An Exclusive Look Into the Global Success of TV Journalist Chris Hansen

Chris Hansen, TV Journalist & Author

By, Chris Dessi
The story went something like this: He was in a desert. The details are a bit fuzzy. He may have been with guides taking him to see a drug lord. Or he was with government operatives. I forget. But they were in a desert, and it was a dangerous scenario. What I do remember is him telling me what they saw. They stumbled upon a rattle snake. His imitation of the rattle snake threw me. It was pitch perfect. He said he froze with fear. I froze too. Jaw dropped. Riveted. In my mind I was there in the desert with him. Confronted by that rattle snake. He drew me into his story. That voice. That Chris Hansen voice. The familiar voice we all know. He took me to that moment. In reality I was sitting across from Chris in a restaurant in Stamford, CT. But he took me there with him. Into the desert. Staring down a rattle snake. What is it about this guy? The intense eye contact? The delivery? The voice. Yep. That’s it, I thought. It’s his VOICE that gets you. Plus his delivery. The drawn out words. The dramaaaaaatic delivery. Knowing just where to addddddd inflection. When to float a sentence in a looooooow baritone. Peak an inquiry with a touch of knowing midwestern charm. I thought to myself “this guy is special.”

We all know the lines we can recite by heart. “What is it exactly that you were planning on doing here today?” Even more popular, “Why don’t you have a seat right over there.” He’s transcended journalism. Now residing in that ever elusive place in the American psyche. He’s part of our pop culture. There are so many vacuous & talentless people who reside in that space. You tend to lump them in the same talentless category. Sometimes you forget that others landed there because of their prodigious talent. That’s what he is. A prodigious talent. He had me.  Sitting there in a restaurant in Stamford, CT. I was putty in his hands. He could have told me anything, and I would have believed him. He could have pulled a confession out of me. I had to snap myself out of it. “Holy shit, Chris that’s the best story I’ve ever heard in my life.” He chuckled, but he didn’t stop me from gushing. He knows he’s good at this. He alluded to his power to elicit a confession from anyone he encounters. Here he shifts gears, and shares a story about his son. Something about how his son attempted to fib to him about a stolen bottle of booze from the family liquor cabinet. Standard teenage high jinx. But when your Dad is Chris Hansen? Nothing standard about that interrogation.  I find myself feeling compassion for his son. Poor kid didn’t stand a chance! Chris Hansen Chris Dessi

Is it just his voice? It’s part of it for sure. Maybe it was the years of experience as a journalist. Knowing what combination of voice + inflection + plus pregnant pause will make people lean in. The lead in for his story while we were sitting at that table sounded scripted. It sounded like it should have been a voice over to a special mini-series. I felt transported. Best story teller I’ve ever met. Ever. He should be the best story teller, shouldn’t he?

Chris Hansen is many things. A cultural icon. An award winning journalist. For sure. He’s also a decent guy. An infinitely curious guy. I admire curiosity.  I admire people who stay in motion. Those who don’t rest. On either laurels or reputation. That’s not Chris.  He’s a land shark.  Always moving so he can breathe.

He’s an old school guy with an infinite respect for the new school. It’s the reason why he will remain relevant in our culture for years to come.

Chris Hansen is a global star. Chris Hansen is a huge success. He’s interviewed so many. I consider it a huge honor to interview someone of Chris’s caliber.
Let’s do this:
Chris Dessi: You’ve had a storied career. You’re an international celebrity.  How does a kid from Bloomfield Hill, Michigan get here? What has your journey been like? What were the ups and downs? 
Chris Hansen: I always joke that I am too stupid to realize there’s anything I cannot do. I guess I have never put limits on myself and when it comes to potential show or story ideas, I have always listened to people…whether its a train conductor, a cop or a CEO, everyone has a story. I embraced the business early on. When I was 14, Jimmy Hoffa was kidnapped from a restaurant up the street from my house. I was fascinated by the crime and the media coverage. I was bitten by the news bug. I have had many more ups than downs and more lucky breaks than one guy deserves, but from Lansing to Tampa to Detroit to New York, I have always tried to be the hardest working guy on the team.

Chris Dessi: Over lunch you once mentioned to me that you didn’t wear a tie on the set of “To Catch a Predator.”  You explained that you were concerned that one of the perpetrators may grab you by your tie.  I found this fascinating, but it also begs the question – have you ever been afraid for your life while working on story?

