Sheinelle Jones will be back on familiar ground on Monday morning as the former Good Day Philadelphia anchor brings a bit of the Today show to Philadelphia for a look at life after lockdown.
Philly is the first stop in a planned Today series on the reopening of America’s cities that aims to ”spotlight the people, places, and things that bring our country’s cities back to life,” Jones said.
Jones, who cohosts the third hour of Today, will be seen in every hour of Monday’s show, as well as on NBC10′s earlier newscast, and in recorded segments that will air throughout the week. Among the confirmed interviewees: Patti LaBelle, who’ll be sharing some of her favorite food places; Flyers president Valerie Camillo; and Ben Miller of South Philly Barbacoa, who along with Cristina Martínez, his wife and business partner, transformed their second restaurant into the Community Kitchen at El Compadre, which has fed people in need during the pandemic.
» READ MORE: At El Compadre, a collaboration for "radical" change
“Obviously, I would always raise my hand when we look at Philadelphia,” she said. “I think quite often, when you talk about Philly, people immediately think cheesesteaks and the Liberty Bell, which is great. But there’s so much more that the city has to offer.”
Jones, who was born in Philadelphia, grew up mostly in Wichita, then returned in 2005 to spend nine years at Fox 29, hasn’t exactly been a stranger since leaving Good Day in 2014. “My father [senior U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones II] is there, I have siblings in Philadelphia. … My friends are still there.”
So, apparently, are her fans.
“I always wondered if there would be a day where I would go back to Philly and I would be a visitor,” she said. When she worked here, “I would be eating outside and people would say, ‘Hey, Sheinelle,’ you know, like it was no big deal. So when I was out in South Philly, and we were eating outside, and people were saying, ‘Hey, Sheinelle,’ it was really special. Because it’s been a while.”
What she likes about such encounters, she said, is that “with Philly, is it’s not about being starstruck or anything like that. It’s about family. It’s like you’re their cousin.”
For some, talk of reopening may come a little soon in a city where cases are rising, not falling, and most people haven’t yet been vaccinated.
“I think every time we talk about reopening, you’ll always see either right before or right after it, we’re talking with a specialist, and we’re talking with physicians,” said Jones, who received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine on the show Wednesday, along with Today show colleagues Savannah Guthrie, Craig Melvin, Dylan Dreyer, and Jenna Bush Hager.
“We’re trying to lead by example, because the reality is there’s still some scene vaccine hesitancy amongst people in all communities,” she said. “We encourage people to get vaccinated, and two weeks after they get that second shot, socially distanced … with their mask on, I think it’s OK to try to support their local businesses.”
One bow to the pandemic continues: NBC isn’t interested in having an in-person audience for Jones’ Philadelphia visit, as ABC did when Good Morning America visited two years ago, attracting more than 700 people who stood outside for three hours in heavy rain to see the show.
But the Today show “virtual plaza,” which has viewers vying for screen time the way they once competed for the chance to see Al Roker up close, will consist of viewers from this area, a spokesperson for the show said. It’s likely, though, that those people have already been chosen.