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Blake, Asha 1961(?)–

Asha Blake 1961(?)

Journalist

At a Glance

Passed Over for Anchor Spot

Impervious Professional Demeanor

Sources

Television journalist Asha Blake was offered a career-making assignment in the summer of 1999 when NBC executives tapped her to be one of three co-hosts for an extended hour of the Today show, called Later Today. Blakes jump to such national prominence came after years of professional transience and job uncertainty. Blake had been a popular local anchor in Minneapolis, Detroit, and Los Angeles for more than a decade, and always won praise for her combination of cool professionalism and personal warmth. Blake had that hard-to-define quality that spells network material, declared Julie Hinds in the Detroit Free Press. She had an on-air ease that made her seem down-to-earth, as well as the looks that are a prerequisite for the national spotlight.

Of Indo-Caribbean heritage, Blake was born in early 1960s in Guyana, a country on South Americas northeast coast. The daughter of two educational professionals, she grew up in Toronto, Canada and then Minnesota, a part of the Midwest not necessarily noted for its large ethnic population. The family settled in Circle Pines, a northern suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Blake was the homecoming queen at Centennial High School. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota, and first appeared on television as the host of a local music show in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

One of Blakes first post-college jobs compelled her to move to New Mexico, where she worked as a radio announcer with her own music program. A television station in Grand Junction, Colorado, hired Blake as a reporter in the mid-1980s, and from there she went on to a stint at a Little Rock, Arkansas outlet. She returned to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in 1987 when KARE-TV offered her a slot as a general assignment reporter.

In 1990, Blake fell while jogging and suffered two herniated discs in her spine. She spent a few weeks in the hospital, and was forced to recuperate at home in a back brace for several more weeks. As she told Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune reporters Neal Justin and Susie Hopper, There were some days I just wanted to drink red wine because it would take the pain away I had never understood chronic pain. It was a life-changing experience for me. Blake soon began covering consumer health issues at the station, and became KARE-TVs medical reporter. As the stations medical reporter, she wrote, produced, and delivered

At a Glance

Born c. 1961, in Guyana; daughter of an education specialist and a teacher; married Mark Dusbabek (affiliated with a gold-equipment firm) 1994; children: Sasha Rose. Education: Received degree from University of Minnesota Journalism School.

Career: Began television career as a reporter at KJCT-TV, in Grand Junction, CO;worked as a reporter for KTHV-TV, Little Rock, AR; KARE-TV in Minneapolis, MN, began asgeneral assignment reporter, became medical reporter, 1987-93; WDIV-TV, Detroit, week-endanchor and medical reporter, 1993-96; ABC News, New York City, New York bureau correspondent and co-anchor of World News This Morning, World News Now, and Good Morning America Sunday, 1996-98; KNBC-TV, Los Angeles, CA, late afternoon newscast anchor, 1998-99; Later Today, NBC News, New York City, co-host, 1999-00.

Awards: Two Emmy award nominations for reporting while at WDIV-TV, Detroit.

Member: South Asian Journalists Association.

Addresses: OfficeLater Today, NBC News, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10012. AgentKen Lindner & Associates, 2049 Century ParkEast, Suite 3050, Los Angeles, CA 90067.

stories on breast cancer, vaccinations, and medical fraud, among other topics. That really changed my life in many ways, Blake recalled about her back injury in a speech before an audience of television critics in the summer of 1999, according to Tim Kiska of the Detroit News. I was in so much pain. I devoted my life, at that point, to health and wellness information.

Passed Over for Anchor Spot

Blake earned solid ratings and an appreciative audience while at KARE, and also became a national correspondent for the USA Today newspaper. After six years at the station, she was one of the few qualified staffers eligible for a permanent anchor spot when one became available. This opportunity arose in the spring of 1993, when Blake subbed on the morning news desk at KARE. Although her appearance led to a jump in the stations ratings, the vacant anchor job was given to a blond-haired, blue-eyed newscaster with far less experience. Blakes numbers, her seven-plus years working in this market and her smooth anchoring style should have made her a shoo-in to keep the anchor spot, opined Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune editorial columnist Clinton Collins Jr. in a column about the scarcity of minorities in local Minneapolis-St. Paul television news organizations.

Later that year, Blake was offered a job with NBC affiliate WDIV-TV in Detroita city that was the first in the nation to feature an African American woman as co-anchor on all three of its evening news broadcasts. She took the offer, and spent three successful years there as a medical reporter, weekend anchor, and late-evening news anchor. Blake earned two Emmy award nominations, which helped to elevate her status within the television news industry. In broadcasting journalism, Detroit is considered the last step before a job with a national news organization; the market is known for the quick-breaking nature of its news stories, which challenge reporters skills both at the desk and in the field.