Chris Hansen:  True! As part of our security protocol, I didn’t want one of the predators to be able grab my tie and drag me across the counter. I was that once in a bar fight in Detroit…always kind of stuck with me. It’s why cops wear clip-ons. Also, a tie just felt a little formal in that kind of a situation. Have I ever been scared? Of course! No one actually tried to hurt me during the predator investigations, but you never know what someone is capable of. 300 predators and not a scratch, but interview a guy selling counterfeit Mophies in a Connecticut mall and I almost get my ass kicked. We did have a guy, an off-duty cop actually show up after we had shut down the predator house for the night. Police pulled him over, he had four guns and hundreds of rounds of ammo in his car. Who know what could have happened had he come into the house when we were there.Flying with the Mexican federal place on a raid looking for a cartel leader was a bit scary, but most because we were in an overloaded 727 built in 1966. Truth is, overseas, the scariest thing to me is getting into a traffic accident. Chris Hansen

Chris Dessi: Many people have the intellect. Many more have the looks. What is it that has separated you from the crowd? I guess what I’m trying to say is – what one skill or trait do you feel has contributed most to the success you’ve seen in your life?

Chris Hansen: Looks don’t hurt, but I think it’s my voice that is most distinctive. You need to separate yourself from the crowd. I do it with my interview style. I listen. I don’t look at a question list. I get into someone’s mind. If I am exhausted after an interview, I know I have done a good job.

Chris Dessi: We’ve joked about your perfectly quaffed hair. You’re a handsome guy. Looks are part of the job – but how do you react to some anchors that look more like models than journalists?

Chris Hansen: I’d rather watch someone who is interesting and knows what they are talking about than a former model. I don’t think viewers demand movie star looks. You do need to take care of yourself and present well. It’s like being a CEO. You represent the brand, the network and your product.

Chris Dessi: You’re interviewed some dangerous people – pedophiles, drug lords, corrupt politicians. Have any of them surprised you?  Like, have you thought to yourself “boy, if this guy went another direction we could have been pals.”

Chris Hansen: Sure. There are some charming inmates in prison. It always fascinates me how the random twists and turns in life can make someone a criminal or a victim. It’s also interesting to me how, if a criminal had turned their energy towards something positive, they could have been a success.
Chris Dessi: You’ve travelled the world, and had the opportunity to meet many people. Do you find that the successful people you’ve encountered share the same traits? If so, what are they? Or is it one thing only?
Chris Hansen
Chris Hansen: It’s many things, but more than anything else it’s passion…..for a cause, for success, passion is the key. You need to like and believe in what you are doing. You also have to convince others to support you and believe in you.

Chris Dessi: Who has been the most fascinating person you’ve ever interviewed, and why?

Chris Hansen: The most fascinating person? That’s a tough one. Colin Powell for a big investigation on child sex trafficking. One of the most compelling though was the interview I did with all 12 jurors in the Timothy Mcveigh case. They had just convicted him and cleared the way for his execution in the Oklahoma City bombing case.

Chris Dessi: When was the first time you took a step back and said “yeah, I’ve made it.” You’re famous. You’ve seen monetary reward for your work. You’ve won SEVEN Emmy Awards. That list equates to the definition of success in our society. How do you personally define success?  Has the fame, money, and awards, ever clouded that definition?

Chris Hansen: I am still trying to “make it” but I think being stopped in the street or in an airport of restaurant by someone who saw one of my shows. My sons have always had a father on TV, so it’s no big deal for them, but when i was parodied on South Park……suddenly I had made it in their eyes.and just for the record its EIGHT Emmys! My definition of success is that I get to do what I really love and I actually get paid for it. 34 years into the business and I still love it, still love the competition and the drive the stay ahead of the quickly evolving nature of what I do and how I do it.

Chris Dessi: What’s your rhythm? Do you work out? What time are you in bed/wake up? Do you meditate? 
Chris Hansen: I am usually an early riser. I have a personal trainer and when I am not traveling , I usually workout with her 90 minute 4 days a week. On the road I run or hit the gym. Skiing is meditation to me and an hour a week one on one with the tennis pro is cheaper than therapy. 
Chris Dessi: You’ve participated in my even the Westchester Digital Summit two years in a row. You know that our world is changing rapidly with the advent of social media and you’ve embraced it. More recently, you have been leveraging it to great success. As I write this, you’ve crowdsourced 1,220 backers pledged $89,068 to help bring your Hansen vs. Predator” project to life. How important has being able to adapt and roll with big change been in your career? Or is this a trait that you’re just embracing now?
Chris Hansen: The Westchester Digital Summit is a prime example of how I try to keep up with the explosive changes in all media…..especially digital. Whether it’s my Kickstarter campaign or doing a Reddit AMA to promote a new show, you have to stay on top of all this. I do it my surrounding myself with young smart people. Chris Hansen Westchester Digital Summit
Chris Dessi: There have been times in your life when the grumbling underbelly of the media world have aggressively and unfairly targeted you, your family and your personal life. How important has having a thick skin been to your success?

