Zoey Tur, the Los Angeles helicopter reporter whose claim to fame was bringing the world live video of O.J. Simpson in the infamous Bronco chase in 1994, has been hired by the CBS syndicated news program Inside Edition as a part-time, on-air reporter, with the program billing her as "America's first transgender television reporter."
"They took a chance on me. They were worried, but CBS and syndication are overjoyed," Tur tells The Advocate.
And even though she's starting out part-time at the beginning of the ratings period known in the industry as "sweeps," with her first appearance slated for tonight, Tur, 54, is confident her hire is no stunt.
"This is not some little trial balloon thing like MSNBC is doing streaming Janet Mock," she tells The Advocate. "They've made a commitment to me," she says, "and let's just say there are bigger things in Zoey's future."
Tur is the latest breakthrough hire by U.S. television executives. Laverne Cox of Orange Is the New Black has been a regular guest cohost on The View. Mock hosts the pop-culture program So POPular! on MSNBC's Shift, an online streaming service. She also appears regularly on MSNBC and interviewed Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor for Entertainment Tonight as a special correspondent.
"Those are my heroes," Tur says, adding that she sees her hire as having the potential to help the transgender community.
"The doors are now open to other transgender journalists," she says, citing Mock, Cox, and the host of Colorado public TV's In Focus, Eden Lane. "Eden won't have to just be the girl who does entertainment stories on Denver public television. Now she'll be able to be a general news reporter," Tur says.
Lane tells The Advocate Tur's move inspires her: "I celebrate Zoey's new spot with Inside Edition. Covering politics, community affairs, arts and entertainment since 2007 has brought me great challenges and rewards. I wish the same and more for anyone who takes on the challenge to serve the viewers, whether on a regional PBS station or a nationally syndicated broadcast. How wonderful!"
Tur notes that when she started her transition by going on hormones 20 months ago, on May 6, 2013, "Janet Mock didn't have a show, Orange Is the New Black wasn't yet on Netflix. There was no visibility."
"I was told I shouldn't transition, and if I did I'd never work again. That really bothered me," she says. Tur underwent a series of gender-affirming surgeries last June.
"And then I started getting calls from people, and I was getting aggravated," she says. "I was good enough to interview but not good enough to get hired."
Tur worked as a helicopter pilot and did surveillance aerial mapping, but mostly took that 20-month period to find herself.
Last week she decided it was time for action. "I met with Charles Lachman, executive producer for Inside Edition, and I said, 'Charles, do you want to make history?'"
Tur says she told Lachman that hiring her would make her the first transgender TV reporter in the country. "He couldn't believe there were none," she says, and he hired her on the spot. "The whole thing took three minutes," says Tur.
Her first assignment for Inside Edition is to interview Dana Vahle, a former rival helicopter reporter who also covered the 1994 Bronco chase and also is a transgender woman. That live, in-air coverage helped make Tur famous worldwide as "Chopper Bob," capturing the infamous high-speed chase down L.A. freeways.
But Tur insists she is going to be reporting news, not just features or LGBT stories.
"I am not covering stories as a transgender reporter," she says. "I'm a reporter who is transgender. Otherwise it would be like having a black reporter only cover stories about blacks or a Hispanic reporter covering stories about Hispanics."
"I came out to be on television as a person, as a woman," she adds. "And this can be a great thing for my community."
Tur's daughter, NBC News foreign correspondent Katy Tur, sent her a message congratulating her on the new job. "And she said I was very beautiful," Zoey Tur says. She and her daughter are estranged, but the message was welcome. "I love her," the elder Tur says. "I will always be proud to be her father."
One place we won't be seeing Tur is in a helicopter, she tells The Advocate, despite publicity pictures showing her sitting in the pilot's seat.
"They put me to the test," Tur says. "They asked me would I be able to fly as well as a woman as I did when I was a man. I flew better!"
Asked if she was offended, Tur says no. "I was curious myself," she says. "Women are better pilots!"
See how Inside Edition introduced Zoey to viewers by clicking below: