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The Influentials
Deborah Duncan

Beyoncé might be her dream role, but chatty career keeps TV personality on top

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The Influentials Deborah Duncan December 2013
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com

From the University of Texas School of Journalism to a stint in New York with the Lifetime network to television talk shows in Houston, Deborah Duncan enjoys her chatty career in front of the camera and just might parlay her intelligent, talkative talents into a nationally syndicated program.

She has shot a pilot for Good News Friends and if the show gets picked up she could be headed to Los Angeles. In the meantime, the much-beloved talk show host keeps her Great Day Houston morning program on KHOU Channel 11 rolling and her personal appearances around town in high gear. In addition to her gift for intelligent gab, Duncan enjoys a talented singing voice, which she has shared for non-profits on numerous occasions.

Raised in a military family with assignments in the Far East, Duncan ultimately settled in San Antonio when her father retired. She credits the constant moving in her youth with helping develop her interviewing skills. And she believes that her brain aneurysm, suffered in 1997 while in New York, gave her a new perspective on life. As she says, "When you set goals, make sure you make room for life because you never know when life is going to intervene in your plans."

What is your chief characteristic?

I would say open. Because I can walk into any room and I gravitate toward people. They can ask me anything.  I want to ask them anything. That little talk show host came about as I went to five elementary schools. 

Your idea of happiness?

That idea of happiness kind of changes throughout your life but for me the constant one is making somebody else happy. That to me is gratifying and kind of sets my heart on fire.

What is your idea of misery?

Watching someone suffer with seemingly no way out.

Your pet aversion?

Oh, there is a list of them. One of them is when you ask someone a question and they answer to something else., when I ask a question and I don't get an answer because then I feel like it's a miscommunication. There are probably some other ones but miscommunication in this business can be deadly.

Do you have a personal motto?

If you let God use you, you don't have to figure out how. And our toughest times in life teach you your greatest lessons — not that we enjoy learning them. Those two go hand in hand with me  and I think I learned them when I had my brain aneurysm.  

Who are your heroes in real life?

My son (9-year-old Duncan) because he always stops me in the middle of something that I think is a crisis and he will say, "Seriously? The end of the world?" The other is Barbara Jordan.  When I was in junior high school and we had come back to the States, for the first time in my life I saw someone who looked like me and I never realized the importance of that . . . She is amazing to me because she is the first person that made me say, as a black woman in America, I am valuable. 

If not yourself, who would you be?

Being as I'm going to the Beyoncé concert tonight, I'll do a little Beyoncé. And you know why? I see in her not just the fame and beauty, but in getting to know her before she got this big and to know her family. I loved that they recognized the talent in the child and they moved heaven and earth to make it happen and she never took advantage of that and she respected that and she's just a nice woman. She's nice and then, of course, she's beautiful and rich.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

There's not much they don't know about me since I tell everything all the time . . . When I was a little girl, I was a straight-up tomboy. My Christmas presents were cars and trucks. 

Your favorite pastime?

Really, just doing the simple things with my son. We catch lizards in the backyard. We play games. We make stuff. We go to the butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural Science. When you can steal those precious moments and just have time together doing things. I love making jewelry. I love singing but I also understand there is a difference between someone who sings and someone who is a singer.

What is the best advice you have received?

There are a couple of ones. Career-wise, one of them was, "They love you when they love and when they're done with you they never knew you and don't take it personally." The other one was and this is kind of how I've gone into all of my job interviews. I go into every interview saying the same thing, "I will not work for you. I will work with you and that means we're equal partners." The best personal advice I've had is "Don't dictate life. Let life dictate you."

What is the toughest thing about live TV?

It used to be not knowing everything because I'm the type of person who says, "Don't give me questions to ask, give me the answers and I'll figure out how to ask the questions." . . . The biggest fear is not knowing everything in this kind of job. But what I've realized now is that if you're having a conversation and asking people questions, that's the way you would normally do it in life and that's OK. You have to know something. You have to know where you're launching from. But it's a conversation.

What are your hours?

In this business, it's not just the show, as you know, because you and I see each other all the time. I'll front load the show the day before so that I can take my son to carpool. That's one thing that Duncan said to me, "Mommy, can you do like the other moms and can you or Daddy take me to school and can you pick me up?" I mean how do you say no to that . . . So I get here between 8:15 and 8:30 and I stay, it just depends. Like yesterday, we did two shows.

What's next for you?

Interesting that you would ask. I've just done a pilot in LA for something we are calling Good News Friends. It's about the positive things going on . . .This uses all my personality and would be a great opportunity for national syndication. But Houston will always be my home.

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