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ABC’s “20/20,” the network’s award-winning primetime TV news magazine, has been exclusively led by male executive producers during its first 42 years on the air.
Now in its 43rd year, the ABC News president has announced the promotional appointment of only the fourth executive producer in the show’s history — and this time a woman who is a New Jersey resident and the first minority to hold the top job.
She is Janice Johnston of Cherry Hill, a longtime Black broadcast journalist with ABC, a lawyer and six-time Emmy-award winning producer. She has been a producer for ”20/20” for 12 years, reports the Cherry Hill Courier-Post, which is a part of he USA TODAY Network.
Johnston also has amassed many other honors, including two Peabody Awards for broadcasting and a Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation (AWM) in America to celebrate programming created for women, by women, and about women.
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The show airs Friday nights in primetime and also is available to stream on ABC News digital platforms and on Hulu. “20/20” presents investigative reports, in-depth coverage of high-profile trials, character-driven stories and exclusive newsmaker interviews.
For the fourth quarter of last year, ‘‘20/20’’ ranked as Friday’s No. 1 newsmagazine in the adult 18 to 49 category, beating ‘‘Dateline’’ in the key demographic during a fourth quarter for the first time in five years.
In announcing her “20/20” promotion from senior producer to the first woman executive producer, NBC president James Goldston called her an “exceptional”
leader who has had a brilliant 22-year career at ABC News and a “terrific journalist with an impressive talent for telling stories that resonate.”
“As senior producer for ’20/20′ she’s been at the helm of critical programming in the last year, including our two-hour broadcast on Vanessa Guillen and three breaking news specials on the COVID-19 pandemic. Janice also led two-hour’ 20/20′ events on John Lennon’s life, legacy and last days; the Yosemite Serial Killer, and Robin Roberts’ interviews with three women kidnapped and held captive in Cleveland for a decade.
Johnston’s overseen productions on location all over the world from Hawaiian volcanoes and Mount Kenya to Taylor Swift’s house and the White House, and has been involved in producing and directing dozens of primetime specials.
ABC NEWS staff member Janice Johnston is the new executive producer of the ’20/20′ investigative news magazine TV show that airs Friday nights. (Photo: Courtesy of Heidi Gutman, and ABC Inc.)
These include the Emmy-winning town hall “The President and The People”; “Highwire Over Niagara Falls: LIVE,” the CMA Awards “In the Spotlight” series, and entertainment documentaries on Dolly Parton, Bobby Brown, Luke Bryan and more.
“I am really proud to serve this remarkable team and be a part of the ’20/20′ family,” Johnston said of her advancement.
“I am also truly proud to be a part of a profession, particularly right now, that can speak truth about all the tragedy as well as all the beauty in the world. That’s something we each get to do every day in this role we have as journalists here at ABC News.”
She worked on ”Good Morning America” as a producer for 10 years, before joining ”20/20,” co-anchored by David Muir and Amy Robach. Her initial job at ABC was a network associate producing segments for “World News Tonight with Peter Jennings” and “World News Now.”
This TV storyteller and Generation X-er splits her time between homes in Cherry Hill and Manhattan, and when she can visits her favorite South Jersey eating place since childhood — the Phily Diner in Runnemede.
Johnston also finds time to serve as a trustee of the governing committee at her South Jersey high school alma mater, the private K-12 Moorestown Friends School, where she was a 1988 graduate.
Homophobic and sexist messages were written inside some of cards for several departing faculty members at Moorestown Friends School. The associate head master wrote a letter addressing the negative messages. (Photo: Celeste E. Whittaker/Staff Photographer)
Barbara Rose Caldwell, clerk of the Moorestown Friends School Committee, described Johnston as a “lovely, open and very smart board member with a sense of humor” who gives much insight and input into meetings since joining the board four years ago.
“If you met her, you would not know about the job she has. She is very modest and quiet about it,’ the clerk added.
The TV executive traces her passion for broadcasting to her elementary school days at Haddonfield Friends School. The father of one of her friends was an executive at WPVI Channel 6 ABC in Philadelphia and arranged visits.
“Class field trips to watch Lisa Thomas-Laury anchor the news and being in the audience for ‘AM Philadelphia’ planted the love for TV in my head. The energy of WPVI was what I wanted to be around,” she recalled.
As a resourceful high school senior, she wrote to KYW-TV Philadelphia news anchor Diane Allen to ask if she could intern there. The network made an exception for her as they usually took high school graduates.
“Those few weeks with KYW, interning with ‘People Are Talking,’ were enough for me to know that I wanted to return to this (broadcasting) one day,” said Johnston, an Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority member who graduated from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs.
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Diane Allen of Edgewater Park in South Jersey is a former KYW TV news anchor in Philadelphia who later became a New Jersey state senator (Photo: Provided)
But after graduating Princeton, she firsttook her career in a different direction to do something else she always wanted to do — become a lawyer “not necessarily to practice as a lawyer but for the critical thinking, and for the possibilities that can come from a law degree.” She got her law degree at University of Virginia.
Afterward she worked as a corporate lawyer and for a year did pro bono work for legal services in Brooklyn, but the aspiring broadcaster said she knew her heart was really still in television. She took a few TV night course at New York University and began networking wherever she went.
“If I met you at the bus stop and you worked in TV or knew someone who did, by the end of the ride, I’d have another lead on a job or a meeting set up, “ she remembered.
Eventually, she said she found her way to ABC and executive Alex Wallau, who wanted to find network talent among those who outside the often traditional route of journalism school to give the newsroom more contributing voices with different work and life experiences.
She cajoled her way into meeting him and was hired in an apprentice role. She soon found herself working behind the scenes on the nightly news and then on “Good Morning America.”
“After 10 years there, I was asked to join ’20/20′ and found a new place and passion —longform storytelling.”
Her road to her success really started in South Jersey, she reflected.
“My career wouldn’t be without those key experiences growing up in South Jersey and having been blessed with parents who supported me every day, in every way.”
“Over the years, I’ve never lost contact with the school. As a class alumni representative, or going back to speak to students, the connection continued. I was asked to serve on the board and considered it an honor,” she said. “I loved the idea of giving back to a place that is such a part of who I am today.”
She said Moorestown Friends not only had and still has a rigorous academic program but a broader community focus that emphasizes personal growth and the inner light of each student, while celebrating diversity.
“As a Black family, that was important to my parents in selecting the school. The diversity of our MFS community has only grown since I was a student.”
Prior to her promotion, Johnston had been executive producing the two-hour ’20/20 shows.’ The first, “The List: Who Killed JonBenet Ramsey,” aired this month and revisited the case of the child beauty queen’s murder in Colorado in 1996, a crime that has never been solved in 25 years.
Viewers can see Johnston’s latest production at 9 p.m. Friday — “While He Was Sleeping…” It’s a new look at the murder case of a wife stabbed 44 times and drowned in her pool and features a jailhouse interview.
Asked to name her favorite projects, Johnston said they were specials on 9/11 and telling the story behind the three women held captive in Cleveland for 10 years.
On a lighter note, she said she enjoyed meeting Aretha Franklin for an episode and being introduced to her fried chicken.
For more information or to view programs visit https://abcnews.go.com/2020
Carol Comegno loves telling stories about South Jersey history and our military veterans. Her book, “The Battleship USS New Jersey: From Birth to Berth” is the definitive history of the battleship. If you have a story to share, call her at 856-486-2473 or email [email protected]
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