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Lisa Ling tackles motorcycle gangs, Satanists, Warren Jeffs on 'This is Life' returning Sept. 30

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Monday, September 28, 2015

Lisa Ling may only be in her second season on CNN with "This is Life," taking deep dives into often unseen subcultures, but it seems longer because she had a similar show for five seasons on OWN.

"On the one hand," Ling mused in a recent interview, "I do feel like I've been doing this a long time. But I think the shows I'm doing on CNN are edgier, a little more testosterone driven and more in your face."

Ling, whose "This is Life" returns Wednesday at 9 p.m., spends time at the L.A. County coroner's office, at the Satanic Temple in Detroit and with two offspring of Utah polygamist Warren Jeffs, who is in prison for child sexual assault. (The Jeffs episode airs this Wednesday.)

She said she is especially proud of is an inside look she did at a so-called "outlaw" motorcycle gang, an idea that stemmed from a well-publicized Waco biker gang shootout earlier this year.

"The FBI has heightened surveillance on motorcycle clubs nationwide," Ling said. "I tried to get access to one of the clubs involved in the shootout but because they had so many people locked up, they've been unwilling to grant anyone access."

So she began reaching out to comparable biker groups nationwide.

The Mongols in Los Angeles provided Ling unprecedented access to their club.

She said she is able to pull off these interviews because she has a solid track record as an empathetic journalist. "We are not exploitative," Ling said. "I'm not an antagonist. I listen. I want to give people an opportunity to tell their story and share their lives."

Read my interview with Ling a year ago when the series was about to launch.

Ling said she may not agree or change her mind about certain subcultures after she spends time with them. But "I have always been an ardent believer that the more we understand each other, the better we are. I try to withhold judgment until I've actually embedded and immersed myself."

One of her favorites from the season was attending a father-daughter dance at a prison. The very idea itself intrigued her. "To me, the father-daughter relationship is one of the most important and under-estimated relationships in society, one that can truly shape the identity of a young girl."

Even as a journalist, she said she couldn't stop tearing up taping the show. "I'm human," she said. "Nothing affects me more than seeing kids have an opportunity to spend real time with fathers who haven't been active parts of their lives."

Lisa Ling, at a Turner upfront meeting in May, reunites with Anderson Cooper, who she worked with on News One as a teenager. CREDIT: Getty Images

On a lighter note, Ling also partied at Mysteryland, a huge annual electronic dance music festival Memorial Day weekend in New York, similar to TomorrowWorld, which was held in Chattahoochee Hills, south of Atlanta, this past weekend and became a muddy mess, courtesy of copious amounts of rain.

"I speak candidly of my rave days in the 1990s," said Ling, now a 42-year-old mother with a two-year-old daughter.. "I was old enough to be the mother of many of the attendees but I felt like 20 again. That scene makes you feel welcome and loved at a time when people feel so disenfranchised. It's a unique kind of escape for people."

These are not easy episodes to put together. They can often take months from beginning to end, which limits the number of episodes she can do in a given year to eight. Ling herself spends at least 8 to 12 days on the ground for each show. After a much-needed six-week break, she said she plans to start again for season three next month.

Ling is gratified that OWN still airs repeats of her "Our America With Lisa Ling" episodes, which aired from 2011 to 2014. And CNN recently placed season one of "This is Life" on Netflix.

"The response," she said, "has been overwhelming and shocking to me. I recognize the power of Netflix but I've been inundated with Tweets. People are binge watching!" And she said it's an entirely different audience from the traditional CNN viewer, more like many of her younger crew members, who don't even own TVs and stream everything.


"This is Life With Lisa Ling," 9 p.m. Wednesdays, CNN, starting Sept. 26



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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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