Andrea Joyce has spent most of her career on the sidelines and, from that vantage point, has influenced television and sports. Growing up in an athletic family, she was tapped to cover sports at a time when female reporters in the locker room were a rare breed. “My brothers and my father were huge athletes,” she said. “In my family, you read the sports section of the paper before you read the rest of the paper.” After many years reporting on basketball and football, Andrea now concentrates on skating and gymnastics for NBC. “I’ve gotten to know the skaters very well from covering the Grand Prix circuit, National Championships, World Championships and the Olympics,” she said. “You become part of that community, because it’s not quite as big.”
Along the way, Andrea and her husband, Harry Smith, the former anchor of CBS This Morning who is now with NBC News, became big supporters of Figure Skating in Harlem, a non-profit founded by Sharon Cohen, a former competitive figure skater, to teach young girls the sport while helping them achieve in school and in life. The organization will honor Andrea and fashion designer B Michael at its skating gala on Monday evening, April 8, at the Trump Rink in Central Park. Attendees, including the girls in the program and their families, will have the thrill of skating alongside Olympic skaters Sasha Cohen, Dick Button, Evan Lysacek, Scott Hamilton, Sarah Hughes, Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir, Jo-Jo Starbuck, and many more. Also expected to attend are actress Tamara Tunie and her husband, jazz musician Gregory Generet, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren and his wife, Tina Lundgren, Cicely Tyson, Emme, Vera Wang, Star Jones, and others.
Harry Smith and Andrea Joyce with Terry and Tina Lundgren
Launched in 1997, Figure Skating in Harlem was the first after-school figure skating and education program of its kind. “There’s no skating without the educational part,” explained Andrea. Besides offering tutoring, the program takes the girls on field trips to places like the U.S. Supreme Court, the NBC studios, and Wall Street. “Figure skating is like any sport; there’s a tremendous amount of discipline and dedication that’s required to be successful,” said Andrea. “Maybe these kids aren’t going to the Olympics, and maybe they’re not going to be national champions, but the skill set that they learn mentally and physically from a sport like skating, helps them in every aspect of their lives.”
Andrea grew up in Detroit skating in her backyard. “Every New Year’s Eve, my father would shovel out the backyard, build up the banks, and make a little skating rink in the yard,” she said. “So we all learned to skate from my father. But I was never a competitive figure skater and I won’t be skating on Monday night because it’s a little embarrassing to be skating around these spectacular skaters.” She added, with a laugh: “I have known these figure skaters for so long, for them to see me on skates would be truly horrifying.”
Audiences are now so accustomed to seeing women reporting on sports that it’s hard to remember a time when those TV jobs were reserved for men. “When I started back in the business back in 1977, I was a local news reporter and anchor in many different markets,” including Colorado Springs, Wichita, Detroit, and Denver, explained Andrea. “In all of these jobs, whenever there was an extra body needed at a sporting event, they always sent me in as a feature reporter. I always did the peripheral stories, I never did the play-by-play, I never covered the actual game, but I covered all the hoopla that went around the Super Bowl, or the Tigers in Detroit, for example.”
Andrea with Tracy Wilson and Sandra Bezic: “My figure skating colleagues at NBC.”
After moving to WFAA-TV in Dallas in the mid-1980s, Andrea began to cover sports on a more regular basis. “They needed an extra sports reporter and they knew that I knew a lot about sports,” she said. “So I went out to the Dallas Mavericks game and did a pre- game report and an interview with the coach.”
In 1986, the news director at WFAA-TV was “very progressive,” according to Andrea. “There had never been a woman doing sports on TV in Dallas. I think there was one woman doing sports nationally on TV.” He told Andrea he wanted his station to be the first one to put a woman on doing sports. He followed through, giving her all the necessary support and guidance she needed to succeed.
Did she feel like a groundbreaker at the time? “Definitely.” Early on, Andrea stood outside the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room after one game when Tom Landry, the team’s legendary coach, walked down the hall. “He had that fedora on that he wore and he looked at me and he kind of nodded,” she said. Going into the locker room, Landry left the door open, and told the players that Andrea was coming in, leaving it up to them how they would handle it, whether they would cover up. “They never had to deal with that before,” Andrea said. “They were just in the locker room and nobody cared because it was all men. But they could not have been more gracious.” Along the way, Andrea said she ran into “my share of whatevers,” but nothing that was horrible.
“I did my homework and then one thing led to another and we ended up in New York,” said Andrea. In 1988, Andrea moved to ESPN, covering the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea. In 1989, she joined CBS Sports and in 1993 became the first woman to co-host the network’s coverage of the World Series. “I was in the right place at the right time,” she said. “It then became popular to hire women to do sports. I was lucky because I was there. It worked out for me very, very well.”
Moving to NBC Sports in 2000, Andrea focused on covering figure skating and gymnastics. “Having done the NBA and all the major sports, I really thought that I was going to retire several years ago,” she said. “But I found a little bit of a niche with NBC and it’s perfect for me.” She did sideline coverage during the Summer Olympics in London. “I was with the gymnastics teams and just had a spectacular experience,” she said. She plans to be part of the team for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, marking her eleventh time at the Olympics. In between, she covers other important skating and gymnastics events.
She predicts that the U.S. Team is a strong contender to win the gold in ice dancing with the talented team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the current World Champions. In women’s figure skating, Ashley Wagner, National Champion for the past two years, “is absolutely a threat to be on the podium.” Those competing in the pairs competition are younger and so perhaps won’t contend for a medal. But she’s quick to add: “There’s no such thing as a shoe-in for Olympic figure skating, because anything can happen out there.”
Harry Smith, Tamara Tunie, Andrea Joyce, and Gregory Generet
Looking back on her career, Andrea said that she and her husband did a lot of juggling. “My work was always on the weekends and my husband’s was always during the week,” Andrea said. “He was on the morning show at CBS for a million years, two tours of duty there.” Barring a major news happening, Harry would finish work on Friday just as Andrea was on her way to the airport for an NCAA basketball game or another sports event. “We were kind of like ships passing in the night, but we did it,” she said. “We figured out a way to raise our kids in New York City and have these crazy jobs.” Only once did their jobs coincide, when they both were scheduled to cover the Winter Olympics. “We took our two sons with us,” she said. “When you’re halfway around the world, you don’t want to leave your kids at home even if you’re leaving them with grandparents, you don’t want to be away from them for three weeks. We pulled them out of school and they would have their homework with them, special assignments to do. It was fun for them; it was great.”
Andrea credits her husband for sharing household and parenting responsibilities. “We didn’t have live in help or anything like that,” she said. “We grew up in the Midwest. We pitch in and do everything. I can honestly say, as corny as that sounds, that I could never, ever, ever have had this career, if my husband hadn’t been so incredibly supportive and willing to pick up and carry the ball all through the times I was gone, because I did travel a lot.”
So Harry is actually like the Harry we see on TV? “He’s even better,” she said with a laugh. “He’s the nicest most normal guy on the planet. He’s really a special guy.”
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: Boulud Sud (on our block)
Favorite Place to Shop: Macy’s during the holidays…love the buzz
Favorite New York Sight: Central Park, anywhere, in any weather
Favorite New York Moment: Years ago, before there was a Kmart in NYC, trying to find “cheap” yarn for a second grade art project. After a fruitless search, the class ended up filled with cashmere wooly mammoths! Only in New York.
What You Love About New York: The energy and diversity of the city and the people. The everyday feeling of “you just never know what might happen.”
What You Hate About New York: Hate is a strong word…but I am forever irritated by people with no umbrella etiquette!