Brooklynite Cat Greenleaf has redefined working from home. After all, not everyone can step out their front door and say they’re at the office. But that’s exactly what the host of two-time Emmy Award-winning show Talk Stoop does. Her intimate chats with celebrities — as they drink coffee and hang on her Brooklyn stoop with canine co-hosts, Gracie and Walter — have captivated viewers since 2009. Between NBC broadcasts, digital and out-of-home platforms (think cabs and gas stations), Greenleaf’s show reaches about 12 million viewers each week across nine markets. And she’s currently filming episodes to air on the USA Network where she’ll be the face of its daytime programming. Starting in August, you can catch her show once an hour between 11am and 3pm on USA. It’s hard to believe that just 13 years ago the White Plains-born air traffic reporter ditched her West Coast life to come back to New York. In our interview, Greenleaf credits her hometown with jump-starting her life and recounts the journey that’s been marked by persistence and a little bit of luck.
COOL JOB Q&A:
NY: You grew up in White Plains. What brought you back to New York in 2000 after your job in San Francisco as an airborne traffic reporter on the radio?
CG: I had no money and probably no credit, so I thought I should move back home, and thank goodness I did because I really feel like my life started when I got back to New York. I was a traffic reporter, and that’s also part of the story. I was a bad traffic reporter, and the light had changed; it kept getting darker earlier, and I couldn’t see my landmarks any more so my reports were really way off, but I did have that traffic job, so I got a position at NY1 [also doing traffic], so I did come here with a job.
NY: How did you make the leap from being a traffic reporter to a stoop talk-show host?
CG: So there I was at NY1, and I was a horrible, horrible traffic reporter. I was not very good at all, so it was not a huge disappointment when I got downsized out of that gig. And then I got a job at RNN, Regional News Network as the mall reporter. I worked at the Palisades Mall, and I was reporting on what was going on so that was my first step up and out. Then from there I got hired by NYC TV Channel 25, and that’s when it really all turned around for me. I had a little segment there called “On the Prowl,” and that was great; I loved working there. Then I got a lucky break and a position opened at NBC. I knew a reporter there, and he helped me get in to interview and that was that. Four years into it the idea for Talk Stoop hit, and that changed everything! One night I figured I wanted to try something new, and the next morning I woke up, and the title for Talk Stoop literally came to me. Later that day I ran into a friend, so I sat down to interview her, and that’s how it all began. I wish I could say that I really worked on it, but I didn’t at all. It was a total fluke.
NY: What’s the biggest lesson learned in carving your own path in the Big Apple?
CG: Nothing is handed to you. Nothing comes without a ton of hard work. People love great ideas and what I’ve found was that when I wanted to be a TV reporter, I had to stay on top of people. Persistence, persistence, persistence, and I think that’s what helped me get a job and keep a job. Everybody wants to be in the city so you always have to keep the juices going because other people will try to nudge into your spot. You don’t want your opportunities to get away from you.
Also, I have to say I’ve had unbelievable luck. A lot of it’s great timing, and I’ve just had such incredible timing it’s not like, “Hey, I’m perfect, my timing is perfect,” but I truly pinch myself every day. I’m so grateful for all of it, and I feel really embraced by the city, and I embrace the city. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
NY: You seem so comfortable in your own skin. Any advice to the rest of us on how to own what we do with so much confidence?
CG: Getting older really helps. I’m 41 years old, and it took a really long time. I kept hitting myself against the wall of trying to be anything else that I wasn’t. Trying to be more refined, trying to be more book smart, trying to be anything, and none of it ever worked. So from there I had to just give it up — and again, I think a lot of that has to do with age. I just realized — what’s the definition of insanity? “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results.” There was never going to be any other result. It’s not that bad – once you start embracing who you are, you’re a lot better than you think! I think we’re all better than we allow ourselves to think.
NY: What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps and create and host his or her own show?
CG: Just get your camera out and do it, but … there [are] still a lot of skills that need to be learned. By getting on air — that could be the Internet or your own YouTube channel — but you still have to have the basics: What, where, when, why and how. A good story’s still a good story.
NY: What advice would you give someone wanting to break into TV? How can they get a foot in the door?
CG: Taking classes is super important, learning the basics is really important. I was working a million different jobs, so I could be a 27-year-old intern. If you have to take a class at night, even if you have to give up your job to take other weird jobs that don’t have a set schedule, if you really want to do it, you’ve gotta make the time to do it.
Interning is really important. And by the way, interning well. Be a great intern, and the other way is keep getting the reels. When I was starting out, I was making VHS tapes [and] sending them all over the country. Now, you can send an e-mail, but people may not click on it, so that’s a good lesson to learn: persistence without annoyance.
