NBC's Crack (of Dawn) News Anchor, Deborah Norville, Shoots for a Spot as the Next Morning Star

updated 07/27/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/27/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It's 4:30 a.m. and NBC News at Sunrise anchor Deborah Norville, as she does every weekday morning, is busily turning wire-service copy into broadcast reports. She is thinking about politics. She is thinking about Nicaragua. She is thinking about human interest. She is not thinking about her lips, which Playboy recently cited as "the best newscaster lips" on TV. "One of these days they'll call me 'best reporter,' " vows Norville, who was less than ecstatic about the designation. "If people watch me, they'll realize I'm not working here on account of my lips."

Whatever the reason, they're watching. Each weekday morning at 6:00, 2.3 million viewers get up to hear the 28-year-old Norville cheerily deliver the day's news. Since she took over Sunrise in January, succeeding Bob Jamieson, the wake-up-call newscast has widened its lead against ABC World News This Morning and The CBS Early Morning News. Within NBC News, the dominant news department in TV today, Norville is the fastest, as well as earliest, riser. Now she's moving beyond the graveyard shift, subbing frequently this summer for Jane Pauley on Today. "She's eager to report as well as anchor, and she's a strong replacement for Jane when she's away," says former Today executive producer Steve Friedman. "She's going to be one of NBC's stars for the 1990s."

There is one caveat. If Norville were to succeed Pauley someday, says Friedman, "She'd have to share more of herself with the audience." Unlike the endearing Pauley, newcomer Norville hides her humanity with flawless efficiency. This is a woman who lays out every article of clothing for work the night before, who maintains it's a "tragedy" that more women don't sew their own clothes, as she does. A blond, blue-eyed vision of steely perfection, Norville exudes the kind of tailored glamour that could make even Morgan Fairchild feel dowdy.

One of four daughters of a Dalton, Ga. carpet supplier, Norville was brought up to be an achiever. "My mother had been vice-president of a manufacturing firm before she married, so I was never raised to be a Southern belle," she says. When Norville won Georgia's Junior Miss pageant at 17, she was less interested in the glory than in the news crews covering the event. Majoring in broadcast journalism at the University of Georgia, she maintained a 4.0 average while working as an intern at two local stations during her senior year. Says her college roommate, Leah Keith: "I used to watch Deb roll her hair and brush her teeth at the same time." Career-wise, Norville has more than lived up to her college nickname, Golden Girl: She spent only one year as a reporter in Atlanta and five as an anchor at NBC's WMAQ in Chicago before being tapped for network exposure at dawn.

Her driving ambition hasn't kept her from making friends on the bleary-eyed Sunrise set. "It's not easy working together in a windowless room in the middle of the night, but Deb is real folks," says Sunrise executive producer Gerry Solomon. "She's even introduced us to grits." But her workday, from 2 to 11 a.m., obviously hinders romance. "He deserves the Patience of the Year award," Norville says of her boyfriend, Karl Wellner, 33, a New York sportswear boutique owner whom she met two years ago. "We make lunch dates instead of dinner dates. My hours at home are bad for everything except child rearing." Their relationship, jokes Norville, isn't much better off than when she was in Chicago. "Then I was geographically undesirable," she says, "now I'm chronologically undesirable."

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