Nancy Grace to depart HLN after 12 years (Exclusive)

Nancy Grace Leaving HLN After 12 Years

Nancy Grace, who parlayed her stint as a successful prosecutor into a two-decade career as one of cable's most recognizable and controversial figures, will depart HLN, her TV home for the past 12 years, when her current contract expires in October.

Grace, 56, broke the news ‪Thursday morning to her staff of 18 — some of whom have been working with her since the late 1990s, when she got her start co-hosting on Court TV with the late Johnnie Cochran — at the network's CNN Center headquarters in Atlanta, where Grace shoots the majority of her shows. New York-based staffers learned of her departure simultaneously via video conference call.

A network spokesperson tells The Hollywood Reporter that a new series — one that will "utilize the expertise of the current team" — will replace Nancy Grace in the ‪8 p.m. slot following the airing of the final episode ‪on Oct. 13. The decision was a difficult one, according to Grace, who in an emotional interview with THR admits to being "really mixed" about taking a step she's been "thinking a lot about" for the past three years.

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Nancy Grace through her career
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Nancy Grace through her career
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 08: Nancy Grace arrives at the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Winter 2016 TCA Press Tour at Tournament House on January 8, 2016 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
285634 01: Former prosecutor Nancy Grace stands at a press conference for the television show 'Cochran and Grace' November 12, 1996 in New York City. The show focuses on controversial issues facing the United States judicial system. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Liaison)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 19: Cochran & Grace lawyers Johnnie Cochran inside the Court TV offices before show. Cochran and co-anchor Nancy Grace on Court TV set., (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Dr. Phil, Sharon Stone, Larry King and family and Nancy Grace and Mike Wallace (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 13: (TABLOIDS AND HOLLYWOOD REPORTER OUT) Court TV Anchor Nancy Grace attends the Court TV premiere of 'Chasing Freedom' January 13, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 22: Court TV anchor Nancy Grace attends the 2004 American Women in Radio and Television Gracie Allen Awards gala on June 22, 2004 at the New York Hilton Hotel, in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JANUARY 12: (L to R) Court TV Anchor Nancy Grace and Henry Schleiff, Chairman/CEO, Court TV fields a question during panel discussion for the Court TV 2005 Television Critics Winter Press Tour at the Hilton Universal Hotel on January 12, 2005 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Ken Jautz, executive vice president , CNN News Group, Nancy Grace, host of 'Nancy Grace,' A.J. Hammer and Karyn Bryant, co-hosts of 'Showbiz Tonight' (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage for Temp Account)
Nancy Grace, host of 'Nancy Grace' during Turner TCA Day at Universal Hilton in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage for Temp Account)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 25: (L-R) Court TV anchors Nancy Grace and Diane Diamond attend the premiere of Court TV' s original movie 'The Exonerated' on January 25, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
Nancy Grace - Photo by Jesse Grant/ at the El Capitan Entertainment Center in Hollywood, California (Photo by Jesse Grant/WireImage)
Nancy Grace, winner Outstanding Talk Show during 31st Annual American Women in Radio & Television Gracie Allen Awards - Show at Mariott Marquis in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by L. Busacca/WireImage for AWRT)
Nancy Grace (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage)
THE VIEW - (9.24.09) Nancy Grace (Crime Update) was a guest on 'The View,' THURSDAY, SEPT. 24. 'The View' airs Monday-Friday (11:00 am-12:00 noon, ET) on the ABC Television Network. VW09 (Photo by Steve Fenn/ABC via Getty Images) NANCY GRACE
BURBANK, CA - JULY 15: Legal commentator Nancy Grace (L) appears on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno at the NBC Studios on July 15, 2011 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Tonight Show/Getty Images for The Tonight Show)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4076 -- Pictured: Legal commentator Nancy Grace during an interview on July 15, 2011 -- Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
DANCING WITH THE STARS - A dynamic lineup of stars will take the stage for the two-hour season premiere of 'Dancing with the Stars,' MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 19 (8:00-10:01 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. All 12 couples will dance for the first time on live national television on MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, either performing the Cha Cha Cha or The Viennese Waltz. Airing on TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET.), a live, one-hour special, 'Dancing with the Stars: Meet the Cast,' will feature the most exciting moments from Monday night's performances, with commentary from the judges and never-before-seen footage from the teams' first weeks of training. Then, on the season premiere of 'Dancing with the Stars the Results Show,' TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER, 20 (9:00-10:01 p.m., ET), the couple with the lowest combined judges' scores and public votes for their performance will be sent home in the season's first elimination. (Photo by Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Images) NANCY GRACE
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Episode 1301' - A dynamic lineup of stars took the stage performing either the Cha Cha Cha or The Viennese Waltz for the two-hour season premiere of 'Dancing with the Stars,' MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 19 (8:00-10:01 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Images)NANCY GRACE, TRISTAN MACMANUS
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 23: Nancy Grace arrives at Variety's 3rd Annual Power of Women Luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on September 23, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Episode 1305' - The competition got heated as the remaining eight couples performed any style dance to favorite classic '80s hit songs,' on MONDAY, OCTOBER 17 (8:00-10:01 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Images) NANCY GRACE, TRISTAN MACMANUS
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 21: Nancy Grace attends the 7th Annual GLSEN Respect Awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel on October 21, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight, (12:00 - 1:06 a.m., ET), following 'Nightline,' featuring a diverse lineup of guests that include celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8 included actor Mickey Rourke ('Immortals'), Nancy Grace and Tristan MacManus ('Dancing with the Stars' castoff) and musical guest Wale. (Photo by Carin Baer/ABC via Getty Images)TRISTAN MACMANUS, NANCY GRACE, JIMMY KIMMEL
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured: (l-r) Nancy Grace, Aviva Drescher -- Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured: Nancy Grace -- Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 10: Nancy Grace arrives at the CNN Worldwide All-Star 2014 Winter TCA party held at Langham Huntington Hotel on January 10, 2014 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)
ATLANTA, GA - MAY 02: TV personality Nancy Grace onstage at the Atlanta Ultimate Women's Expo on May 2, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

Grace first informed CNN executive vp Ken Jautz, the same man who lured her to the fledgling network, then called CNN Headline News, back in 2005, of her decision in early June. "At the end of my meeting with Ken, I gave him a big hug and he hugged me back. It was like full circle," Grace says, adding that Jautz is making every effort to "try to relocate everybody" on her staff. "That was a big concern."

