A year ago, Bianca de la Garza held one of the most enviable jobs in New England TV news: she was the beloved co-anchor of Boston’s top-rated morning show “The Eye Opener.” But, after thirteen years on her hometown news, Bianca gave up the job last May to take a chance on a dream: starting her own show, and the production company that would back it.
Just eight months later, in January 2015, Bianca Unanchored debuted in 3 million homes around Boston … it was an instant ratings hit, and critics and audiences loved it.
We recently got a chance to catch up with Bianca at her home in Boston, where we talked about that time she covered The Royal Wedding, what it’s like to produce AND host a TV show, why she likes to live on the edge of uncertainty, and more.
DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO BE A NEWS ANCHOR?
Oh my gosh, we’re going back 17 years. I don’t think you have time for this! No, it was really interesting. I was actually studying fashion design, and I took a class on interpersonal communication, and the teacher also taught at Emerson College, so that lead me to Emerson [a school known for its media programs]. And the minute I stepped on the campus I fell in love. I always loved current events and writing, and being out speaking to people, and it made a lot of sense to get into television.
But I never really got into television to be on television. That was what happened at the end of the day, but most of the time I was out in the field telling stories about people, and that’s what I loved about it, and continue to love about it. Television is about that connection with your audience and the connection with the people you’re telling stories about that I love and latch on to.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIST REAL JOB IN TELEVISION?
When I was at Emerson, I was an intern and reporter at a little cable station in Brockton, Mass., and they allowed me to do a lot of different things there and was where I put together a tape. So that was my first break.
AND WHERE DID YOU GO FROM THERE?
From there, I started in Albany, New York, and then I headed out west to San Diego. It was really interesting to work in different parts of the country. In San Diego, I covered the U.S.-Mexico border. I was interviewing smugglers, and breaking stories about sweatshops, and was in Tijuana interviewing governor Gray Davis. There was such a rich, diverse background of stories. It made me so much more well-rounded, so when I came back to Massachusetts in 2001, and reported on earthquakes or floods, I’d been there, so it was all very real to me.
IT SOUNDS LIKE, EARLY ON, YOU WORKED ALL OVER. DID YOU HAVE A SAY IN WHERE YOU WENT?
No! When you’re in the news, and you’re starting off, you’ll take any job, any time. You’re working for, like, ramen noodles. The wages were low, and the hours were long, but you had to do it.
There’s no playbook. No one says, do A, B, and C, and you’ll be this Emmy Award-winning, number one news anchor. It just doesn’t work that way. I’ve been so tremendously lucky to have great mentors at every station I’ve worked at along the way, who gave me a shot and opened the door for me, and once I got there I just worked really hard.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THOSE EARLY MENTORS OR EXPERIENCES THAT REALLY STUCK WITH YOU?
It’s hard to pinpoint one or two things. Along the way my news directors were really tough. I had one news director tell me, “If you don’t get the story, don’t come back to the station.” So, you damn well know I got that story. It’s a very competitive business, so I learned to work well and prove myself under pressure.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WHEN YOU RETURNED TO ANCHOR A SHOW IN BOSTON, YOUR HOMETOWN?
I came back in 2001, and my second day on the job was 9/11. My mother was a flight attendant for American Airlines, she used to fly flight 11. It was a very deeply personal story for me. It gave me chills. But in a strange was I was just so grateful to be in Boston and be with people that I knew, and be able to comfort people that I knew, and that was when I knew I’d made the right choice to come back to New England.
I spent six years on Fox 25 and I had a lot of fun there. I rose to be weekend anchor, and I had a lot of flexibility. I created a travel segments, and I DIY segments. So I would go out and seal driveways, and re-tile bathroom floors, and install kitchen cabinets. We actually had a half hour program after the news. My partner was a guy from Home Depot, and that was a taste of the fun and variety I covered. I also got to go to LA a lot to cover red carpet premiers. They always threw me in different situations and I really loved that.
AFTER FOX, YOU WENT ON TO SPENDING 7 YEARS HOSTING THE EYEOPENER ON WCVB, WHICH WAS EXTREMELY SUCCESSFUL. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE AND START YOUR OWN SHOW?
I was just ready for this, but I felt like the viewers really wanted this, too. You know your audience, you have to know what they’re looking for. I felt like in New England lifestyle and entertainment there was something missing, and there were a lot of stories we could tell that the viewers were really clamoring for.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD AN ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT?
I don’t know if it’s always been there, but it’s become something that’s there within me. I don’t think you wake up one day and say “hey, I’m going to be an entrepreneur, and quit a really stable job and go gamble,” but I think I’ve always taken chances in my career, and I’ve always succeeded the more risk I take, so for me living on the edge of uncertainty is very comfortable.
HOW LONG HAS YOUR SHOW BEEN IN THE WORKS?
