Jillian Mele has been on a meteoric rise in media. From hosting a local sports show for CSN Philly, interviewing know-nothings like me, to reading the morning news to the President of the United States on “Fox & Friends” every weekday, it’s been one heckuva 2017 for the La Salle University grad.
We wanted to see how her transition from local Philly television to the national stage has been. So we asked. And Fox actually said yes. (They were actually great and very agreeable.)
Mele and I spoke about everything from her time in local media, to whether she had any hesitation going to work for Fox News given the polarizing nature of cable news and the sexual harassment lawsuits at Fox at the time of her hiring, to if she already misses getting to talk about Anthony Scaramucci every day.
Here is our conversation, edited slightly for brevity. No, I didn’t ask if she’s heckled Sean Hannity about Wawa.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) August 2, 2017
Mele says words every morning and then Donald Trump tweets them and then the rest of the world reacts to those tweets about news he heard from her. I asked… “What does that feel like?”
Honestly, I don’t get wrapped up in that kind of stuff and I’ve always been this way. Since Day 1 of my career after college, my mentality and my motto has always been, I do what I do, because you’re at home watching and you want to be informed. You’re inviting me into your home to tell you what’s going on. I’m the person you see first thing in the morning to let you know what happened overnight. What you missed.
I think about the president watching the same way I think about my parents watching the same way I think about my neighbors watching, the same way I think about people in Texas who I’ve never met watching. So that’s always been my mentality.
People have asked me that question so many times since I’ve started here, and even to this day, I don’t think any differently about it. Because if you think differently about it, then you’re going to start playing mind games with yourself. To me, this is the same job that I’ve always done, which is to be a broadcast journalist, which is to inform people about what’s going on. Just on a different level.
Mele started out in Philly doing local news for NBC10 but two years ago made the shift to sports, joining CSNPhilly to host “Breakfast on Broad” with Rob Ellis, Barrett Brooks and Sarah Baicker. Going from Philly sports fans to political news fans is…something.
I know. I mean, honestly, it is a crazy time to get into this atmosphere. But at the same time, I love it. You know my background; I’ve always fluctuated between news and sports. I’ve just drawn a parallel line between the two and crossed over from time to time. To jump into the news aspect and the political aspect, to me, isn’t entirely different from when I left NBC10 and went to Comcast SportsNet, fully, head-first into a full-time sports job. So, it isn’t the first time I’ve done this, it’s just different than my last stop.
Someone tweeted Mele, “stop saying wacky shit” to which she replied “Nah…saying normal stuff is boring.” I had about 100 questions about this, but first I asked if she had any idea what she said to get that response, and why in the world she’d reply to people on the internet.
Honestly, I don’t know. I feel like people tweet stuff all the time and you aren’t sure if they’re tweeting at you in that moment because of something you just said, or if they’re tweeting at you because they don’t like you, or they don’t like something you said yesterday and they’re just getting around to it. I don’t know.
That morning…I was trying to think back and I said something to [Fox News contributor] Pete [Hegseth] about how he had a leprechaun’s accent and it kind of made chuckle in that moment because we used to make fun of Rob Ellis for his Irish accent, and we always joked with him about speaking like a leprechaun. So it took me back to my moment on ‘Breakfast on Broad’ when we’d always rag on Rob about it. So perhaps that was it, but…I don’t know.
I like interacting with people in a sarcastic way on Twitter because I feel like the world is so serious nowadays that you need some way to be able to joke with people. So that’s become the way I do it, just to say, ‘nah, man, we don’t need to be so serious.’ Let’s just have some fun.
This was my reply. I transcribed my own reply.
“But you’ve seen the internet, right? Like, you know that people are crazy and yet you still interact with people. When you do a local show in Philly, you know your audience, but when you do what you’re doing now, it is a totally different audience. Are you on edge more lately because, last I checked, there are really horrible things said to women online lately.”
If I thought about it too much, I’d go crazy.
People say mean things. People say nice things. People say whatever they want to they want to say because they don’t have to say it to your face. That’s how it’s always been on social media.
And I used to get offended by a lot of things, but over the years I’ve learned I’m not going to just interact with people on social media who are nice to me. If someone has a problem with me or doesn’t like the way I look or the way I dress or the way I say something or the way I’m wearing my hair that day, I’m still going to interact with them, because they’re still a viewer. They’re still watching. They’re still the reason I have a job.
Not everybody is going to like me, and that’s okay. But I’m not going to just interact with the people who happen to like me and happen to be nice to me.
I like interacting with everybody. If they cross the line, then I’ll block them. Aside from that, they can have a difference of opinion. They don’t have to like me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to respond to them or try to be sarcastic and maybe get them on my side.
