Ashleigh Banfield admits she has big shoes to fill replacing Nancy Grace

This was posted Saturday, October 15, 2016 on the AJC Radio & TV Talk blog by Rodney Ho

Nancy Grace finished her nearly 12-year run on HLN this past Thursday night. Her replacement Ashleigh Banfield is a respected legal analyst and has hosted a mid-day CNN justice-oriented show “Legal View” for the past few years.

She takes over Grace’s coveted prime-time 8 p.m. slot on Monday with a show called ‘Primetime Justice.” Banfield is a journalist through and through. Grace was a prosecutor in the Fulton County office and has never fashioned herself as a reporter but more as an advocate for victims’ rights.

“I think [Banfield] will bring a totally different perspective and angle on legal stories,” said Atlanta defense and divorce attorney Randy Kessler, who was a regular on Grace’s show and appeared on the final episode, where Grace berated him for old time’s sake. “I’m betting on more in depth, longer interviews and comments from guests to get deeper into the issues and nuances of cases.  I’m looking forward to watching. ”

Banfield knows not all of Grace’s fans will stay with her, that she’ll have to bring her own viewers as well.

“I can’t fill her shoes,” Banfield said. “I’m not even trying to. I’d fail miserably. I’ve always had my own unique personality I try to bring to any program. This will be crafting a new show from the roots up. That’s what my team and I have been doing for two weeks. I think you’ll see something remarkably different. I’m a former war correspondent. I bring to the table 28 years of varied beats in the world of journalism. I’ve done business. I’ve done law. I’ve covered the White House and the Pentagon. I’ve been at war and peace. I’ve been a mom, which is the hardest job. I feel like I have a very rich weave of experience. It lends itself to being able to really look at a case and immediately ascribe to it the benefit of the doubt and reasonable doubt. I look at everything the way I look at my kids.”

A Canadian native, the 48 year old joined MSNBC in 2000 and CourtTV in 2005 before joining CNN in 2011. Her approach on HLN will be far more conventional  than Grace’s but she has no plans to be milquetoast either. “I see myself as a digger. I have innate curiosity,” she said. “That annoys the hell out of my friends and family but it works well in journalism.”

And time in the business hasn’t caused her to lose hope for mankind. “I can’t fix the world,” she said, “but I can sure shine a light to get towards that goal.”

She also said with HLN, she will be able to focus exclusively on law and justice cases. On CNN, although her show was about those topics, breaking news often reigned, meaning she’d have to address politics or natural disasters as well.

Before leaving, Grace was hot on the hot-tot car trial featuring Ross Harris. Banfield plans to cover it as well. “I would look at it through a different prism,” she said. “I am a mom of a nine and 10 year old. It wasn’t long ago that I was exasperated. I could see myself forgetting. Every mom has said the same thing. We recognize a problem. I see on my Waze app push notifications reminding me if I have a child in the back of the car. It’s brilliant… I will cover the case with a larger scope, a greater good. I won’t necessarily drill down on just that one person Ross Harris.”

She also said she’ll be able to nab analysts and legal experts she couldn’t reach during the middle of the day on CNN who are now able to appear in the evening.

Banfield said she’ll be primarily using Grace’s existing team of producers and crew split between Atlanta and Banfield’s home base of New York. “They could not be more seasoned and open to unique, new ideas,” she said. “Clever. Kind. Welcoming. It’s been amazing so far.”

With the changes at HLN, she said it’s clear the network is “going back to its hard news roots. Ken Jautz [executive vice president at CNN and HLN] is one of my favorite people on my planet. He’s extraordinary. He’s an alchemist. He has great vision. He has huge support. There’s not a person I know who doesn’t like Ken Jautz. I see us being counter-programming to CNN. If you are watching CNN and its heavy focus on politics or other stories of the day, HLN will complement it. It’s two for one.”

TV PREVIEW
“Primetime Justice with Ashleigh Banfield,” 8 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays, HLN starting October 17, 2016

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