You’d be hard pressed to find a reporter with a more impressive resume than Paula Zahn. The award-winning journalist has reported on some of the most-impactful moments spanning the past few decades, and has interviewed the most-notable names in Hollywood. Politicians, athletes, actors – you name it, and Zahn has probably told their story at one point or another. As CNN reported, her impressive list of former interviewees includes U.S. presidents, such as Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Jimmy Carter. She’s also sat down and chatted with famed human rights activist Winnie Mandela.
Zahn has a knack for securing interviews with all “the greats.” Baseball icon Joe DiMaggio once sat down with Zahn, and Hollywood starlet Sophia Loren chatted with her as well. But great careers aren’t only built on family legacy or money. Nope, Zahn built her career from the ground up. Here’s everything you should know about the stunning transformation of Paula Zahn.
Paula Zahn originally hails from Nebraska
Paula Zahn’s work as a journalist and newscaster has taken her around the world and to numerous TV networks, and it’s brought her many accolades. But her career actually has some pretty humble roots. Zahn is a native of Omaha, Neb., The Independent reported, and was born into a family of hard-working parents. She entered the world on Feb. 24, 1956, born to a mother who was a substitute school teacher and a father who worked at IBM as an executive, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Zahn spent her childhood in Canton, Ohio, Celebrity Net Worth noted, until her family eventually relocated to Naperville, Ill. Zahn spent summers teaching children with disabilities and she saved up for college by doing theater, she told the Chicago Tribune. “I think we grew up in a very special time. It really was a great home town, a very family-oriented place,” she said.
During her teenage years, Zahn competed in beauty pageants, and as Celebrity Net Worth pointed out, she was almost a beauty queen, as she was pretty successful at wowing the judges on stage. In fact, Zahn made it to the semi-finals of the 1973 Miss Teenage America Pageant. Her worlds later collided in a way when one of the episodes of her TV show On the Case With Paula Zahn was called “Beauty Queen Killer.”
Paula Zahn attended college on a cello scholarship
Paula Zahn has rubbed shoulders with some of the most-talented people in the world, but she has a few hidden talents herself. Almost as surprising as her beauty pageant past? Her time as a musician. Zahn was previously a professional cellist, and even performed with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, her bio on Premiere Speakers Bureau’s website states.
Zahn’s cello skills were so impressive she secured a cello scholarship for college. According to her bio, she has “performed with renowned musicians in world-class venues” and previously performed at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra. Interestingly enough, her accomplished cello career also took her to Russia, where she joined the orchestra of famed cellist Maestro Rostropovich in St. Petersburg. Zahn’s work as a reporter has taken her across the globe and back, but it’s hardly the first craft she’s excelled at.
Paula Zahn started her successful journalism career on a local level
They say slow and steady wins the race, and no one knows it better than Paula Zahn. She’s been working in the journalism world for decades, but she started as a small fish in a big pond. According to her bio on Premiere Speakers Bureau’s website, she first paid her dues at the local level, working in a number of different cities at small TV networks.
According to CNN, after starting her career at WFAA-TV in Dallas, she said goodbye to the Lone Star state in favor of Southern California, taking up a post at San Diego’s KFMB-TV. Before striking it big at the national level, she also worked at KPRC-TV in Houston, WNEV-TV in Boston, and Los Angeles’ KCBS-TV. Zahn was made for the big time, but her humble start in the television world was anything but grand. Her first big gig finally arrived in November 1987, when she was asked by ABC to anchor The Health Show.
Paula Zahn tied the knot with Richard Cohen in 1987
In 1987, Paula Zahn married Richard Cohen, a Boston native whom she met while working at the local TV station WHDH in the city in the early ’80s, the Boston Herald reported. The two were “madly in love,” she told the Chicago Tribune in November 1988, and had a very positive outlook on her relationship. ”I’ve always been surrounded by a tremendous amount of love, and I feel a lot of support from Richard and from my family and that makes me feel whole,” she told the outlet.
It wasn’t long until the couple traded Beantown for a home in New York City. According to the Daily Mail, they planted roots in New York City, moving into a glamorous Fifth Avenue apartment. Not only did the couple have property in one of Manhattan’s most sought-after neighborhoods, but they owned a mansion in Connecticut as well. Cohen was no stranger to buying and selling property, after all. He’s a real estate developer.
Unfortunately, a beautiful home doesn’t always make for a smooth-sailing marriage. By 2007, things had reportedly turned murky between the once-loving pair.
Paula Zahn gave birth to three beautiful children
Paula Zahn and Richard Cohen welcomed three children throughout the course of their marriage, the New York Daily News noted, starting with Haley Cohen. By the time their second child arrived four years later, Zahn had firmly established her career, so details of the birth were widely reported. According to the Associated Press, the journalist gave birth to a healthy baby boy in October 1993. The television host reportedly went into labor while at home watching The Late Show With David Letterman. She was brought directly to New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, where she welcomed her bundle of joy. Zahn and her husband named their second child, who was welcomed into the world at 6 pounds and 7 ounces, Jared.
The couple put a three-year gap between their second and third child. Their youngest, Austin, was born on New Year’s Day in 1997, according to The New York Times. What a way to start the new year!