Who has been tougher on her online: Philly sports fans or Fox News haters?
Oooh. You know, Philly sports fans haven’t been that bad to me. Because I’m sure you’ve noticed, this morning someone tweeted me ‘ooh wearing Eagles green’ and I’m like, ‘obviously.’
So I’m still interacting with people about Philly sports and I’m sure when the season actually starts I’ll be tweeting with people like I was the last couple of years Sunday game days when I’m awake to watch the games. Philly sports have been great.
Honestly, everybody’s been great. I really don’t think much about it. I love interacting with the viewers every day. I really do. I think when I started BOB I got a little bit more heat because it was something new in the city, it was something new for me, people hadn’t seen me in a full-time sports role. At this point, people have seen me cover news, in Philly, so it’s not that this is out of the realm of what people have already seen me do.
Start-ups don’t always work, and that doesn’t just go for businesses. Sometimes, as was the case with ‘Breakfast on Broad,’ it happens with start-up TV concepts too. BOB was a good idea, but there were a lot of factors conspiring against its success. I wanted to know how difficult it was going through every day, trying different things to get traction, putting in all that effort and doing all that work and not seeing the return.
It was a bummer and it’s still a bummer. I’ll say that. Because I do think we were onto something in Philadelphia and for whatever reasons it didn’t work out, but I still every single day get people tweeting me ‘I miss ‘Breakfast on Broad.’
I truly believe we were onto something good and, whether it was the time, the channel, who knows. At this point it doesn’t matter. I look back and I think, wow, those two years went by so fast and it was two years that I had so much fun trying something that had never been done in any capacity in Philadelphia sports.
I think about it and I hope that someone tries something similar again because I do think there’s a market for it in Philly. Sports fans in Philadelphia are like none other. I get into battles every day with people up here who are like ‘you have to become a Giants fan.’ and I’m like, nope, I can’t.’ Because Philly fans are so loyal, and I know every city would say that about their fans, but I think there’s a way for that show, or a show like that, to be successful. I really do.
News broke on March 27 that Mele was leaving Philly. On May 15 she started on “Fox & Friends.” In between there were two separate sexual harassment lawsuits involving Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly that were front page news for weeks. I wanted to know if she had any concerns about going to Fox News given the timing of when she got hired. This is exactly how I asked the question:
“The company you were going to work for had a lot of negativity and, to be frank, a lot of that had to do with attractive blonde women and you are an attractive blonde woman. So did you ever have any pause or were you concerned? Or did people in your life say, ‘whoa whoa whoa…you’re going WHERE?’”
No one in my life said ‘whoa whoa whoa, you’re going where?’ because everybody in my life who knows me on a personal level knows I trust my gut on every decision I make. My gut speaks to me in insane ways — and I know that sounds weird — but the second I got the phone call about this job, I did not hesitate. And then as the days went on and the weeks went on and I had phone calls, I came up [to New York] to have multiple meetings with a ton of people at many different levels. Every meeting I had, every conversation I had was an absolutely wonderful experience.
What people say outside the building, I don’t even care about, because I know how it is in this building. Every single person up to this day that I’ve met has been nothing but supportive, nothing but nice has been nothing but honest with me. I had a college roommate who worked here for many, many years and I have had conversations with her over the years, and she’s never had a bad thing to say, and that’s my experience now. And that’s what it’s been like since the first phone call.
I’m always fascinated to know who people say when asked who their favorite interview is, especially people who have worked with and interviewed a ton of famous people. I asked Mele who her favorite interview ever was, and in her current role, who would be her favorite get. (I begged her to say the answer to one of those questions is Anthony Scaramucci. Alas…)
I don’t have a celebrity or an athlete who is my favorite interview ever. Every time I’m asked this question, I think back to my days at NBC10 when I did the High School Blitz show. How it worked is, every Saturday John Clark and I would do the show once a week and we worked on it all week; Friday highlight show and Saturday games, and I would be the person who went out each week to do the winner of our Game of the Week. Every week I didn’t know where I was going to go, it was up to the viewers to pick which school won. So I couldn’t pre-plan this stuff that early…
I interviewed a kid in South Jersey at a high school. His name was Chris Liggio. A year prior to me doing the interview with him, his dad went to his mom’s work one day and shot her and shot himself. And football is what got Chris through this awful, awful tragedy in his life. And to be able to hear from a kid in high school, how strong a person can be in a situation that, honestly, I can’t fathom. Even talking about it right now makes my eyes fill up. I look at the strength of some people and I’m just blown away by it. It give you strength. It’s incredible.
