Chris Hansen’s latest project isn’t just another look at what’s happening in the Motor City.
“America Now: City of Heartbreak and Hope,” which aired last night on “Dateline NBC,” is a journey home for Hansen that focuses on the city’s economic blight, population flight and political scandals and also on the people who are pouring their hearts into improving the situation.
The veteran correspondent — who’s famous for his “To Catch a Predator” investigations — grew up in Bloomfield Township and covered the city and region for local stations WXYZ-TV and WDIV-TV before joining NBC News in 1993.
Hansen talked recently about the “Dateline” episode, which puts Detroit’s challenges into perspective for a national audience.
It follows the daily struggles of Cordette Grantling, a woman devoted to rescuing abandoned children. Viewers will get to hear from prominent local figures like Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans and Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager Robert Bobb.
There’s also an interview with city booster Kid Rock.
QUESTION: Why did you want to tell this story now to a national audience?
ANSWER: Because I think there are lessons to be learned from how Detroit got to where it’s at, for the rest of the country. And I think that, as tough as things may be right now economically and in other areas, the interesting story to me is the … people in place who are actually not only capable of making a difference, but are committed to making a difference. … As we started to tell this story and look for characters, we just found some amazing people, including Cordette Grantling. … Here’s a woman who’s got no money, figures it out minute by minute, hour by hour and still adopts abandoned children. And it’s that kind of spirit that you see woven through all of the characters in this piece.
Q: Was it important to tell the story through people like Cordette Grantling?
A: Absolutely, because … otherwise you get a survey piece and the survey pieces have been done. You can list the statistics and you can show the shocking video, but you need to tell the story through people’s eyes. You need to take the viewer — and this is what I think we do best at “Dateline” — on a journey of discovery. This is what’s going on here and this is what people are doing about it. Otherwise, it is just another story on a city in tough shape.
Q: Coming back to the Detroit area, what differences, if any, struck you the most?
A: We come back for vacations and I’ve got family here and when there’s a story that is from Detroit, I usually get it because I know how to get around town and still have a lot of contacts here. But the difference is it’s just gotten so much worse in terms of the abandoned homes, and the vacant land and the school system.
Q: Was this topic a tough sell to the network?
A: No. … I’m very proud of this program. I think it’s compelling. … I think it’s a story that people will want to watch. I’m very fortunate that they give me a pretty long leash to pursue things I like to pursue. … I’m comfortable that this is a story that people want to see. And everybody is fired up. We screened this thing back in New York. They get it.
Q: Do you still feel like a metro Detroiter?
A: I’m very proud to say I’m from Detroit, even though when I say I’m from Detroit, it really means I grew up in Bloomfield Township and went to Brother Rice and Michigan State. People who are from here don’t say they’re from Bloomfield Hills. They say they’re from Detroit. There’s a certain cachet about that. … Kid Rock doesn’t say he was from Macomb County. He says he’s from Detroit.
Q: You have a very high profile in the media. Everybody knows who you are. Do you like the imitations that are done of you, like the skit by Bill Hader of “Saturday Night Live?”
A: Yeah, that was pretty funny. Actually, I had been tipped off to that, that they were going to do it, so I actually went to the rehearsal and was in the crowd and I watched it. Afterwards, when the cast comes out onstage, I waved at him and he looked back like, “what’d you think?” and I (gave) him the thumbs up. It’s funny, my sons are 16 and 18 and one’s going off to college next year, so they’ve always grown up with a father on television, so it’s no big deal to them. But when they did that “South Park” parody a while back, they were rock stars when (they) went to school. That was a big deal.