If you count down to the Oscars like it’s Christmas, pore over every page of InStyle the day it comes out, and fill your DVR with every E! special known to man—well, Catt Sadler pretty much has your dream career. A correspondent and anchor for E!, she’s the host you see on E! News Weekend, E! specials, and all E! Live From the Red Carpet events.
But while her job is glamorous, the path to landing it wasn’t always. The “little girl from the farmlands of Indiana” got her start in a local news station in Indianapolis, and attributes her successful path to working tremendously hard, taking the time to learn the ins and outs of every part of the newsroom, and never letting the word “no” stop her.
Before you check Catt out on the red carpet this month, read on for her story on what it takes to break into broadcasting.
Catt, what did you want to do growing up?
To be honest, I always had a bit of the performing bug. I was in my school plays and when I was with my cousins, I was always creating scenes and directing everybody—that was our form of entertainment. Then when I got older (and I’m going to date myself here), when home video cameras became readily available, that’s when I fell in love with making videos and doing interviews. I would interview my friends and my family non-stop—I thought I was Barbara Walters, basically.
And that’s when I realized that I loved storytelling. But I was a little girl from the farmlands of Indiana—no one I knew was from the entertainment industry, so I didn’t even really gather that that was a career possibility until I got into college. That's when journalism dawned on me, and that’s when the whole world opened up to me and when it became real that I could take my passion for arts and entertainment and storytelling and merge that with broadcasting.
I studied broadcast journalism, so I learned everything—writing, editing, producing, being on camera, doing stand-ups, interviewing subjects for my stories. I learned so much in college and during my internship at local news station Fox 59 in Indianapolis. That’s when it became really real to me what I wanted to do.
What was your first job in broadcasting?
I actually got my first job before I got my degree. While interning at Fox, there was a segment that aired on the 10 PM news, Youth Matters, which was targeted toward teenagers and young adults. It was a total break that the news director and producer gave me the opportunity to get involved with the segment. That was my first time on the air. So I was a part-time reporter while I was still finishing college—it was a dream come true and a massive learning experience.
About that time, I tried general assignment reporting, which meant covering fires and interviewing homicide detectives, a lot of doom and gloom, and that’s when I realized that this was not the kind of news that I wanted to do. I loved the arts, and fashion, and entertainment—so that’s where I decided to focus.
How did you get from Indiana to the entertainment capital of L.A.?
I was discovered, to be honest. When I was on the news in Indianapolis, I got a call from an agent at one of the most reputable firms in New York, and he told me—if fashion, arts, or entertainment is what you want to do, those jobs exist, they just don’t exist in Indiana. So we kind of orchestrated my career to get me out to the West Coast. My first full-time job was in San Francisco as an entertainment reporter. I was in there for four years, doing live shots, also anchoring, doing junkets in L.A. and New York, and interviewing celebrities for the first time.
Then I got married and had my first son, and I really wanted to get back to Indianapolis. So I moved back and took a year off, and then went back to local news for a while—but in entertainment, the arts, fashion, that kind of thing. In total, I worked in local news for about 10 years. And then, after I had my second son, I decided, OK, I want to go back to California. So I had the same agent, and I came out to L.A. and started to audition for various things. I got the job at The Daily 10, which was the first show I hosted at E!, back in 2006.
Was your path the “typical path” into broadcasting?
I talk to so many girls who want to do this, and they ask me—what’s the right path? Do I go big market or small market? What’s the right way? And there really isn’t one answer, but I can say that there are benefits of doing local news. The grind, the early hours, the truly long hours, forcing yourself to know every level of making television, was so invaluable to this day. Knowing every part of what gets a show on the air, not just holding a microphone, is really, vitally important.
But I’ve heard so many different stories from so many different people—some people did the local news route, some people have always been in the big city, and some started on the internet.
That’s the thing that’s different today than when I got started. And I think it’s fantastic because people who want to break into hosting can. You don’t have to go hire a camera man from the local news station to go make a tape, you can do it on your iPhone! That said, the problem is that everybody and their brother is doing it, so the competition pool is ginormous!
Right! In some ways, it makes it easier to break in, and in some ways it makes the competition so much harder.
Exactly! And to combat that, my advice would be—and has always been to anyone doing this—is two things. One, is just to get habitual day-to-day practice. There is no other way to get really good at being on camera other than doing it over and over and over again. And that doesn’t mean you need to be on TV every day, but you should be in front of a camera. Looking at what you do, dissecting it, and figuring out how you can make it better, is so important. Experience is such an asset, and doing it over and over and over again is your biggest teacher. I mean, when I started, I was horrible!
The other thing that is important is being authentic and original—it is the only way to get noticed. There are a million and one copycats out there, and everyone’s trying to do the same thing, so you just have to find your authentic voice.
Most people look at your job and would think that’s it’s so glamorous. What would people be surprised to know about it?
A lot of what we do are the things you’ll never see on air—voiceover work, for example. The majority of some of my days are spent sitting in a little closet and reading scripts! A very big part of what I do is my voice, and most people don’t really think about that.
Any other advice you have for people looking to break in to your field?
Tenacity and persistence—nothing beats it. Even if your talent isn’t there yet, you can always develop it to what it will eventually be. But people who are persistent and tenacious and driven and have a really clear, defined goal of what they want, nothing compares to that. Not giving up is really huge.
Also, just never listen to the people who tell you no. In the local market in Indianapolis—everyone from the weatherman to the news director would tell me, “Well, you better go to a small town, because it’s just what you’ve got to do if you want to get on air.” A lot of people tell you what you should do—but if that doesn’t agree with you and what you think your destiny is, then don’t listen to it. Don't listen to the "nos" and the formulas that seems to work for the masses—do what you believe to be true for yourself.
And that’s not always easy to do! It means you have to risk a lot, and have a lot of confidence and faith. But if you put it out there, then you will attract precisely what you want.