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06/27/2010 - By Gayle Davis
Photo by McKay Imaging (mkayimaging.com)
Mornings with John
A Decade of waking up to John Muller of PIX 11 Morning News makes getting up fun.
Waking up in the wee hours of the morning to get to work is something that most of us would probably not enjoy, but John Muller looks forward to arriving at the PIX 11 Morning News set where he is perched each weekday. He earned the seat by interning at WNBC-Channel 4 after graduating from New York University before reporting in smaller markets such as Savannah, GA, Fort Meyers, FL and later in Tampa, FL, which is one of the top 20 markets in the country. While there he was tapped to return to the New York station where he first got his feet wet – WNBC Channel 4. After reporting there for several years, Muller made the move to the anchor chair in 2000 to New York’s Channel 11, where he broadcasts the news starting at 6 a.m.
Muller’s position has afforded him the chance to meet many notable people throughout the years. He is particularly fond of meeting all of his favorite athletes, as he has always had a passion for sports. Although he has seen changes in the news business, he believes the delivery and style has morphed into what viewers of the 21st Century want…more relaxed, yet trusted news programming.
The Emmy award-winning anchor shares his Jersey Shore home with Ernabel Demillo, who you may recognize from New York’s Fox 5 show “Good Day New York,” where she reported some years back and their adorable seven year old daughter Alexa. Living In The Jersey Shore got the chance to visit with this Long Island native on a gorgeous late spring day in the backyard of their more than 100-year old Tudor style home.
It’s where we discovered a side of John you don’t see on air; he has a musical side to him! He's been known to sing or play the harmonica as a guest band member when the mood strikes.
LIJS: When do you wake up in the mornings to get to work?
JM: Horrible. 2:50 a.m.
JM: 2:50 is when I have the alarm set and believe me, at that hour every minute counts!
LIJS: Once you arrive to the studio what do you do to prepare for the daily broadcast on the PIX 11 Morning News program?
JM: I come in street clothes, so I get dressed. I put on my wardrobe for that day. I go out into the newsroom and talk to my producers and my executive producer. I get a general sense of what’s happening. If everything is going smoothly I go right to copy editing, in which case I am looking over stories that various anchors and I will be reading to make sure there are no factual errors and seeing that the copy reads smoothly. I make sure that it’s grammatically correct. I may make it a bit more conversational, to fit my personality or the other anchors’ personalities, which I have come to know over the years. I can almost actually write copy as if it’s coming out of their mouths as well! After that it’s time to go put on the makeup. Then once that’s done I go back and try to do a little more preparing…do a little more copy editing, try to read the newspapers as quickly as I can…and drink a lot of coffee while that is happening! Then boom…it’s time to go on the air!
LIJS: What time to you go on?
JM: I hit the air at 6 a.m.
LIJS: Obviously you get to meet a lot of interesting people. Does anyone stand out in your mind over the years?
JM: Honestly, I have met so many interesting people throughout the years that it really, truly becomes a blur. And that’s not being blasé; it’s just being truthful. But particularly on my show…You know we aren’t in Washington D.C., we aren’t getting the national politicians…we get some, but it’s a local show. Where we have really excelled, as far as top notch, make your head explode special people, is in the genre of athletes. I’ve met all my favorite athletes. The list is crazy…I’ve met hundreds. Tom Seaver, my idol as a child and my favorite NY Mets pitcher; my favorite football player from the NY Giants, Lawrence Taylor…I have interviewed all these guys! I have thrown the football around the studio with Joe Montana…Sugar Ray Leonard - I wouldn’t know where to stop! I have met every great athlete of our time that is still living, in our studio over the last ten years and it’s a big thrill because I am a huge sports fan.
LIJS: The days of “traditional news reporting” seem to have a more laid back format than years ago, from what people are wearing to the content delivery. What do you attribute this to?
JM: I think that the public has become sophisticated enough to sort of recognize some of the older “newsy” delivery that became clichés. I think they want something that is a little more laid back. I think the “broadcaster” thing of the past is a bit cliché, so I think people are looking for something a little bit more real, particularly on the morning show. These are people who are getting up and making coffee and not quite staring at the TV. They are in flux…so I think they want something that reflects them a bit more.
LIJS: You’ve probably seen the metamorphosis throughout the years…do you, personally, like it better this way or the way it was?
JM: I like both styles and that’s not a cop-out answer, truly! You know, I came up the ranks as that capital “J” journalist guy…and we do plenty of that on the show, despite the reputation that we have as this fun, kooky program - which we can be! We do very solid news and I would challenge anybody who thinks we are just this fun, kooky show with a lot of sexy girls! If you watch our news block and watch another competitor’s news block on DVR and compare it, we really are a rock solid journalism show and I am very proud of that, and I want to make that point. With that being said, it’s always nice to have fun. So I like wearing both hats. I like being a morning host, because it allows me to actually be that capital “J” journalist that I started out as, and it’s allowed me to grow into a hosting and personality kind of capacity, which at first was intimidating, but after ten years I am now quite comfortable with.
