Rene Syler: Making her mark on morning news
Determination. Fate. And help from a stranger. It took a little
of each for René Syler (‘87, Psychology) to make
the leap from psychology grad student to network morning anchor.
Syler was still at Sac State, supporting herself with shifts
at the local TGI Friday’s, when she made a radical turn
in her career path. That turn eventually led to the
“city that never sleeps” and a co-hosting role
on CBS News’ “The Early Show.”
Along the way Syler earned a Gracie Award for excellence in
broadcasting for her work in breast cancer awareness and prevention.
And this spring she will be honored by Sac State with a Distinguished
Service Award at the annual ceremony during April’s
Syler didn’t grow up dreaming about becoming an award-winning
broadcaster—that didn’t happen until grad school.
The Sacramento native had earned her bachelor’s degree
in psychology at Sac State and was pursing a master’s
degree. “My goal was to work in psychology and I was
moving in that direction,” Syler says.
That all changed one night when, while working the overnight
shift at a suicide prevention hotline as part of her psychology
studies, she came across a newspaper article on Liz Walker,
who at the time was the highestpaid black anchorwoman in the
“The light bulb went off. I said, ‘This is what
I want to do,’” Syler says. “The very next
morning I was on a new path, a new career.”
Syler picked up the phone, and called the weekend weather
reporter—an African American woman—at Sacramento’s
Channel 13. “I told her ‘I’m interested
in going into television.’ She spent so much time with
me, telling me what classes to take, how to get a resume tape
Syler immediately landed an internship with Sacramento’s
Channel 40 and eight months later she had a weekend reporter
job in Reno, at a decidedly entrylevel salary. “I was
happy to take it, even though I made more waiting tables in
Sacramento,” she says.
She advanced to weekend anchor at another Reno station, spent
two years in Birmingham, Ala. and then went on to Dallas where
she pulled her first morning anchor duty—which didn’t
come naturally in those days. “Morning is a different
animal. I was young and I still needed nine hours of sleep,”
In Dallas, Syler faced her first major career challenge. “I
had been on a pretty rapid ascent,” she says. The Dallas
station had decided it didn’t want to renew her contract.
At the same time, she found out she was pregnant with her
“It was a big crisis in my life at the time,”
she says.” “But it was also a powerful learning
experience—the old adversity is the breakfast of champions.’
I learned that TV is what I do, not who I am.”
After a year out of television, she got a position at Dallas’
CBS affiliate where she worked for four years. Then she got
a call that signaled that her rise was about to continue.
Driving back from a dental appointment her agent called to
say CBS was recasting its national morning show. Would she
Her response: “Are you crazy?”
Syler and her husband had just built their dream house in
Dallas and were prepared to stay for the long haul. In fact,
the night before her interview with the network Syler and
husband Buff Parham stayed up until 4 a.m. arguing about the
potential move to New York.
After the interview, she didn’t hear back for two weeks.
Both Syler and Parham were convinced she hadn’t gotten
the position, and just when her husband had agreed to promise
that the next time she had a chance for a big break he would
be more supportive, Syler got a call asking her to meet with
network president Les Moonves.
A week later she had the job.
Now Syler is part of a four-person anchor team with veteran
newscaster Harry Smith, Hannah Storm and Julie Chen.
At the time it was launched, “The Early Show”
represented a daring switch from the typical morning format
of an anchor duo—usually a male and a female—conducting
the interviews, and a separate news desk anchor delivering
the morning’s headlines. Critics weren’t sure
if the “Early Show” format, which had the co-anchors
sharing responsibility for news, interviews, even weather
would cut it.
“The Early Show” has since ceded weather duties
to a weathercaster, but a rival morning show, perhaps following
“Early’s” lead, has added a third anchor.
And “Early” continues to make its way in the competitive
morning television world. While it still lags behind powerhouses
“Today” and “Good Morning America,”
its November 2005 sweeps numbers were the highest in nearly
Syler says their multiple-anchor format works because they
are all working toward the same goal. “We’re on
the same boat, singing from the same hymnbook,” she
says. “And for me, it’s because I don’t
know any different. Harry and Julie have done network morning
before, but Hannah came from sports and this is new to me.
We’re in this mission together.”
When she joined the show Syler, the daughter of two breast
cancer survivors, had hoped that at some point she would be
able to use her family’s experiences to help others.
“With a network program there’s a capacity to
affect change,” she says.
“Then three years ago, I had my own breast cancer scare.”
Syler took the challenge as an opportunity—writing a
story about it, filming a video diary and interviewing her
mom about her experience. Syler won a Gracie Award for her
work but says that’s not why she did it. “It was
cathartic,” she says. “I wanted people to see
that if this could happen to me—a woman in decent shape,
relatively young—it could happen to you.”
The results were overwhelming, Syler says. “Women e-mailed,
they wrote. Strangers told me they were praying for me. I
was literally moved to tears by that.” And scores of
women told her they got a mammogram after seeing that story.
“It underscores the power of the medium,” she
Syler remains involved with the Susan G. Komen Foundation
and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. “My goal
is that by the time I’m done with television—and
I plan to be in television for a long time—that people
will no longer be dying of breast cancer.”
That story turned out to be an uplifting one, but others aren’t
so easy. “Sometimes you have to step away,” Syler
says, such as the time she interviewed Rusty Yates, whose
wife Andrea drowned their children, or when she would break
down while reading tributes to soldiers who died in Iraq.
“People sometimes think that people in this business
are around bad news so long that they no longer have feelings.
They absolutely do.”
Syler has long since passed the days when she needs to sleep
nine hours—a good thing since her day starts in the
wee hours of the morning. “I don’t think you ever
get ‘used to it’ but you can tolerate it,”
she says. To get to the studio by 5 a.m., she gets up at 3:40
and has a 40-minute ride into Manhattan. “The good thing
is I don’t have to dress. I can wear sweats,”
she says. “My clothes are waiting for me at the studio
and my hair and makeup are taken care of. That way I can concentrate
on my work.”
That’s crucial because making the conversational style of morning show television look so easy takes preparation. “So
much of the interview is off-the-cuff,” Syler says. “It’s much more conversational than other interviews. You need to be able to call up a lot of information.”
In April, Syler will receive a Distinguished Service Award from the University. Getting the award from Sac State means a great deal, she says. “I’m here because of what I learned at Sacramento State even though I didn’t go through the
normal journalism ranks. It speaks volumes about the quality of education that I got at Sacramento State.
“Whenever I get an award I’m humbled because I’m just like everyone else. Sometimes I forget people are watching—I don’t
mean watching TV—but that people are following my progress and are proud. I am very grateful, very humbled and very honored. As my career continues, I hope to continue to make Sacramento State proud.”
Home of the morning anchor
|In addition to "The Early Show's Rene Syler, Sac State is the alma mater of "Weekend Today" host Joan Lunden (known as Joan Blunden in her college days).
| In the Sacramento area, Sac State alums can be found headlining several morning
(and evening) newscasts, including:
“Sacramento and Company,”
“Good Day Sacramento,”