Sharp-eyed Twin Cities television viewers who watched the naturally elegant Diana Pierce deliver the news on KARE 11 for decades can see how she’s evolving, from head to toe.
She no longer flatirons her wavy auburn hair and only occasionally squeezes her feet into high heels. She prefers the hiking boots she found on a trip to Mongolia.
The Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame honoree was wearing the comfortably sturdy footwear during a recent online videocast of her show “What’s Next? With Diana Pierce.” Seated on a stool in a fragrant greenhouse bursting with spring blooms, she launched into a conversation about the healing power of plants.
“How did you find your passion?” Pierce asked her guest Heidi Heiland, owner of Heidi’s GrowHaus in Corcoran, as she kicked off the segment.
Pierce, 64, is intensely interested in passion these days — her own and that of other Minnesotans in midlife and beyond.
“The germ of ‘What’s Next?’ came from people stopping me at the grocery store and asking me, what’s next for you?” the former anchorwoman said. “With what we’re doing now, I want them to reflect on what’s next for them, too.”
For the show, Pierce books and interviews small-business owners and “encore career” entrepreneurs, financial planners, musicians, authors and representatives of nonprofits started by or serving the older set. According to Facebook metrics that Pierce studies, “What’s Next?” has a strong following with viewers between the ages of 40 and 70, with two-thirds of them women.
Pierce was thinking of what would interest those viewers as she prepared her questions for Heiland, 57, who is not only a Master Gardener but has also studied horticulture therapy. Their on-camera conversation covered Heiland’s scientific take on the healing, calming and purifying benefits of specific plants, then moved to the sublime pleasure of tending new growth on a porch or garden patch.
“We all need to go outside and play,” Heiland enthused. “When all of our senses are engaged is when we’re most alive.”
Although Pierce identifies as an introvert, she exudes a convivial warmth that puts her guests at ease, whether it’s with an interview subject she’s meeting for the first time or with someone like Heiland, whose expertise Pierce tapped in regular on-air segments in her KARE days.
“With so many years of her presence in the community, she commands respect. It means something to be associated with Diana,” said Heiland.
Viewers can stream her weekly show at 7 p.m. most Thursdays via Facebook (facebook.com/whatsnextwithdianapierce), and watch more than 50 previously recorded segments on Facebook or YouTube.
“I’m delivering original content that’s interesting and inspiring to viewers who are 50-plus. I look for stories of people in that age group who are chasing their dreams,” she said. “Their lives are changing. They have energy and time and are engaging in new activities. Where will their passion lead them?”
She’s the captain now
Pierce herself is modeling the very sort of personal reinvention that she advocates through her videocast.
“I’ve always been an employee; now it’s great to be the boss,” she smiled.
For more than three decades, when Pierce walked onto the KARE set in Golden Valley, she delivered the news with the backing of a full studio and crew. She was the face of the program, fronting the work of a team of dozens of photojournalists, reporters and producers.
But with her new do-it-yourself venture, Pierce is on both sides of the camera and calling all the shots. For the cost of “a few vacations,” in Pierce’s characterization, she bought three small cameras, some lights and wireless microphones. She’s using the gear to craft content delivered on a platform, not over the airwaves, and watched on tablets and devices, not televisions.
It’s as if she’s moved from flying on a fully staffed commercial jetliner to taking off in a tiny plane that she built herself.
That metaphorical aircraft would be a two-seater. The twice-divorced Pierce pulls it off with her business, romantic and traveling partner Scott Bemman, who helps haul and set up equipment and mixes the show on a computer as it uploads to Facebook.
Bemman, a low-key retired salesman and widower, was Pierce’s longtime neighbor in Plymouth. “She was the TV lady down the street; we really never knew each other and we chatted at the mailbox for six months before we went out,” he said. “Now I say that I’m ‘some guy.’ When we’re out I hear people say, ‘Look, there’s Diana Pierce and some guy.’ ”
As the two empty-nesters launched their Facebook venture, Bemman had no more technical expertise than Pierce did.
“This has had an immense learning curve for us. It’s trial and error figuring the workarounds with rendering, streaming, editing. These have not been my skills, but I now have the proficiency to get the job done,” Pierce said. “I’m in this new arena with people in their 20s and 30s. No one my age is creating a product this way.”
Right now, “What’s Next?” is Pierce’s labor of love. She’s investing her time and effort into building an audience, figuring that a sponsor will be intrigued by her program — and will be interested in getting in front of her core of loyal fans.
“I have to do it before I can sell it,” she explained. “Broadcasters haven’t typically served the 50-plus viewer, but this is a group of people with expendable income [that] they’re happy to spend.”
The hard work
Raised on a 40-acre orange grove in the San Joaquin Valley of California, Pierce began performing at a young age; her mother was a church organist and Pierce studied piano and voice. She graduated early to move to Hollywood to perform, tour and record as part of a contemporary Christian group. She sang as her talent in the Miss California contest, winning the first runner-up trophy.
In a chance encounter, a seatmate on an airplane complimented her on her speaking voice and planted a career idea.
“He said, ‘You should get into broadcasting, they’re hiring women now,’ ” she recalled.
She spent two years at a community college before transferring to Boston University to study broadcast journalism. She worked first in radio before landing TV gigs in Durham, N.H.; Norfolk, Va.; and Fresno, Calif. She made the jump to what is now KARE in 1983, launching a career of prodigious length (“32 years and eight months,” she said) in an industry known for turning talent through the proverbial revolving door.
Pierce had been preparing for her next act, earning a master’s in arts and leadership from Augsburg College around the time she exited the anchor desk in 2016. Now she’s building her entrepreneurial chops through classes at St. Paul-based Women Venture.
“She’s wearing 27 hats and I give her credit for taking on the operational challenges,” said Mary Jo Schifsky, her small-business coach.
“She sees something that isn’t quite there yet. Entrepreneurs are hopeful risk-takers,” Schifsky added. “With her concept, Diana is the brand. She’s a known commodity with a reputation for being articulate, thoughtful, interested in real people, but she has to do the hard work to position and monetize what she’s got; today, none of us gets to rest on our laurels.”
Now she uses her master’s degree to work with mentoring and women’s leadership programs, and freelances as an on-camera host for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota projects aimed at older subscribers. She worked on the insurance company’s caregiving series, a subject she had learned about firsthand.
After her mother suffered a stroke, Pierce moved her from California to Minnesota and was her primary caregiver until her death in 2014.
But now, with her mother gone and her 28-year-old daughter pursuing a career in film and TV production in Hollywood, Pierce finds that she has both time and focus to enthusiastically engage in her new business venture and her hobby.
She and Bemman almost always have a trip in the planning stage; the inveterate travelers document their adventures and share images from their visits to national parks and far-flung foreign destinations through their Scott and Di Photography website.
“I could have walked into the sunset after Channel 11, but I didn’t want to. I get really jazzed hearing what makes people tick,” she said. “That’s what gets me up in the morning.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.