ABC News senior legal correspondent and The View co-host Sunny Hostin was only 7 years old when her uncle was stabbed in front of her. It’s a moment that altered her entire family’s lives, and would play a significant role in shaping her career. (He died a couple years later of complications from the attack.)
Hostin now wants, as she puts it, “to give voice to voiceless people,” and she’s doing exactly that in her new six-part series for Investigation Discovery, Truth About Murder, which debuts Oct 22.
“I realized, because I was a federal prosecutor and I’ve been in the social justice space for so long, that victims and their families for a long time don’t talk about witnessing violence,” Hostin said. “Especially in certain communities, because you don’t have the money for therapy, and sometimes therapy is frowned upon.”
Hostin can relate: When she brought up the stabbing years ago to her father, he expressed surprise that she even remembered it.
Adweek spoke with Hostin about moonlighting at a new network, her unique path from the Bronx to The View, and what makes an effective TV legal analyst.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why this series for Investigation Discovery (ID)?
Sunny Hostin: I thought because I have this incredible platform on The View and I have experience as a prosecutor, partnering with Investigation Discovery to give voice to voiceless people and communities who have had these experiences would be incredible. ID was receptive to the idea of telling the stories from that perspective.
You often see stories from inside the mind of a serial killer. But I’ve never seen a docuseries like this, and I’m a true crime junkie who has seen a lot of the celebrity murder shows. Those stories are told repeatedly, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do stories no one had heard of before. I found them everywhere, and I knew they existed because it happened to my family, and it happened all over Washington, D.C. when I was a prosecutor.
I wanted to make sure that I was there every step of the way shepherding this, because this was the first time I had been an executive producer, and not just the host.
Why are Americans so enthralled by the true crime genre?
People want to be the armchair detective. “Well, maybe I can figure it out! Maybe I can help!” That’s why John Walsh was so helpful with America’s Most Wanted. Why the same was true when Oprah [Winfrey] had her series, which caught a lot of predators. I also think people want to know what would make someone do something like this [murder]. How could this happen?
I also believe people want to make sure that this isn’t happening next door to them, and how can they prevent it from happening to someone else. People are shocked by some of the depravity, but they’re also intrigued by it.
Talk about your move from federal prosecutor to CNN legal analyst and correspondent. Why television?
I had a journalism degree, so I thought that’s what I was going to do with my life. I freaked out my parents, mostly my mom, when I told them I wanted to be a TV journalist. This was in the 1980s, when Oprah wasn’t really Oprah yet. My mom is from Puerto Rico, and she said, “Listen, no one who looks like you that has these dreams. It’s either doctor or lawyer.” It’s almost an immigrant perspective in a sense, and I don’t say that a disparaging way. I figured this was the American dream: You become a doctor and a lawyer, and you’re self-sufficient and can take care of yourself.
I became a lawyer, No. 1, because I was always good at arguing. I was intrigued by the legal system. So many people in my family had been jailed. But in the back of my mind, I love to write, and I always did write. Opportunity came when someone came up to me and said, “You should do television.” Her name was Sabrina Thompson, and she was a producer for Court TV. I ended up making it onto TV probably two to three weeks later, with [legal TV commentator] Jack Ford. And then a few days later with Nancy Grace. I was on Fox News with Bill O’Reilly for about a year after that. Then I got a deal with CNN, and I never really stopped doing it.
You moved to ABC News and The View in 2016. Have you or the show changed since you joined?
It really has changed. I was first recruited to the show by [The View co-creator and former executive producer] Bill Geddie and Barbara Walters. Bill had been looking for a lawyer really since Star Jones had left [in 2006]. He had seen me on CNN. It was a very different show then. It was much more pop culture-based, and while I liked it, I liked what I was doing more.
But 2016 was a perfect time for me to join The View as a permanent host when I saw the show evolved into what we are doing now, which was more of a current events-based political show. Now, to be sure, even though New York Times says we’re the most important political show in America, we still have one or two segments of pop culture. It’s a good fit for me, because it skews to what I’m interested in. I’m interested in law. I’m interested in politics. I’m interested in those heady issues that affect us now and will affect the future of my children. It’s finally cool to be the book nerd that I’ve always been. Oftentimes, if you’re the book nerd who also likes to get dressed up, you’re not always taken seriously. But here, we can do that. It’s feeling like a good fit for me.
What are your thoughts about the intensifying spotlight on legal contributors on cable news networks? What makes an effective on-air legal analyst/correspondent?
I clerked for Chief Judge Bell on the Maryland Court of Appeals. I remember he would always say that when you’re in front of a jury as a trial lawyer, you want to speak as if you’re speaking to a 12-year-old, or someone, say, just entering high school, and break it down to that level. The people who do that well are the people who succeed. It’s about distilling nuanced, difficult legal concepts well and in an unbiased way and with no agenda, because the law really should be black and white.
There are few people I think that do it well. I have a soft spot for Jeff Toobin because we worked together. When I listen to him break down the Supreme Court, he knows it very well. I think Preet Bharara does it well. Federal prosecutors often do it well because they’re used to speaking to 12 jurors who generally don’t have any legal background. They haven’t gone to law school, but you must teach them both the facts and the law, and that training, bar none, is the best training to be a legal analyst and to be a correspondent.
You have some strong thoughts on President Trump and the impeachment inquiry. What do you think will end up happening?
I don’t think there’s any question the House will impeach. I do think, though, that there is a question as to whether the Senate will convict. They’ll need a two-thirds vote in the Senate, and that by my count would be 67 senators, which means about approximately 20 Republican senators would need to vote to convict, which would remove the president from office. And the question is, do the Republican senators think that there’s a real appetite in their party for conviction? I think there is.
If you believe in polls, 51% of Americans are not only in favor of impeachment in the House, but conviction in the Senate and having President Trump removed from office. When the Articles of Impeachment come up, then the Senate and the American people get to try the case. I think when it’s televised, and when people hear what has happened and what has gone on, and the American people get to see it for themselves, Republicans especially will think it’s appropriate to convict the president.