Tamron Hall’s new murder mystery is pure fiction, but it’s built out of many of the elements of her real life.
In “As the Wicked Watch,” TV reporter Jordan Manning works to track down the killer of a young Black teenager, and in doing so, takes readers on an investigation that examines not only crime, but cultural perceptions about race, gender and class. Hall’s journey from Texas TV reporter to national talk-show host and journalist is mirrored in Manning’s own story arc. Pieces of plot is based on two murders Hall covered when she was starting out in Texas, and Manning shares many of the journalist’s fashion choices, including her love of stilettos.
“There are obviously certain character traits that relate to me and that viewers will recognize as part of my voice, and then there are parts of the character that in some ways I’m envious of,” Hall tells Variety. “I wish I could be as dynamic and as bold as she is in some of the situations.”
Hall has a lot of earned knowledge about the effects of crime on victims and the mistakes the authorities can make in their investigations. Her sister, Renate, was a victim of domestic violence and was murdered in 2004. “My sister’s case was not solved,” she explains, but some of the impressions left upon her remain. “The justice that Jordan is seeking is tied to the justice that my dad died believing exists but did not seem come to fruition.” The former “Today” and MSNBC anchor also spent six seasons as host of the “Deadline: Crime” series on the Investigation Discovery cable network, which immersed her in the work that goes into solving violent crime and dealing with its aftermath
“Wicked,” which Hall likens to “the adult version of the box set of Nancy Drew” that was under her bed when she was growing up, offers other insights as well – many of them hard-won by the author. She recalls a time when she covered “a multi-car fatality, a college student who had been killed. Later, I interviewed the family, and I vividly remember that look of ‘She’s not just a journalist. This is someone I can talk to. This is someone who will give me answers.’”
A talk-show host is often placed in a similar role, she suggests. Hall’s syndicated Disney talk show recently launched its third season and returned to live audiences after a period of pandemic protocol. As Hall sees it, her charge is to bring “important conversations to daytime, but in a daytime way” that doesn’t leave viewers feeling alienated. She remembers watching afternoon hosts like Michael Douglas and Dinah Shore as a child, and seeing interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, or Sly Stone or Muhammad Ali; topics that were discussed included integration in schools. “We don’t have to have ‘Crossfire’ in the middle of the day. We can talk about it,” she says.
Hall believes a recent move that puts her show under the aegis of ABC News will help her tell more timely, relevant stories, and gives her producers access to news footage and more. “We are toddlers,” she says of her show.
But Jordan Manning’s adventures are slated to continue. “I have already started the second in the series,” Hall says, “and I am five chapters in.”