Tell us about your Irish heritage.
“My dad’s family is from Cork, the Murphys. My mom’s side, the McDonaghs, were tinkers. The summer I was 17 I went to Ireland for the first time. I met 11 Mary Murphys in the first three days. I called my parents to say, ‘Could you have done something a little more original? This place is teaming with Mary Murphys.’”

What project are you currently working on?
“I am currently working on a story about Norman Bridwell, the creator of the beloved children’s books Clifford the Big Red Dog. Clifford is turning 50 this year. I also am producing a profile of best-selling author James Patterson for the NBC show Rock Center with Brian Williams.”

Do you think the Internet has a positive or negative effect on storytelling?
“Positive -- you are able to research and find so much detail without ever leaving your desk!”

Tell us about your project Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird,
“Hey, Boo is a documentary film about the remarkable impact of Harper Lee’s first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Published in the summer of 1960, it gave fuel to the civil rights movement and has meant something to generations of readers.

“My movie features Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brokaw, James McBride, Richard Russo, Anna Quindlen and Wally Lamb to name a few who are thoughtful and heartfelt about their reading experience. It also features interviews with Harper Lee’s family and friends.”

You have won six Emmy Awards for your work. What has been your most challenging project?
“An hour on Bosnia for CBS News and a documentary about teen suicide and depression for PBS.

The Bosnia hour required us to explain a complicated history that led to the war there and to telegraph it in a short amount of time. The other challenge was to find and tell stories about people the audience could get invested in.  And, did I mention? We had to get in on TV within four days. Tall order. 

“On the other documentary -- broadcast as Cry for Help on PBS in April 2009 -- it was time consuming and emotionally draining. We spent almost a year in a high school in Ohio that was digging out after four student suicides. The principal there was adamant that this would never happen again.

“I spent a lot of time listening to kids talk about their lives. It was a very valuable experience.”
You chronicled the deportation proceedings against three former members of the IRA. How did you get involved with this project?
“The project was begun by a colleague at CBS who was given a big promotion, He had shot just a little of the story before he moved on. I took it over and shaped the story. It was a challenging and fascinating experience. Emotions ran very high, as you might expect.”

Click here to visit Mary McDonagh Murphy's website.

Interview by Molly Muldoon

Mary McDonagh