Eye On the World: Robin Groth ‘69

Robin Groth’s 31-year television career is what many would consider a dream, but for Robin it is steeped in reality… TV, that is.

Robin Groth has been at the forefront of significant trends in the media: women in television journalism, women in directing and production; the genre of reality television.

But riding at the helm of television trends isn’t what its’ all about for this Scripps graduate, who forged a career in front of and behind the camera for the past 31 years. It’s about the opportunity to touch lives.

From her beginnings in New York magazine publishing shortly after her graduation in 1969 to her most recent project as a producer and field director for Houston Medical—ABC’s reality series documenting life at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas—Robin’s career has taken her around the world to document people’s lives, in places few get to see.

“What I find amazing is that no matter where I travel in the world, I have more in common with someone of another country, another religion, another philosophy than I have ever thought,” Robin says. “To me travel and learning about other cultures, as well as my own, is the most amazing and exhilarating thing I could with this life.”

Opportunity Knocks

After two years working for Vogue and Mademoiselle, Robin returned to her hometown of Seattle in 1971. Her goal was to work at Seattle Magazine. But when she went to apply, she learned the magazine had folded. However, the voice on the other end of the phone gave her some fateful advice.

“The person I spoke with said the owners of Seattle Magazine also owned KING TV (Seattle’s NBC affiliate) and were looking for on-air reporters,” Robin says. “Nowadays, someone would just jump at the chance, no questions asked. But me, I was so honest I told them my background was in print. Still, they urged me to apply, so I went.”

Robin was asked to write a five-minute newscast with a lead international story, local story, sports, and weather and read it into the camera.

“I went before the camera, with my unanchor-style hair—long and parted in the middle,” Robin laughs. “After, they asked me to come back and take a look at the tape. I couldn’t stand looking or listening to myself, but they are happy with it and asked me if I wanted I job. I said yes.”

When Robin began, she was one of three woman in the station’s news department. Even though women had been there before her, Robin was part of an elite generation—the first wave of women journalists in broadcast. She stayed at KING for about five years before she was offered the chance to be a feature reporter on the 11 o’clock news for KNBC in Los Angeles. Five years later, she became a West Coast network correspondent for ABC News in Los Angeles.

In the early 1980s. Robin says she and other women still had to fight to survive at the networks. Although women were now an accepted part of the media to audiences and colleagues, the struggle remained—and still remains—with the male dominant hierarchy at the networks.

“The great thing about my time as a correspondent was that all female colleagues were, and still are, very supportive of each other,” says Robin. “In the networks where you see older women, don’t think it’s not a fight to stay on the air.”

Doors Open for Directing and Reality TV

After Robin’s three-year contract with ABC ended, she carved out a niche for herself in health reporting during the mid-1980s for the Los Angeles Fox affiliate, KTTV, and Lifetime Television. In 1987, a new opportunity came knocking. This time, it was to be field director, writer, and producer for Entertainment Tonight.

“I had an old friend from KNBC call and ask if I wanted to work for ET,” Robin says, “They needed experienced people who could interview stars and not ask for autographs and acting ga-ga all the time.”

Again, Robin found herself transcending a new career gap for women—this time behind the camera as a director/producer.

“Whatever new era I could get into, I considered a privilege because I never took anything for granted,” Robin says. “Young women today feel entitled to work, and that’s how it should be. But 20 years ago, there was no entitlement. I was just glad to have a job.”

It was a crucial move in Robin’s career. It gave her a chance to join the Directors Guild of America and begin the next phase of in her career—producing and directing. Two years after joining ET, Robin was asked to be a part of a new show—one of a handful to pave the way for Reality TV—Rescue 911, hosted by Star Trek legend William Shatner.

“It was a great experience,” Robin says. “I did the documentary episodes—one in which I followed a transplant donor family from Norway,who had lost their daughter in a car accident while visiting the United States. We followed the families who received her heart, a kidney, and her liver. Six months later, we had the recipient families meet the donor family.

“The meeting was an unusually wonderful experience, because at the time in 1994, few recipient families ever met the donor families,” Robin continues.

Rescue 911 went of the air in 1995, and Robin became executive producer and director for Jack Hanna’s Animal Rescues. She also continued to produce and direct documentaries for the American Cancer Society and World Vision, the largest privately funded Christian relief and development organization in the world. But in 1998, Robin made an amazing leap back into network news for a short stint as a writer/producer/correspondent for Entertainment Weekly on CNNewstand.

“When my agent called with the job, she said, ‘You know, this doesn’t happen very often,’” Robin remembers. “For a woman over 50 to be going back on the air, it was sort of a feat. I really have to commend CNN.”

But it was Robin’s six seasons on Rescue 911 that later opened the door to be a producer/field director for Houston Medical, ABC’s six-show reality series, which aired this past summer.

“It was a perfect show for me,” Robin says. “It took all my experience to date and rolled it into one.”

Developing a World Vision

Once a year, Robin spends time overseas working on documentaries for World Vision. Through her work with them, she’s spent more time than 25 third-world countries since 1989.

In addition, Robin sponsors two children, on of whom she met on her 50th birthday, just after a shoot in Africa.

“It was a birthday gift to last me a lifetime,” Robin remembers. “I asked World Vision to help me meet Kelebogile Mangogla in Botswana, an 11-year-old I had sponsored for the past eight years. I just remember when she first walked into the office. She smiled at me with recognition and holding a tattered photo I had sent her long ago.

“Before our meeting, I worried she would start crying or be uncomfortable with me, but instead, it was me crying and she was comforting me.”

The Show Must Go On

After her six-month stint working on Houston Medical, Robin took a long-awaited break from travel and television to spend time with her parents in Seattle, both in their 80s. But the next opportunity was already knocking for the 55-year old Malibu resident—a chance to a field director on a project that blends her lover for travel and archeology with her lover for the documentary genre.

“What I do, it’s not really work,” Robin reflects, “It’s my life. I don’t have children, and I have often wondered if I could have had children and done it all.

“But the truth is, my family is spread around the world,” she concludes. “I still keep in touch with many of the people I’ve worked with—like those at Houston Medical and the donor family in Norway from Rescue 911. I can’t document a life and then leave. Those lives will always be a part of mine. That’s one special thing about the job—my extend family around the world.”