Some might say it did not start out that way. With only a few years of local news reporting and anchoring under her belt (she was Chicago's first female anchor) when she joined "Today", critics lambasted Pauley for not being an astute interviewer--as Walters certainly was--and sneered that she had a "corn-bred" style, rather than being substantive. For much of the 1970s, that was the way Pauley was perceived. Then, in 1980, she added reporting on the "NBC Nightly News" to her duties and, for two years, Pauley rolled up her sleeves with other news gatherers. By the time she finished doing double duty, she had matured professionally. Besides covering the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana and the funeral of Grace of Monaco, Pauley had begun anchoring and reporting the network's occasional, yet prestigious, primetime documentaries, "NBC White Paper", including "Women, Work, and Babies: Can America Cope?" (1985) and "Divorce is Changing America" (1986). She was also part of the NBC team at political conventions and interviewed world leaders when "Today" went overseas. Pauley anchored the network's 1988 Olympics coverage.
In 1989, NBC's News executive Dick Ebersol, sensing a need for a change, replaced Pauley with Deborah Norville in what turned out to be a public relations, let alone ratings, disaster. But Pauley walked away from "Today" nonplused, seemingly pleased to no longer have to live by the early morning show's schedule, to have more time for her children and husband, "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau. She stuck with NBC News and the network immediately gave her a special "Changes: Conversations with Jane Pauley" (1990), in which she interviewed celebrities. Later that year, she did five "Real Life With Jane Pauley" programs as a prototype for primetime newsmagazine. While "Real Life" aired weekly during the 1991-92 season, it did not click with the audience. Pauley was then teamed with Stone Phillips on the revamped "Dateline: NBC" (1992- ). Although it was slow to build, by the outset of the 1995-96 season, "Dateline" was seen on the primetime schedule twice weekly and many nights its ratings were higher than that of ABC's older "20/20", ironically co-hosted by Walters. So buoyed was the network that early in 1996, it scheduled yet another "Dateline" night--Sundays--against CBS' formidable "60 Minutes". Pauley has also served as a substitute anchor for Tom Brokaw on the "NBC Nightly News". With the launch of a new cable news channel, MSNBC, in 1996, Pauley was also tapped to host "Time and Again", a nightly look at history as viewed by NBC News.