Jamie Colby’s journey to broadcast journalism was a little atypical. After practicing entertainment law in California for 10 years, she moved to New York and was awaiting the bar exam there when a local NBC affiliate asked her to fill in for an anchor on maternity leave. “It didn’t work out,” says Colby. “On the second day they said ‘Thanks, we will call you,’ but I found out it was something I really enjoyed because I could combine research, thinking on my feet and helping people, and in a much bigger and creative way.”
Realizing that if she wanted a TV career she would have to start at the bottom, Colby took a fellowship at Channel 55 on Long Island—for just $50 a day. “For two years I shot, edited and worked hard,” she says. “It took me back to the ‘I will work any shift, I will be up all night and I will be on call when nobody else will’ days of being a first-year lawyer.” When the station owner asked if any of his on-air talent would be willing to help a friend’s son get a kidney, she jumped at the chance. “The producer of ‘Extra’ saw my piece and offered me a position as national correspondent. I more than doubled my salary [Laughs] and traveled all over the country doing incredible stories. ‘Extra’ wasn’t as much an entertainment show then, so I did some interesting pieces and learned a lot.”
Colby eventually made her way to CBS, followed by CNN, and joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2003, where she has reported on numerous major national and international news stories and served as co-anchor of the channel’s weekend program “America’s News Headquarters.”
Starting tonight at 9 p.m., Colby will be hosting “Strange Inheritance,” which airs on the FOX Business Network (FBN) Monday through Friday. Each evening, two half-hour episodes will air back-to-back featuring Colby as she explores a range of unusual circumstances from a family trying to keep a 900-acre bug museum business to a family with a large collection of furniture by the late master woodworker and designer George Nakashima, to the discovery of a huge cache of dinosaur bones on a tract of ranchland.
“We went to 25 states, some more than once, to meet these families,” Colby explains. “Each episode focuses on a different family and how they learn they’ve inherited something, what it is, what it’s worth and how they try to figure out what to do with it. There are lessons for all of us in how families deal with situations, and there are lots of twists and turns and surprises—even for me because the episodes begin with me driving into a community. It’s very real and you, the viewer, are taking this journey with me.”
Opportunist: Can you give us a sneak preview?
Jamie Colby: [Laughs] I’m laughing because when I heard about the insect story I was like ‘Ugh, bugs! Really … that beetle can lift up to 800 times its weight? How is that possible?’ I actually knew about Nakashima because I take a real interest in art and he was so well known, except by the people who inherited his furniture. When the auctioneer came in and looked at the collection he said it was the greatest ever. The family ended up keeping some. There were so many extraordinary moments, such as walking into homes and auction houses and seeing letters from JFK being auctioned. A lot of these stories were just unusual, like finding dinosaurs from 30 million-plus years ago on a piece of ranchland that couldn’t be ranched because it was too small to herd cattle. I got to meet a real cowboy who taught me how to fossilize. I was all in from the minute I heard the title ‘Strange Inheritance’ and it was well worth my complete commitment of time and focus. I worked with the most talented, loving and wonderful crew—my road family—and we are bonded forever.
Opportunist: Did you travel around in a tour bus?
Jamie Colby: We joked about having a bus, but we stayed in the best accommodations we could find. We visited places like Portales, New Mexico, and Defiance, Ohio, and other small towns across America, which I thought was kind of fun being a big city girl. Sometimes we still had to drive three hours to our final destination. This was very interesting for FOX Business because it’s Wall Street to Main Street and this was very much Main Street. There were a couple stops where the crew did choose to RV it, and there are some funny stories of everyone cohabitating and the mix match of laundry and all kids of craziness. But I think we loved it when we had to rough it.
Opportunist: Did you discover any dinosaur bones?
Jamie Colby: I did find pieces of a dinosaur. We started digging with a pitchfork, trying to find something, and I would ask ‘What’s this?’ and he would say, ‘nothing’ or ‘that’s a rock’ until we dug up a piece of femur and a hipbone. That part of Montana is fertile with dinosaur parts, and we were told by experts that it’s the greatest dinosaur discovery of our lifetime. Now I’ve been fossil hunting. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity had it not been for that episode. [Laughs]
I also held a first edition comic book that was extremely valuable, saw ridiculously ordinary looking coins that were priceless and actually touched a Stradivarius cello more than 300 years old. I thought I had seen everything, but all these items have stories behind them that will take your breath away.
Opportunist: What was your main takeaway from working on the show?
Jamie Colby: I walked away learning not only about people and family dynamics but coins, insects, crocodiles, amusement parks and family businesses. What it takes to come together to save a winery that’s inherited by a young boy, about authenticating autographs and baseball cards—things I never thought I would be interested in. It’s just fascinating! Each family takes us back through generations of photos and archived footage, to tell these stories with such rich texture and heart. Telling their story and introducing them to our country is a great fit for me. It’s the proudest moment for me as a story teller. I found these families so inspiring. They’re just beautiful people—I don’t mean in the cosmetic sense; I mean in the heart.
I came back so excited and would ramble on to my friends and family, ‘You’re just not going to believe this!’ Now that everyone else can see it I just know they will have a reaction that will be exciting to see. I’m going to watch with my family because after eight months on the road I didn’t get to see a lot of people except for those I was meeting.
Opportunist: We understand you were a child prodigy, admitted to business school at 14, earned your law degree by age 22—and you have passed four bar exams: California, Florida, New York and Washington, D.C.
Jamie Colby: I was offered the opportunity to start college at 14, but I could have slowed down at any time. I don’t have a high school diploma. Years later, I wondered if I took the GED would I pass? [Laughs] When I graduated college I was too young for the CPA exam because I was only 19.
