Heir Time

Debra Duncan pays her dues, hits her cues and hopes to be the next Oprah

At Dallas's WFAA-TV (Channel 8) she spent three months as a reporter before she was asked to co-host a live morning talk show -- less controversial and confrontational than the Today show. She didn't want to do a talk show. "It just wasn't me," she says. "I didn't think talk show was me." She was an investigative reporter, and she didn't think people would take her seriously if she crossed over. She didn't want to give up her hard news edge, so starting in September 1994 they let her anchor the morning news as well.

On Good Morning Texas, she played a duet with renowned flutist James Galway and did cutesy skits like a fake audition for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders in an oversize pink tutu. "I don't care how stupid it was because somebody got something out of it," she says.

In November 1996 an agent asked if she had thought of doing a national show. Lifetime had closed auditions for Our Home, but Debra got the job. She finished her contract in Dallas shooting Our Home on her vacation days. That's when she had the brain aneurysm.

Debra never stops smiling.
Debra never stops smiling.

Her husband didn't move to New York with her. He says their marriage was falling apart and he couldn't see quitting his job and taking problems they hadn't dealt with to a new city. He had a couple of job interviews in New York, but a year later her show was canceled and she moved back to Dallas, then Houston.

He quit his job as news director and morning anchor at KKDA 730 AM, took a 60 percent pay cut and became the managing editor of Houston's Defender. "I was no longer interested in commuting," he says. "I was there a month before she said she wanted to get divorced." She had stopped wearing her wedding band in exchange for a four-carat diamond she bought herself. He wanted her to wear the ring he gave her. He asked if she was actually listening when she did shows on how to make relationships work. He says they tried couples' counseling but she answered her cell phone three times in the middle of a session. "She did not want to do it," he says. "She was very hostile. Both of us were very defensive."

He remembers her telling him, "I don't believe marriage is oneness. I don't believe I should lose my voice because we're married." He says he asked her, "Do you recall the vows you took? Were they simply words?" He says they just weren't on the same page; they didn't agree on the definition of marriage.

Debra doesn't like to talk about the dissolution of her marriage. She says she's not a vengeful person and she doesn't want to get into it. She rolls her eyes when she mentions an article Roland wrote saying that up until the day their divorce was final -- if she had changed her mind -- he would have stayed. She simply states that he wanted her to quit her job and have babies and even though she does want children, she wasn't ready. "It was difficult for him being married to someone who made more money than him and was more recognized," she says. "I was not going to apologize for my job anymore."

Her ex-husband talks about their marriage all the time. He gives inspirational speeches at church conferences, he's written articles, and he's working on a book. He and Debra were on the cover of Our Texas magazine in December 1997; he still has the issue hanging in his office. He says their marriage was full of love and he fought for it and never wanted it to end. Leaving, he says, was her idea. Her saying that he couldn't live in the shadow of her fame makes the calm evaporate from his even, evangelist voice. "That is an absolute joke," he says. "That is an insult because you want to rewrite history and you don't want to state facts. She would tell me to my face, 'You're jealous of my career,' and I would look at her and say, 'You're out your damn mind.' If there is one thing that truly pisses me off is when she makes a statement like that. That kind of statement is so absurdly false."

"Debra," he says, "does not want to confront real issues about herself."

He says he did want children, but what he wanted most was for her to put their marriage before her job. She told him that she is her job, it has her name on it. He says the marriage started stumbling in 1996 when she became a workaholic. "She was running and gunning 16-, 18-hour days, seven days a week," he says. "She was getting up at four o'clock and not getting home until eight, nine, ten o'clock." When they did see each other, they had long talks and long fights. Then they divorced. He plans to remarry in April. She says it will take a lot for her to get married again.

She met her current boyfriend, Neil (she won't say his last name), at the allergist's office last March. They were double-booked for the same 11 o'clock appointment. He had no idea who she was (she loves that). He asked the doctor, who said she worked at Channel 13. Neil called the station and asked her out.

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