LIJS: The Emmy Award-winning PIX 11 Morning News program has received many honors…are there any accolades or achievements that you are particularly proud of?
JM: The two awards I am most proud of are the two Emmy awards I have won as the anchor/host of “The Best Morning Newscast in New York.” I have also won Excellence In Breaking News…I’ve won Outstanding Individual Achievement from the Associate Press and a few more.
LIJS: What stories did you win these awards for?
JM: The “Best Breaking News” was when I was working in the Tampa market. A helicopter went down with some sheriff’s officers on it into the Tampa Bay. It happened right before we went on the air, and I guess I must have “sealed the deal” on the story better than the rest of them. “Outstanding Individual Achievement” I won when I was working in the Fort Myers market. That was just a composite of all the things I have done that year, from features to hard news to investigative to spot news. I put together a compilation and was essentially honored as best reporter by the A.P. for that year in the state of Florida.
LIJS: When did you first get the inkling that you wanted to be a journalist and where did you go to school to study?
JM: I went to NYU. I was always interested in writing. I had grand fantasies of writing the great American novel. Things evolved and one day it sort of hit me. I was having a conversation with a friend about jobs that would be cool. I was leaning towards maybe newspaper journalism. I went back and forth between heavyweight champion of the world and rock star…eventually TV journalism kind of came out of my mouth and I thought to myself, “I like to write,” actually thinking print journalism and TV had a certain kind of cache that combines all the things that I like in the marrow of my bones. I thought it was just the perfect marriage.
LIJS: How did you get your first break in television news?
JM: It was very, very difficult. I had a few stories from NYU that were very hokey, like every college kid, and I asked advice of people. I asked Tony Guida who was at Channel 4 WNBC, where I interned…He told me he started in Savannah, GA, and he’s a “New York” guy…so I said, “Well if he started there then it’s good enough for me.” So I called markets all over the country…Texas, Florida…
LIJS: Sending your big Beta reels all over the country!
JM: [Laughs] Actually, three-quarter-inch; I’m older than you think! I would make up stories and call the news directors and say “I’m gonna be in Savannah, GA this week meeting friends, “Could I come by and say hello?” I targeted Georgia on the advice of Tony Guida. I really respected him. I said, “If this is the way he did it then so can I!” Sure enough I made a nice connection in Savannah, Georgia. I stayed in touch with him by calling the news director once a month. I would say, “Just checking in, don’t wanna be a pest…” Finally, after about a year he said, “John I have this job for a local high school kid. It’s 30 hours a week. It pays $4.00 an hour, you DON’T want it.” I said, “Well if I took it, and I made good, would you consider making me a reporter?” He said, “I am not dangling any carrots or making you any promises. I guess theoretically it would be possible.” So I moved down to Georgia and I had to wait tables at lunch. I took this 30-hour a week, $4.00 an hour job to essentially be a gopher. I got my first story on the air, I believe, within a month and I was full time in six months.
LIJS: Wow! Talk about making the right move!
JM: I took a gamble and won.
LIJS: Where did your career lead you from there?
JM: After Savannah I went to Fort Myers, FL, and then I went to Tampa, FL which was in the top twenty of markets. It was much better there. I had a little money in my pocket. It wasn’t as pathetic as it was in the earlier days of my career. From Tampa, Florida I got a job in 1998, I believe, in New York City. WNBC had called. That was a BIG thrill! From WNBC I transitioned from reporting to anchoring by going to WPIX, where I have been for 12 years.
LIJS: You’ve been seated at the anchor desk for many years; do you miss going out into the field to report?
JM: I miss aspects of going out into the field. There are those great days, great stories and storytelling, (although I do get to do a little of it sometimes)… but do I miss knocking on a widow’s door? Do I miss traffic? Do I miss dealing with my assignment desk on a daily basis? Do I miss begging people to give me interviews and crunching for deadlines? No! A lot of aspects of it I miss and a lot I don’t.
LIJS: Whom do you look up to in the industry as your mentors?
JM: My favorite ever was Peter Jennings. I really miss him. I loved his style, his way…his sort of worldly, calm, cool, collect way of doing things. He definitely without a doubt was my mentor. I love Jim Watkins - he’s our 10 o’clock anchor. He was at Channel 4 on the anchor desk, and a little older than me, so I have always looked up to him. He’s fantastic - one of my favorites. I think Anderson Cooper is great. I like the way he has rode the wave of modern journalism. He is very dignified, completely classy and the real deal.
LIJS: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your “soul-mate,” former Fox 5 newscaster, Ernabel Demillo. How did the two of you meet?
JM: We met at a water main break in Flatbush, Brooklyn at 3:30 in the morning. She was working for Channel 5. I was working for Channel 4. At the time, we didn’t know it, we both just said hello. We both confided later, it was like getting shot in the heart with an arrow! Both of us had the exact same feeling and we knew each other for probably a little more than a year and it was never anything more than exchanging pleasantries and news talk. But we were both secretly carrying around this torch for each other. One thing led to another and lo and behold…!
LIJS: Is she still in the business?
JM: She is presently a journalism professor.
LIJS: Where does she do that?
JM: At Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City.
LIJS: How did you both decide to make the Jersey Shore your home?
JM: My best buddy from NYU used to bring me down to the Jersey Shore; his mother had a big house in Allenhurst. We used to come down and hang out, body surf and play volleyball on the beach. So I always had very fond memories of the Jersey Shore and I grew up on Long Island. My beach was Jones Beach, so I was used to the whole beach lifestyle. Finally, when I had a little extra money in my pocket, he said to me, “John, why don’t you buy a weekend house down here?” He had a weekend house down here, too. So I said, “That’s a good idea!” So we bought a house and really enjoyed the lifestyle and having a little room. When Alexa came along it just seemed like a natural transition to live here. I do keep an apartment in Manhattan so I don’t feel completely cut off from city living. We have the best of both worlds.
LIJS: Tell us about your daughter Alexa…
JM: Today is her birthday party! She just turned seven! She is just a special kid. Every parent gushes about their kid, but she takes ballet lessons, she takes piano lessons, she took French in pre-school. Every one of these teachers has told us what we already know - “This is one of the most special kids I have ever had in my class.” She’s very - it might sound snobby - but she’s very sophisticated. We have always had this idea that she ‘hangs out’ with us. We sort of engage her in going to the places we like to go. “We’re not going to Chuck-E-Cheese for dinner.” She’s learned to like good food…
LIJS: She’s learned to love David Burke’s Fromagerie! [Laughs]
JM: [Laughs] She really likes the finer things. She’s a great kid. I don’t know if we are being silly, but we sort of feel like we are raising her the European way. We challenge her to hang with us and enjoy the things we, through the course of our lives, have come to realize in life are better. She can really hang with the adults! She has the same desires and likes that we have in us. We don’t have to motivate her. She motivates herself.
LIJS: Do you think she has a little bit of the ‘newshound’ in her blood…following in mommy and daddy’s footsteps?
JM: She definitely has a creative thing in her blood and definitely has a desire for excellence. She likes to feel special about herself and to be recognized as such, so I think those are the ingredients that maybe parallel our journey into news.
LIJS: She also models, right?
JM: Yeah, I did it as a kid for the Ford Modeling Agency. I did it for extra money, which ended up being applied towards my education later on. It’s not this ‘stage mom’ stuff. I know that it gave me some confidence, presence and poise. It helped me to deal with adults. It was a good learning process for me. We had Wilhelmina Models doing a child model segment on the show one day, so I brought up that I did it as a kid and I have a beautiful daughter and showed her picture to the agency’s president who came on and she said, “If you want, get her in here!” So we did. But again, we aren’t crazy stage moms or dads. We take it very casually. But I think it is a great learning process for her.
LIJS: Has she done any big jobs where our readers might recognize her?
JM: She’s done catalog work, ads for H & M…mom’s in charge of all of that. You know, she hasn’t done an ad that is appearing in Times Square on a billboard but she might be someday, but if she doesn’t we really don’t care.
LIJS: Where did you grow up on Long Island?
JM: Williston Park in Nassau County.
LIJS: You come from a rather large family…
JM: Yes; I have five sisters and one brother. A nice big family!
LIJS: I hear you have been known to jam with a rock band?
JM: Yes, I have always loved music. I was incredibly into music, but I played sports as a kid. If I knew I was going to stop growing at six-foot one and be 175 pounds, I would have just gone into music! I made for a good young athlete and sort of hit the brakes late in high school. I got into music later in life. I got into singing and one thing led to another and I have sung with various bands and I still do it. My schedule is such that I can’t really have my own band because it would be too demanding. I do a lot of guest appearances with people who I have met along the way. It’s awesome!
LIJS: Do you play an instrument?
JM: I will play the harmonica a bit, but I am a singer. I’ll write songs but it’s more of a hobby. I don’t think for a second it’s my next career, but it’s very satisfying.
LIJS: Can we see the rock ‘n roll side of you at any local venues?
JM: Now and then. With my schedule the past two years it’s been tough, so I have slid back a bit, but I am gearing up again.
LIJS: If you didn’t have a career in television news, what do you think you would be doing?
JM: That’s a tough one! I don’t know. I would love to do something that would involve traveling. I would love to do something that would cultivate everything that I am good at. I know it’s a bit elusive. I wish I had a more concrete answer, but I don’t.
LIJS: When you aren’t working what are some other things that you enjoy doing?
JM: I love to travel. I like to hike. I will often do a day hike three-hours into the mountains and three-hours out. I like to golf and play tennis and I do a lot of that here in Monmouth County. Love to go to the beach, people watch and eat at nice restaurants!
LIJS: Is there anything that John Muller would change in his life?
JM: Yeah, I’d like to win the lottery! [Laughs] Other than that I am truly blessed. I have a very nice life. I have nice friends, a wonderful job and a wonderful family.
Favorite Musical Group:
People Who Use Their Mouths Ahead of Their Brains
Three People Who You Would Like To Have Dinner With:
Jack Kerouac, Jim Morrison, Barack Obama
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