(The Root) — If it's black news and it's been in the headlines, veteran journalist Ed Gordon has probably covered it. From hosting Detroit Black Journal to anchoring BET News to unpacking the week's hottest topics with his panels on Weekly With Ed Gordon, he's brought African-American news and commentary to televisions and radios across the country for decades.
"I've always merged celebrity and the new; I've always done a little bit of everything," he told The Root. "I've been very blessed to talk to just about everybody."
The next iteration of Gordon's "everything" is Conversations With Ed Gordon, a quarterly, one-hour special that he'll host and executive-produce. The specials will be aired nationally on all 10 NBC owned and operated affiliates beginning April 28, 2013 (check airtimes here).
The first one will feature Kevin Hart, Whoopi Goldberg and Kem. The interviews with the celebs will focus, in true Gordon fashion, on both their respective careers and the cultural and social issues they bring to the forefront.
We caught up with Gordon to speak about his career trajectory, where his new program fits into a black media landscape that's high on sensationalism and drama and the goal he keeps in mind every time he speaks to a celebrity.
The Root: How will you select your guests for Conversations With Ed Gordon?
Ed Gordon: Throughout the years I've done these interviews, most on BET, and we've always tried to get someone who's in the news or red-hot. This time we have an hour instead of 30 minutes. We want to get somebody who is a legend — like Whoopi, Kevin Hart and Kem. Kem has a fantastic life story that's greater than, quite frankly, his career. He's so popular in the African-American community, but a lot of places wouldn't necessarily profile him, so we thought this was a great opportunity.
EG: All of the interviews I've done that have been big have involved having an opportunity to talk to people about both their careers and their personal lives. This program will keep along that same line. A lot of times people have talked to me in way they haven't before. So we hope to keep that tradition going.
In Kevin's case, he's obviously really funny during the interview. But he's also very serious — he talks about the controversy about skin color that hit him, for example. He talks about his mom. You see the funnyman, but you also see another side.
With Whoopi, we talk about the up-and-down relationship she's had with the black community. She addresses that head-on, and she's very much Whoopi. Very frank. She talks about wanting to be a U.S. ambassador. It's fun to talk to someone who's done so much in the career. She talks about how when she first came out, her looks was startling to people. But now you can see people who look just like her everywhere.
With Kem, we took him back to the Salvation Army in Detroit where he found his sobriety. It was the first time he walked back into one of those resident's rooms in all these years. His reaction is priceless. He talks about being emotionally and sexually abused as a child and overcoming that, and that we couldn't change any of it because it made him who he is today.
TR: You started out with Detroit Black Journal, you've hosted NPR's News and Notes and you're well-known for your coverage of 1992 Los Angeles riots, among other weighty issues. Is there still an appetite for that type of black programming, or do people want something lighter?
EG: Honestly, if you look at my career, I've always merged the news with other issues. I've always done a little bit of everything. In terms of the appetite for what America wants and what the community wants, hard news will always be there, but it's not as popular as it once was. Celebrity news has overtaken what we want as viewers and listeners. If you say to me that's good, that's another thing … I'm all for being entertained, but when it gets to a point that that's as important as other things we should be looking at, it's time to take a step back. I hope that hard news doesn't go away — but certainly there's a role for celebrity news.
My goal for every interview is to get something out of that person they haven't talked about before, or get them to talk about it in a way they haven't before.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.