It’s so moving to share someone’s story like that, of a tragedy that not many people on this earth can understand. There are stories like that where they’re not famous people, they’re not people that everybody says, ‘oh I want to meet them.’ But everybody should hear their story. Because it gives you strength inside.
Full disclosure: My favorite interview I’ve ever done was with Kermit the Frog. My oldest kid was maybe three or four and I got to interview Steve Whitmire as Kermit the Frog and that was the greatest moment of my life. And now after hearing her answer I feel like an asshole.
No, there are moments where you’re like, you know what…your life’s not that bad. There are people who have gone through so many worse things than I’ve ever dealt with in my life. Some days you have bad days and you think about these stories and these kids, and I’m just like…holy cow.
Former inmates washed the cars of Houston police officers to thank the officers for their service. pic.twitter.com/dQp3PuFTim
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 31, 2017
I couldn’t not go back to The Mooch. Specifically, I wanted to know how crazy have the last two to three weeks been to cover? What a time to be a morning news anchor, when America goes to bed and wakes up and nine things have happened overnight.
Every day there is something new. Every day it is something else. But you know, as a reporter that’s exciting to have new information to be able to give and share with the viewers every single day because they’re relying on you for that information.
It’s different for me because I’m not on the couch with the main anchors who are having these conversations every day. I’m reading the news of the day from the headlines from around the world. I’m not exactly…like, my toe is in it, but I’m not having these conversations like they are every day.
Local news. Local sports. National news. What’s on Mele’s media bucket list? Sure, she just started on “Fox & Friends,” but I wanted to know if she has a checklist of things that she wants to do in her career, how many she’s checked off and how many are still unchecked.
So I know you’re going to think I’m giving you some like rehearsed answer about this, but I’m telling you, as a friend, I’m not. This is my answer to this question, okay? My goal for myself when I started out in this career after college was to get back to Philly. My goal was to be a journalist on air in Philadelphia. That was the goal I had set for myself. Beyond that, I didn’t even think. I don’t know. It’s like, everyone wants to be on air in their hometown and deliver the news to people they know. That was my goal.
So once I got back to Philadelphia and I had accomplished that, everyone kept asking me what’s next. And I would say, ‘I don’t know.’ And I remember one time I had a conversation in the weather center at NBC10 with Hurricane Schwartz and he said, ‘what’s next’ and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘what do you mean you don’t know?’ I said, “Glen, this was my goal. I’m content. I’m happy with what I’m doing.’
After some time you set some new goals for yourself and you reevaluate things and I decided I really wanted to get back into sports. My first job after college was in sports. I missed sports, I missed the excitement of it and I wanted to get back into it. So that’s how the “Breakfast on Broad” job came about. I had interned at SportsNet, so I knew most of the people there still. So I started a new goal for myself to make this the best show that I can and be the best sports anchor that I can.
I would sit at my counter in my kitchen every single day and I would write notes of all the players on the rosters…I was going crazy because I wanted to be the best at it. That was my new goal. I wanted to be the best for that show for that station, for the sports fans in Philly. In my opinion I think I accomplished that. People might say otherwise, but it’s all in your flavor, right? It’s all in your taste.
We LOVE interesting hypothetical situations…. Here ya go… What duo would you rather have Wentz with Belichick or Brady with Pederson? pic.twitter.com/RlF6VtHZnv
— Breakfast on Broad (@BOBonTCN) January 24, 2017
I worked really hard for that show, and after it ended, it was a bummer. But in the back of my mind, I always wanted to get to the national level. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know if it would happen. I didn’t know when it would happen. I didn’t know if it would be in sports. I didn’t know if it would be in news. I didn’t know. But it was always a small goal in the back of my mind. It wasn’t in the forefront, because in the forefront was doing the job I was hired for in that moment. So when this job opportunity came about, that’s why I didn’t hesitate. I was like…yes.
So, I don’t have my next goal yet, because I just started this one. And I’m loving it.
Last, but certainly not least, what does Mele miss about being in Philly? She can still watch Philly sports while working in New York, but what In terms of actually physically being in the city every day, what does she miss most?
In order of what comes to mind: my dog, my family, my friends and the restaurants.
I love the restaurants in Philly. I had my favorites when I lived there, I’m a vegetarian so I’d hit up Vedge and V Street…my favorites. And I haven’t had the time to find that here yet. When I lived in Conshohocken I’d always hit up Pepperoncini and not feel like that awkward person sitting by yourself eating a meal. I don’t have that here yet. Other than the usual suspects of the dog, the family, the friends, it’s just the familiarity. It just takes time to develop that.