Opportunist: Where did you draw strength to achieve so much so young?
Jamie Colby: My dad had the most incredible work ethic of anyone I can imagine. Even after all these years as a broadcast journalist and attorney, I never met anyone more a ‘company guy,’ who worked harder or who strived for excellence more than my dad, Marty Colby. I learned a lot from him and he left his mark. He passed away not that long after I was asked to do ‘Strange Inheritance.’ My brother jokes that he is in heaven programming WGOD [Laughs]. He wanted me to have my own show. If you were to envision all of that, it would be ‘Strange Inheritance,’ so I feel blessed. When we were kids, Dad got us subscriptions to a magazine called Success. That was the kind of thing he would leave around. My older brother, Jonathan—Judge Jonathan Colby—is another overachiever. His overachieving worked for him, though. He retired in his 40s. [Laughs]
Opportunist: Who were your female role models growing up?
Jamie Colby: The only women who empowered me were women I viewed from a distance. Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters have proven that women in broadcasting are a force to be reckoned with. I always admired Suzanne Somers for her business approach and her natural beauty and kindness. I actually got to know her over the years. She is truly a dynamo.
Opportunist: You are the recipient of quite a few awards. Which news stories are you most proud of?
Jamie Colby: Definitely 9/11. I didn’t set out to make it award-winning, but it was a truthful report from my experience. I was down there in a skirt and heels for the mayoral primaries and was talking to the mayoral candidates when we got a page that a small plane had hit one of the towers. I went into the other tower to interview people, and the first guy I held a mic to said it was an American Airlines configuration. He worked for Boeing, so that’s when I knew our lives would be changed forever.
Arriving in India after the Asian tsunami and seeing Sri Lanka wiped away for the most part. I’ve seen destruction from hurricanes and domestic disasters, but I had never seen kids ripped from their parents and parents ripped from their kids and their homes, or people hanging from trees. We sprang into action and got on the air, and Mr. O’Reilly put us on his show and I remember asking people to send tarps because I knew people were going to need shelter. We were very successful there.
The papal conclave was almost like being in England for anything that happens to the royals. It was such an amazing feeling to see pilgrims from all over the world, the smoke announcing that a new pope had been selected and to witness the new pope giving his first mass. I’m not Catholic, but you’d be a stone if you didn’t feel what was happening. That was a front-row seat to history that FOX provided for me and I was really excited to be chosen.
It’s not bad for a second career. I cannot drive a desk. I figured out after all these years that if I had the choice of sitting at a desk or doing world events and meeting folks in extraordinary situations I would choose that.
Opportunist: What do you enjoy most about working at FOX?
Jamie Colby: The people. Everybody’s got a smile on their face. I’m a ‘happyholic,’ and when I walk in the building I feel I am with people who appreciate being there. They cheerfully do whatever the job is to get the job done and always want to be better—and that’s not a talking point. Having worked in other shops, I know FOX is very special. It’s my home and has been for 12 years.
Opportunist: What advice would you offer young women entering journalism, or any other field for that matter?
Jamie Colby: You’ve got to be unafraid. Fear is your crippling factor, so don’t go there. Try something, and if it doesn’t feel right try something else. Anything is possible. I think women have the capability to do anything they set their mind to. If somebody reached out to me I would be there for them, particularly if they were willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. Smile and have a happy attitude. That has opened doors for me. I don’t think I always knew that, but in the last couple of years I have realized it’s a factor.
The other thing, for me, is exercise. I wasn’t athletic growing up. I was the opposite. I failed cheerleading and baton twirling too. I don’t like to go there. [Laughs] But I do find that when I can do cardio—I’ve really fallen in love with spin—those endorphins are undeniable. They give you confidence and keep you in shape and strong when you’re working hard. A lot of ‘Strange Inheritance’ was shot in warmer climates. We did 18-hour days in 120-degree heat oftentimes. For some reason, with women, exercise is the first thing they give up. We should go for it! Everybody should go for it. Our health is really key, so we really have to try to make the effort.
Opportunist: What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Jamie Colby: You’ve got to be in it to win it. My dad always said, ‘Just keep showing up, have a sense of humor about everything and keep it light.’ As a judge, my brother had thousands of trials before him—he’s heard every story you can imagine—and he’s given me lots of advice from his experience on the bench. He told me: ‘Nothing and no one can ruin your beautiful day.’ So, when I find I’m getting stressed, I remind myself of that and realize that, whatever it is, it’s probably not that serious. We all have moments when we have to deal with pain and loss, of course—I lost my father, my grandmother and my dog right before this show—but you have to pick yourself up and move forward. Nothing and no one can ruin my beautiful day is my mantra, and it works.
Opportunist: What else do you hope to achieve?
Jamie Colby: I feel so fulfilled right now that I don’t feel I have a right to dream for much more. I’m happy to be able to do work of this caliber for an organization with the mindset that FOX has. So now, during this time of not traveling constantly, I need to focus on my personal life and reestablish myself. I’m divorced, so my hope and goal is to find the perfect partner—someone who will support what I do, laugh with me and stay active and healthy with me. I really look forward to that. I’m complete, but that would be really wonderful icing on the cake. I hate to be cliché about it; it’s more than that obviously. Whatever happens, it’s OK because I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish and have remained a kind and caring person who’s humble and grateful. That’s what my parents wanted and that’s what I wanted. You need to be content with who you are, so I don’t mind just sitting here for a while and enjoying the view.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor and journalist with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides between Florida and Michigan. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
Follow Jamie Colby on Twitter: @JamieColbyTV
Watch the “Strange Inheritance” Trailer