I signed off [of WCVB] last May, and we launched Bianca Unanchored on January 24. We’re about eight shows in right now, and it’s going incredibly well. I’m overwhelmed sometimes. We came withing .25 rating of SNL this week! So when we premiered we were second to SNL, and now were in a very strong position to possibly take over that spot. A lot of people thought that 11:30 on Saturday night would be hard, but it never came into play with me.
YOU TOUCHED ON A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO CREATE BIANCA UNANCHORED. WHAT WAS YOUR PLAN GOING INTO THE SHOW?
The plan for me was just to create something that would be very authentic to my voice, that would be the type of content that I would want to watch, and the hope was that there would be enough people like me who would want to watch this.
I started Lucky Gal productions to create the show, so what I wanted to do was create a show that felt very slick and felt very polished, because it wasn’t just a show I was hosting, it was a show I was creating from start to finish. I mean, how many people in television get to design heir own set, and choose their own staff, so I found people that would really get what I wanted to do.
So I partnered with some folks down in New York who I felt could execute the wild ideas I have. And there’s nothing I think of that we can’t do. Every week I’m like ‘Hey, how ‘bout we do this?’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah!’ And here we are. We’re just creating, and it’s so special. I want people to walk away from that show feeling like they laughed, but maybe there’s some takeaway information.
I support a lot of local female entrepreneurs and their businesses, I have a segment called Lucky Gal Likes on the show. We just featured Luxxie Boston last week. They’re women-run, and their stuff is great, so through my platform, I hope to share other great things that are happening. A friend of mine works in breast cancer research, and they have an event coming up in May, so I’m going to cover that event, and tell people about it, how they can get involved. I love being able to tell these stories on a deeper level than I could before.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO RUN A SHOW AND A PRODUCTION COMPANY?
Business savvy! I think when you’re starting out there are a lot of complex moving parts. We launched in 3 million homes right off the bat, so I worked on getting distribution, I worked on getting financing and getting advertising, it was all in. It was like let’s do this, let’s do this right, and let’s do this with the right people. I already had a a great connection with Hearst, because I worked there for so long and I felt like they were the ultimate partner for this show.
YOU’VE INTERVIEWED SOME AMAZING PEOPLE AND COVERED SOME INCREDIBLE EVENTS, BOTH ON BIANCA UNANCHORED, AND IN YOUR NEWS CAREER. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS?
I have a few! One of my highlights was covering the Royal Wedding. I spent seven days in London. Everyone was happy. I felt like the world, for a moment just stopped and celebrated this couple.
I found myself wanting to tell the story behind the story, so I worked through some of my connections, and I got an interview with Mohammed Al-Fayed, and I ended up sitting at a soccer—sorry, football!—match with him, and he was telling me about prince William and Princess Diana when they were in St. Tropez, and I was like OK, this is going to be a good story.
With Bianca Unanchored, one of the great joys is talking to people from New England who have had great success stories. I has Tom Bergeron on recently, and he started doing a miming act. I love his energy, and it was fun to show him in a new light. People get on that couch and they sort of let down their guard.
I’ve also always loved covering the Super Bowls. I’ve covered three Super Bowls and two wins. Being on the field when the confetti is coming down, and you’re like this is what it feels like to win the Super Bowl. You get the sense of what it feels like to have all the lights flashing, and all of the energy and excitement.
Actually! That reminds me. I’m a child of the ’80s and I love Madonna. So, a few days before the Super Bowl they do a press conference with the Super Bowl performer, which was Madonna one year, and everyone gathers in a room to ask questions, and I’m thinking “What can I ask Madonna that hasn’t been asked before,” a lot of the reporters get a bad rap for asking the same questions, and the publicists are there telling you what you can and can’t ask about, and so I asked her if, on a Saturday night, she got a call from Tom Brady and Eli Manning, who she would hang out with? And, after a little while, she said Eli. And the next morning, the back cover of the New York Daily News said “Material MANN,” with a picture of Eli.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ADVICE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTED TO FOLLOW IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS?
When I speak to young women in general, whether they want to get into media, or entertainment, I think it’s a broader message that is just :You can do anything. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can do, don’t let anyone tell you that you can do something, you have to go for it and do what’s right for you, no one else if living you life.. I’m a firm believer in really getting out of that comfort zone. If you stay there too long, there’s a chance there’s something you’re missing.
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
I think it came from my mom, who was also a single mom, and raised me and put me through private school, and she said “Bianca, you have to work really hard because no one is ever going to give you anything.” I’ve had a job since I was 13 years old. She instilled this work ethic in me. I think in this day in age people don’t realize that if you work hard it is going to matter. Anything worth having in life doesn’t come easily. Work hard, and dream big.
It sounds somewhat Pollyanna like to say you can have whatever you want, but who says you cant? I wasn’t supposed to start in market 51 right out of college, I was supposed to start in market 151, or 251, but I didn’t let anyone tell me that. You almost have to live somewhat naively and say ‘I can do this.’ I really believe in the power of just willing things to happen.
Photos by Andrew Wang for Lux & Concord.