Impervious Professional Demeanor

Blake excelled at WDIV, and remained cool one evening in early 1995 when weathercaster Michelle Leigh made a on-air remark which equated African American men with gorillas. Blake and her African American co-anchor Emory King, looked at Leigh in silence for a few seconds, then signed off, reported Jet magazine. Leigh was fired from the station. Executives from the major networks began courting Blake and, after her three years in Detroit, she knew that her career might not advance any further at WDIV. There wasnt a lot of upward mobility at the station because the people abovewhom I like very muchwerent going anywhere, she told Kiska in the Detroit News. WDIV s popular African American evening co-anchor, Carmen Harlan, was a local fixture and unlikely to move out of the city or retire in the near future.

Blakes career considerations also had to take into account more personal concerns. During her time in Detroit, Blake married former Minnesota Viking football player Mark Dusbabek, whom she had met at a charity event in Minneapolis. For a time, Dusbabek worked in the financial markets in Chicago and commuted from Detroit. However, when the couple had a daughter, life became a bit more hectic. A move to another city seemed like an added complication, but as Blake told Hinds in the Detroit Free Press interview, you weigh the quality of life versus your job. It wasnt easy. I hadnt always thought, Hey, Ive got to get to a network.

In October of 1996, Blake joined the team at ABC News in New York. She was disappointed to be leaving Detroit, where she had become a popular local media presence. I dont know if Ill find as good a place ever in life, she told Cheryl Johnson of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune. They tried to keep me here. They were going to offer me more money, but it couldnt compare to the ABC News contract. Blake began as a medical correspondent at the networks New York bureau, and was tapped to anchor World News Now, the networks well-received overnight news show. She occasionally appeared as a co-anchor for Good Morning America Sunday. Dusbabek took a year off from his job to stay home with their daughter, Sasha Rose. In October of 1998, Blake returned to the affiliate level with NBC, but in a city that is arguably the most intense local news market in the United States: Los Angeles. She spent the next several months anchoring the late-afternoon newscast for KNBC-TV.

In the summer of 1999, Blake was selected as one of the co-hosts of Later Today, a one-hour extension of NBCs extremely successful morning news show, Today. Today, a staple of the networks news division since the early days of television, was a perennial ratings-winner. However, the rest of NBCs daytime line-up was usually bested by the offerings of other networks. A particular favorite among women viewers was an innovative ABC program called The View, which featured four female journalists who chatted amongst themselves about current events, and then interviewed guests in the second half of the show. It was hoped that a combination of Blake and Florence Henderson, who played Carol Brady on the popular 1970s show The Brady Bunch, and Jodi Applegate, a reporter on the regular Today show, would achieve similar ratings success. NBC has talked for years about expanding Today, stated Associated Press reporter David Bauder in a report that appeared in the Detroit News. Even with the programs rating success, NBCs desultory daytime lineup could never take advantage of its head start.

Blake was tapped for the Later Today job by Today show executive producer Jeff Zucker, who was a new father when Blake was delivering the overnight news on World News Now for ABC. Zucker often tuned in during middle-of-the-night feedings. Henderson had been a member of the Today show cast in the late 1950s, and Applegate had strong words of praise for her co-host Blake. Shes every bit as down to earth, cute and fun as you think she is, Applegate told Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune reporters Justin and Hopper. You really cant fool the camera when youre doing something like Later Today, which is why a lot of people dont succeed at it. It really has to be you.

Reviews for Later Today were initially lukewarm, but Blake was impervious to the thought of having to relocate again. Ive moved so much that I dont put things on the wall until weve been somewhere for a year, the veteran journalist told Justin and Hopper in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune article when she started the Later Today job. If you walk into my office in the next year, you wont see anything up on the wall. You get used to it in the business. Unfortunately, Later Today was canceled in August of 2000. But with her warm personality and strong penchant for good journalism, viewers wont have to wait long for Asha Blake to return to the spotlight.

Sources

Detroit Free Press, September 1, 1999.

Detroit News, July 31, 1999.

Jet, February 20, 1995, p. 46.

Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune, August 18, 1993, p. 19A; July 2, 1996, p. 4B; October 5, 1999, p. 1E.

New York Post, September 1, 1999.

St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 23, 1996, p. 1A.

Carol Brennan

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