Chris Hansen:  I’m sorry did you say something? Ha. Anyone can be a blogger these days and say whatever they want about you at any time. They don’t have to follow the rules I follow. When I write something about someone I talk to them to get their side of the story. That basic fundamental fairness has bee lost in many corners of digital media. Thick skin? Look if you play in the NFL you are going to take some hits and some cheap shots.

Chris Dessi: Dealing with that couldn’t have been an easy time in your life, but you’re in the midst of an epic comeback. What has helped you get through the dark times? Who do you turn to when things get rocky?
Chris Hansen: There have been no dark times. It takes time to ramp up new projects. Longer than I thought? sure. Worth the extra effort? Absolutely.

Chris Dessi: Have you ever had a mentor? How important do you think mentorship is for the success of young people? 

Chris Hansen: I am very fortunate to have strong mentors. Anchormen Bill Bonds in Detroit from the age of 16 and Howard Lancour in Lansing most notably. Wouldn’t be where I am without them.

Chris Dessi: What is the on-air moment you’re most proud of?

Chris Hansen: The proudest moment on air is when everyone at NBC during 911 managed to keep their composure and report under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. It wasn’t work, it was a mission.

Chris Dessi: What do you think your 12 year old self would say to you today?

Chris Hansen: Cool car man! 2014 Corvette. Still just a motor head from Detroit.

Chris Dessi: You’re a recognizable guy around the globe. What’s the oddest place someone has recognized you?

Chris Hansen: Cheng Mai, Thailand. An american in a hotel recognized my and broke into a sweat. While he wasn’t the target of our investigation, I suspect he was up to no good.

Chris Dessi: You have a degree from Michigan State. What do you say to those who believe that college is a waste of money?

Chris Hansen: Go to college…..though I think many would be served better by 2 years of community college and work before going to University. More affordable and a lot of kids would be more focused.

Speed Round:

Chris Dessi: Dan Rather or Peter Jennings?

Chris Hansen: Jennings

Chris Dessi: Best journalist you’ve ever met?

Chris Hansen: Mike Wallace

Chris Dessi: What five words would your children use to describe you?

Chris Hansen: My dad is Chris Hansen

Chris Dessi:Favorite movie?

Chris Hansen: North By Northwest

Chris Dessi: Who is your hero?

Chris Hansen: Tom Brokaw

Chris Dessi: Funniest person you know?

Chris Hansen: Dan Dietz

Chris Dessi: Worst day of your life?

Chris Hansen: The day my Father passed away.

Chris Dessi: Best day of your life?

Chris Hansen: When my sons were born.

Chris Dessi: Who should play you in a movie?

Chris Hansen:: Bradley Cooper or Dennis Leary

Chris Dessi: What is your favorite word?

Chris Hansen: “Explain”
To learn more about Chris follow him on Twitter here, and Killer Instinct with Chris Hansen MONDAY 10/9C

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This interview is one of 24 interviews included in a book by Chris Dessi called Just Like You 24

Just Like You: 24 Interviews of Ordinary People Who’ve Achieved Extraordinary Success.

This book is for the most driven among us.
If you have the hunger, drive and commitment to do more and be more, then you’ll love this book. Author and personal branding expert Chris Dessi set out to find the people that most inspired and captivated him, and uncover the secret strategies that anybody could use to become remarkable.
The result is Just Like You – a collection of interviews with those inspiring and captivating individuals where they share what they learned on their climb to the top.
Packed with inspiration, ideas and actionable advice on every page, Just Like You is a peek into the inner workings of some of the most successful people you’ve never met.
One constant source of inspiration was the author’s father, Adrian Dessi, who sadly lost his battle with ALS in February 2015. In his memory, 10% of all proceeds from this book will go towards funding research on combating ALS.

Order your copy for just $2.99 today.