The other thing that’s organic: Tell stories that you really care about. If you’re trying to put it on and sort of acting, people can see through that. Curiosity is everything, when you’re truly curious about people, it shows. My least favorite interviews are the ones that are so polished that you don’t let any kind of “real” come out. Every person that I meet has an interesting story as long as they’re open to tell it. So there’s no shortage of material out there.
NY: Where are the best places to network in New York? Any classes to take?
CG: I haven’t really looked for a job that way in such a long time, but there’s something about getting your foot in the door no matter what. Start out as a desk assistant, start out doing anything because once you get into a company, you can work your way up. It’s so much easier getting a job on the inside than on the outside. Whatever your desired niche is, look around. Information is way too readily available to not be able to find where the good networking events are.
Definitely take Journalism 101, and I think improv classes are important. It’s great to think on your feet. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than watching someone be uncomfortable on camera. I think writing is everything, whether you’re trying to get a job or keeping a job. Make sure your writing skills are polished and that you can write really well and tell a story in a small amount of words.
NY: How have you handled it when a celebrity interview has gone awry or spiraled out of control?
CG: Luckily no one has gone totally off the rail, but the whole time I’m thinking great TV, great TV! I would probably be thrilled if somebody would go off the rail.
When someone’s like avoid, avoid, avoid, I get so bored. I try to ask questions as straightforward as I can. And then I try to come to it from another angle, and if they’re still not answering, then I lose my enthusiasm for it. But sometimes when people do unexpected things, and I have no idea what they’re going to say. Spike Lee and William Shatner gave me totally unexpected interviews, but the way they answered the questions, how open they were, how much fun they were, I have to say I was thrilled with that. I wouldn’t describe them as off the rail but they were way more effusive than I thought they were going to be, and I’m thrilled when that happens.
NY: Who has been your most memorable interview on the stoop and why?
CG: Mavis Staples was my favorite. Her energy was so infectious, it was so incredible. She’s so spirited, and she was ready to have a great time, and I just loved her. She was just remarkable.
NY: Looking back at your path, if you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?
CG: I would have said start younger, but I think that my age worked to my advantage. When I got into the newsroom I was already 28 years old, so I knew a little bit about the world so I think that that helps. Yeah, I got nothin’. I don’t know what I could have done differently.
NY: What does an average day look like to you?
CG: I get up really early and I work out — a trainer comes to my house a couple of days a week, and then I drink a lot of coffee, and on days that I shoot, hair and makeup comes over. Then the crew comes and so that’s a shoot day, there’s a lot of walking around with my kids. I walk my son to school in the middle of all this. On shoot days it’s so interesting to watch our house transform into a set. The nanny’s there, our kids are there, it’s really interesting to watch and see how people react. It changes the vibe of the interview immediately, that’s what allows them to relate. But that’s not what your question was — coffee, kids, makeup and then days when we’re not shooting, I literally stand at my computer in my kitchen and I’ll work until six at night. There’s so much to get through, and I’m never, ever, ever caught up, and I hate that. I wish there was something I could do about that.
NY: Let’s talk LUST — your campaign (and acronym) to get people to “look up stop texting.” How did that come about, and why is that so important to you?
CG: When I started it, it was more about taking in our world because we’re always looking down instead of looking at the beautiful vertical city we live in. And then I started realizing the people who text and drive — and I think it’s dangerous, selfish, horrible; I can go on and on. What’s so freaking important that you have to reply that second? I think our brains are being rewired to be so bored that we have to look down. I think it takes us out of the moment a lot and life is short, man. You don’t want to miss it.
NY: We can’t talk to the host of Talk Stoop without talking about two of the stoop stars! Your dogs Gracie and Walter. Let’s hear a funny story about their interaction with a celebrity.
CG: Julio was the first dog on the stoop, and when he passed away, it felt really off not having him there. Gracie is the biggest star of the show and there is no, no, no, no doubt about it. Every time we walk outside the house, everybody recognizes her and says, “Oh, is that Gracie? I love that show.” She’s magnetic. Walter is the dearest Chihuahua. I never would have pictured myself a Chihuahua person, and he’s low-key.
Gracie’s really, really, really made out with several guests; I think she made out with William Shatner if I remember correctly. She jumps into their lap; she gets her big face up in their face. There are some people she can’t get enough of. I just remember she was all over Shatner and he wasn’t too into it actually.
Find out more about how New Yorkers are making it in the big city with our Cool Job Q&As.