She hosted Paula Zahn Now from 2003 to 2007
Paula Zahn’s hard work in her career paid off, and by 2003, she landed a primetime slot on CNN. Her show Paula Zahn Now premiered in September 2003, and saw a successful run in its four years on television. Zahn saw an estimated 558,000 viewers per night, according to Nielsen Media Research data reported by The New York Times, which made it all the more shocking when Zahn confirmed she was leaving CNN in August 2007.
The host revealed the decision “was a mutual one” between herself and the network, adding that her contract was up. While she didn’t immediately share her next move, she did take a little time to reflect on the past four years. “We worked so hard to maintain a high quality of objective reporting on the air,” she said in a statement, according to The Times. “Yet what has become clear when you look at the landscape, particularly in the 8 o’clock hour, it seems pretty obvious the audience is drawn to opinion-driven shows. That is not what I do.”
CNN announced anchor Campbell Brown as Zahn’s replacement.
Paula Zahn's worked for a number of major television networks
Where has Paula Zahn worked before? Well, she has worked for so many television networks that the better question is probably where hasn’t she worked? After paying her dues at the local level, she began broadcasting to national audiences on some of the biggest news networks in the U.S. As her biography states, she was tapped by ABC News to be an anchor on Good Morning America. Later on in her career, she would host shows on Fox News and CBS News, and, perhaps most famously, hosted her CNN talk show.
Zahn’s resume doesn’t start and end with news networks, though, In 2009, she was asked by Discovery ID to be the face of her own show called On the Case with Paula Zahn which has run for over 20 seasons. Zahn was later tapped to be the host of a “weekly arts and culture showcase” called NYC-Arts. Clearly, her anchoring skills know no bounds.
Paula Zahn has made it her life mission to raise cancer awareness
Paula Zahn is an extremely fierce advocate for cancer awareness. With Zahn having a mother who is a “two-time cancer survivor,” the issue hits close to home, Cancer Connect shared in a 2018 interview with the journalist. When Zahn sat down for a chat with the site, she explained why it’s so important to use her public platform for good.
“I think any of us who have been exposed to cancer in our families share a strong bond,” Zahn, whose dad battled cancer as well, said. “I remember going through all the predictable stages when my parents were diagnosed. I was extremely angry; I probably was in a state of denial for a while. Then I finally rallied and started to use the extraordinary resources I had as a journalist to be the best advocate I could be…”
Now, Zahn works with a number of cancer advocacy organizations and is on the board of the Yale Cancer Center.
Paula Zahn had a messy public breakup
In October 2008, news broke that Paula Zahn would be ending her nearly 20-year marriage to Richard Cohen. Radar Online reported the news, sharing all the details behind what would become a huge media scandal. Immediately, there were whispers Zahn was involved with another man, whom Radar claimed was Conti Group CEO Paul Fribourg. Zahn’s rep addressed the speculation directly in hopes of damage control. “They are planning to divorce,” a statement from Howard Rubenstein read. “In the interest of their children, they will not discuss it any further,” he added.
The kicker? Fribourg and Cohen were reportedly best friends, which only increased public interest in the scandal. The drama was further heightened when Zahn filed a lawsuit against her ex, alleging that he mishandled money throughout the course of their marriage — $25 million to be exact.
Reportedly, Cohen was completely blindsided by the news of the rumored affair. “I trusted Paul and I trusted Paula,” Cohen allegedly said to a friend, according to the Boston Herald. “I had no inkling there was a long-term romance.”
Paula Zahn has her own investigative show called On the Case
After working for several news networks, Paula Zahn’s career is still far from over. She’s on the air with her original show On the Case with Paula Zahn where she isn’t afraid to put her investigative skills to work. The series, which she also executive produces, focuses on cracking crimes, usually disappearances and murders.
According to the show’s about page on Investigation Discovery’s website, Zahn takes pride in using “in-depth interviews and original reporting that go beyond the headlines in search of fascinating mysteries.” Each episode “[draws] out different viewpoints from the people personally connected to tragedies that rocked their local community,” reads the show’s description. The show runs documentary-style and is such a hit that it’s been on the air for over 20 seasons.
With expert analysis and Zahn’s critical takes, the show grabbed attention and quickly become a favorite show of Zahn’s fans through the years. At least, according to its ratings. According to Broadcasting & Cable, the show drew 541,000 households in its 2010 season premiere. Henry Schleiff, president and general manager of ID, said the show was a “top performer” for the network.
Paula Zahn has nine Emmy awards under her belt
Paula Zahn’s work as a reporter has landed her some pretty impressive accolades. The news anchor is an Emmy winner nine times over, and it’s not the only trophy she has at home. According to her WTTW.com bio, she’s been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards through the years. She was once given the National Commission of Working Women Broadcasting Award. She was given four Gracie Awards, with one specifically recognizing her hard-hitting reporting on “gender bias in education.” Additionally, her work in cancer awareness landed her an award from the Congressional Families Action for Cancer Awareness.
Few TV-centric awards hold more value than an Emmy, though, and Zahn’s were well-deserved. One of her nine Emmys stemmed from her work surrounding education for mentally disabled persons in 1994. Three years later, she scooped up an Emmy for her thorough coverage of Princess Diana’s passing. Whether it’s a public interest crime story or a global crisis, Zahn’s investigative work is unparalleled.
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