OMC: Were you excited to come back home?
SD: I was very excited to come back home. My family's here, and my mother comes from a very large family.
OMC: You haven't lived in Milwaukee in 10 years. How has the city changed?
SD: It's weird. Things are the same, but things are different. Like the Marquette Interchange, I don't even recognize it. The city is a different place from when I left, but I haven't really had a chance to get a total feel for it.
OMC: Tell me about your job at CBS-58.
SD: I do the "Morning News Express" with Mike Strehlow. It is my first morning news job. I get up at about 1:45 a.m. and I'm here at about 3. It's a busy day, but it flies by. It's kind of nice in a way, since I get off at about 11:30 a.m. When I say it's an hour from sunrise, I feel like Dracula sometimes.
We try to give people the news that they want in as quick of a format as we can. We don't want to waste anybody's time; people are really busy in the morning.
OMC: Compared to some of the other news products in Milwaukee, your station is a little less flashy, more no-nonsense, right?
SD: Especially with the weather, we don't want to keep teasing people. We have a very young and aggressive and great staff. I was impressed with the reporters here. I think they're very solid. Our people may be young, but they're experienced. They bring a lot to the table.
OMC: What's next for Shari Dunn? I know you just started in Milwaukee, but your career has taken you lots of places. I'm assuming this isn't your final destination, right?
SD: I told my news director this, so this is nothing surprising. At some point in my life, I'd love to be Larry King, but not with the suspenders. I'd like to eventually meld together my broadcasting, strong general knowledge and trivia into a format where I can have the opportunity to really blow that out.
OMC: You probably have a way to go before you become the next Larry King, right?
SD: I guess I haven't been anchoring as long as Larry King, but he started before television. That's one of things in this business that's been difficult. I spent two years freelancing and two and a half years in Tyler, so I've been at this almost five years. But there are some big jumpers.
I think what has distinguished me is the background I've brought to the table. I bring additional years of other experience. I understand subject matter when I do a story about Social Security and healthcare. Understanding how to move through certain things, it gives me a certain knowledge base that may add several years to my broadcast years.
The airwaves are littered with lawyers (who became) anchors, one of the more famous ones is Geraldo Rivera. Jerry Springer is a Northwestern Law School alum. They're just everywhere, totally throughout the system.
OMC: What do you do when you're not working?
SD: Currently, I sleep. I hang out with my dog, Princess D. She's a miniature pinscher, but she's really a medium. I like to cook and if I can get some free time, I would like to see more of what Milwaukee is now.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.