"Nancy has worked tirelessly on behalf of the missing and exploited for more than a decade on HLN," says Jautz. "She gave a voice to the voiceless, and we are extremely grateful for her contributions to the network. During her remarkable career at HLN, she led the coverage of two of this century's most talked about and infamous trials, Casey Anthony and Jodi Arias. We will always be champions of Nancy's mission and are excited to see what's next for her."

While her ratings are nowhere near the staggering highs of years past — her afternoon broadcast following the reading of famed filicide suspect Anthony's not-guilty verdict on July 5, 2011, drew 4.57 million viewers — the lightning-rod legal crusader remains the most-watched and talked-about personality on HLN, averaging 291,000 viewers in May. But that's only enough to rank her show 42nd out of all cable news programs, two spots behind Fox News' Red Eye, which airs weekdays ‪at 3 a.m.

Read More Nancy Grace on Casey Anthony Trial: What I Should Have Done Differently (Video)

While she won't share what factors specifically contributed to her decision, or where she plans on going, Grace says whatever she does next — and she has no plans for a hiatus — will involve "a very large digital component." Still, she is not ready to walk away from the medium that made her famous just yet.

"I will always be wedded to a traditional platform — which is TV, God help me," she says. "My plan is to merge those two in an effective way, in my voice, the 'anti-crime' voice. Our show has never really been about me. It has been about the stories that we tell and the people we talk about and the mysteries we try to solve and the children we try to bring home. There's an entire section of our population that I want to reach."

Shortly before her departure from HLN, her third novel (and fourth book) — Murder in the Courthouse — will hit stores on Oct. 11. The first in a series of Hallmark Channel movies based on the characters from her novels is scheduled to air later that month, with Kellie Martin starring as Grace's fictional alter ego, Hailey Dean.

Grace, who went to law school and became a prosecutor in Atlanta after the murder of her fiancé when she was 19, has become a leading TV voice for "victim's rights." Her nightly show regularly highlights abused and murdered women, missing children, negligent mothers and what she perceives to be miscarriages of justice. Her detractors paint her as channeling the country's rage for personal gain, frequently to the detriment of the judicial process. But fans love her dedication to seeking retribution for victims of violent crime and are gripped by the often disturbing details of the cases she highlights.

Grace is quick to dismiss the suggestion that she's hoping to reach younger eyeballs in a new outlet. "Don't tell my mother that," she says. "She's all about Facebook and tweeting and texting, so don't go there. But there's a very large segment that I want to reach. I was very, very proud when our followers hit the 2 million mark." (Grace's Facebook page has over 2 million likes. Megyn Kelly's, by comparison, has just over 1 million.) And she plans to take full advantage of everything the internet currently has to offer — from live video to podcasts — to reach as many of them as possible.

Wherever she lands, however, will need to be comfortable with her trademark style of editorializing and the controversy it invites. Grace's critics, and there are many, say she is more intent on inciting mobs than providing a voice to violent crime victims. "Since her show began in 2005," the late New York Times media columnist David Carr wrote, "the presumption of innocence has found a willful enemy in the former prosecutor turned broadcast judge-and-jury."

But there's little question that her tactics can work. Take, for instance, her penchant of slapping cases with tabloid-worthy monikers like "Tot Mom" Anthony and "Vodka Mom" Toni Medrano. Medrano, a 29-year-old Minnesota mother who Grace lambasted for having allegedly crushed her newborn to death in a drunken stupor, committed suicide in 2012 by dousing herself in gasoline and lighting herself on fire. Medrano's family blamed Grace and filed a lawsuit against CNN, resulting in an out-of-court settlement.

Grace, who comes up with the nicknames herself, first starting employing them in law school to help keep track of the many cases she was studying. She says the habit has "really helped" the homicide and violent-crime suspects she focuses on stick in the public consciousness.

She is similarly proud of the banners, or chyrons, that appear across the lower-third of the screen throughout her show. "I spend hours a day until we go to air on them, and sometimes we'll change them mid-program," Grace says of the headlines, which aim to "tell a provocative story in just a few words, so when a viewer's on mute, they stop and say, 'What is that?' And hold." The practice is now commonplace amid the dizzying clutter of 24-hour TV news, particularly at CNN.

But Grace's most profound effect on the media landscape could be the one she touts most often: trailblazing a stand for victims. In the dozen years since her HLN debut, her impact can be seen on the coverage of everything from Bill Cosby's accusers to victims of campus rape; framing stories from the victims' point-of-view has evolved into a common narrative in news coverage. It would be hard to envision Ashleigh Banfield devoting an entire broadcast of CNN's Legal View to reading the Stanford rape victim's letter to her accuser, as she did earlier this month, without Grace's arresting efforts.

"I want to play within the rules," she says. "There's nothing to protect the victims and the people who are really hurt. That's what I'm about."

Read More Making a Murderer': Nancy Grace Details Why Steven Avery is Guilty (Q&A)

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