Part of a series of As Told To conversations in honor of Mpls.St.Paul’s 50th anniversary, here is Pat Miles, in her own words.
In 1978, I’d never been to Minneapolis, and I had no intention of taking the weekend news anchor job at WCCO. I thought: a free trip! But I met Don Shelby at the airport, we hit it off immediately, and the next thing I knew, I was driving the white Ford Fiesta my grandpa gave me up to Minneapolis. I rented a house with fellow WCCO reporter Caroline Lowe, just off Lake of the Isles, just like Mary Richards and Rhoda.
But I was in front of the camera, while Mary Richards had been a producer, so I was the one they were always trying to stuff into little bow ties. They took me to Dayton’s and had someone pick out clothes, handed me over to the makeup artist, then introduced me to Dave Moore, who was like, What is going on here that we have to bring in young women to be on the air with us? Oh God, I don’t want to be part of this. I never blamed him; he was from a different generation, and he was a hoot. People always said the Saturday Night Live news segment was based on his late-night weekend Bedtime Nooz, where he did characters. He was brilliant. People also said Ted Baxter from Mary Tyler Moore was modeled on Dave Moore, though of course Dave was much more serious.
Eventually, I was asked to co-host the news with him, and he hated that. We were about to go on, and he said, “Don’t take this personally, but I don’t need a co-anchor.” For me, everything was: work hard, prove yourself. But there are so many subtle things about being a woman in that business that work against you. I don’t think Dave ever really accepted me. I remember him saying on air, “Pat, don’t let the big words get in your way.” He used to talk about the good old days all the time. When I started at WCCO, I was obviously young and inexperienced and wanted to be taken seriously. I felt like there was too much focus on the fact that I was young and a woman, instead of having ability, so I just worked and worked and worked. When I looked at Mary Tyler Moore at the time, I thought, Wow, she has a lot of parties and free time.
I started at WCCO as a reporter. During the week, we’d shoot film and bring it back to develop in the WCCO lab. Weekends, I’d co-host the news with Don Shelby. Everyone smoked in newsrooms then—we were in the old WCCO building, on 9th Street. You’d go down the stairs into a haze of thick smoke and buzzing AP wires and pizza. I was painfully shy—no one believes this. I think the news business tends to draw two types of personalities: people who are shy and want not to be and people who love attention. I was the first type. Don Shelby was the second. I’d be worrying about scripts; he’d be wandering around the newsroom playing harmonica and telling jokes. After the broadcast, he’d be all puffed up and happy, and I’d feel like I’d given everything away. Don and I are still good friends. There was a lot of camaraderie on our show. Our whole crew would get lunch, maybe at the Sky Room at Dayton’s, or we’d get a drink after at Cafe di Napoli or Nankin or The Loon. I’m glad I did it all before Instagram. If someone wanted to make a comment about you, they had to call the receptionist, who would fill out a comment card. I looked a few times. It was always about my hair. Then I stopped asking to see them.
My first daughter was born in 1985, my second in 1987. I went to KARE 11 in 1987, mainly because I didn’t have to do the 10 o’clock news—I could get home earlier. The 1980s were a fun time in the business—we went to Moscow, Sudan, Yugoslavia, Denmark, Hollywood. And, of course, I was a mom.
The good news and bad news about TV is that everyone thinks they know you, but it can be hard to live up to. At one point doctors thought chemotherapy would help my eye, and all my hair fell out. My kids—at the time, they hated that everyone knew who I was and what was going on with us. Now they say, “We’re so proud of you!” OK, where was that when you were teenagers? I look back and think I probably worked too hard.
How do I see myself in light of The Mary Tyler Moore Show? She was iconic, fun, and cute, and her whole life looked like a fun job that took place around fun people. All of that was also true for me. Except it was also much more complicated. In the 1970s and 1980s, women were just starting to be accepted and taken seriously in the news business. Mary Richards was part of that, and I was part of that, but I did a lot more sitting at my desk at 9:30 pm wanting to be at home. That’s the difference between fantasy and reality, and I’m a journalist, so I know which is which.