Signaling that it is making a serious run at its major competitors, WCNC (Channel 36) has hired former congressional candidate Beth Troutman as co-anchor of its 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts.
Troutman returns to Charlotte with a celebrity status that few in the business can match: She left UNC Chapel Hill with degrees in political science and women’s studies and took her chances in Hollywood, where against all odds she landed a behind-the-scenes job on the acclaimed NBC series “West Wing.”
In 2004, she came home to North Carolina and ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for Congress against Republican Rep. Robin Hayes. “West Wing” star Martin Sheen came to Kannapolis to campaign for her.
She was on the WCCB (Channel 18) morning show, “Rising,” for nearly four years, where her favorite duty was exchanging political chit-chat with Fox News political analyst Chris Wallace.
But it wasn’t a political show, and Troutman – somewhat weary of the hours and the coaching to be more perky and less cerebral – left in 2008.
Troutman later went on to a syndicated show based in Phoenix called “Right This Minute,” which would find interesting viral videos on the Web and she and her team would peer into laptops and act “oooooh” excited about their discoveries.
It was perfect mindless TV – and was snapped up in more than half of the nation’s TV markets and has just been syndicated in Asia. Before long, Troutman was making appearances on NBC’s “Today Show” as a social media expert.
Troutman says the show taught her to balance her serious and fun sides and leaving it is bittersweet because she loved the work. “I feel so so lucky that I can cover news again and do it in my home, the place I’m so connected to,” she says.
Returning to Charlotte, Troutman, will share the anchor desk with Fred Shropshire, named last month as the station’s co-anchor after the departure of Dave Wagner. Shropshire, who also grew up in North Carolina, is one of the new faces of WCNC recruited by Tegna, formerly Gannett, the station’s new owner.
They have not yet met, Troutman says, but she and Shropshire attended UNC at the same time and probably have crossed paths.
“This marks a new era for NBC Charlotte,” said WCNC general manager Deborah Collura in a statement. “After working in the national spotlight, Beth is coming home.”
OK, maybe not the national spotlight. “Right This Minute” aired at 1:30 p.m. on Charlotte’s Fox affiliate, WJZY (Channel 46), and never in prime time. It was, however, widely syndicated.
But Troutman, 38, is definitely coming home. Raised in Concord in the family that owns Troutman’s Barbecue, Troutman was an honors student and ran track at Concord High School. She was Miss Cabarrus County 1997, but has never fit the pageant stereotype. She has an extended family in Concord. “I’m actually the only one who ever left,” she says.
She returns at a critical time in her family’s life. Her mother, Nancy Troutman, has been battling ovarian cancer for four years, and she wants to spend more time with her.
“It’s such a hard thing to battle from afar. There are so many things about life that are so finite.”
Troutman says the job inquiry from at WCNC came out of the blue at a grocery store. “I just got a random phone call. I was going into Safeway to get some soup.”
Collura called her from a TV consultant’s office in Dallas after seeing her on tape. She asked whether she might be interested in talking about coming home.
“This is a beautiful opportunity in a place that I love and to be with the people I love,” says Troutman, who remembers admiring WCNC anchor Jesse Johnson in the early ’90s while growing up in Concord. “I don’t know what I did for this rare thing to happen to me.”
Troutman says she hopes for a role that goes beyond the regular formula of local news.
“Not just covering crime and car accidents, but covering the amazing things people are doing. … We have a tendency to focus on the negative and not enough on the positive and I want people to be inspired and get a full sense of what a community is about, not just fear.”
Troutman is expected to start on the anchor desk in September.