Connie Chung Struts to CNN … Geraldo on the Move … Kiefer’s Pia Zadora Moment

Wednesday, Jan. 23

Let’s get this straight: First there was Paula, and then Greta went to be the next Paula, and now Connie’s becoming Greta? And where does that leave Larry?

The high-stakes, can-you-top-this cable-news war continued this week as word trickled out late Tuesday, Jan. 22, that Connie Chung was splitting ABC News to join CNN. Ms. Chung will take over the 8 p.m. prime-time slot vacated by Greta Van Susteren, who recently left CNN to take over the 10 p.m. Fox News Channel slot vacated by Paula Zahn, who left Fox News to come to CNN.

Capish? CNN reps weren’t talking on the afternoon of Jan. 22, but they announced a big press conference for the following afternoon, Jan. 23. And if that wasn’t enough of a hint, ABC News president David Westin spilled the beans when he released a statement hailing Ms. Chung as “a valued member of the ABC News family.”

“This is a very important opportunity for her to have her own program,” Mr. Westin said. “We wish her nothing but great success and happiness in her new job.”

Reached late Tuesday, Ms. Chung’s agent, Mr. Alan Berger, said his client had no immediate comment.

Ms. Chung’s hiring by CNN represents the latest shot in what has become an aggressive, high-visibility battle between CNN and Fox for cable-news dominance. Ms. Chung, a veteran of CBS and ABC News, is perhaps the most recognizable television journalist ever hired by CNN, now owned by AOL Time Warner.

It was not immediately clear what Ms. Chung’s salary would be at CNN, though it’s presumed she will be one of the highest-paid correspondents at the network.

One network observer said Ms. Chung’s hiring was representative of a new free-spending attitude toward high-profile talent fostered by executives like network president Walter Isaacson and Turner Broadcasting president Jamie Kellner.

“Kellner’s convinced those guys to pony up more for network people,” said one network insider. “They’ve never had this many network people before.”

Ms. Chung has her work cut out for her. She will now find herself squaring off weeknights against Bill O’Reilly, whose O’Reilly Factor program is the highest-rated show in the history of the Fox News Channel and dominates the time period for cable news.

Fox News was low-key about Ms. Chung’s hiring. “We respect her as a journalist, and we wish her the best of luck in her new endeavor,” a Fox spokesperson said.

Ms. Chung is the third ABC News correspondent to relocate to CNN in the past year. Aaron Brown, the host of the 10 p.m. CNN program NewsNight , left ABC last year, Anderson Cooper, who just started on CNN’s morning news show American Morning , also worked for ABC News, but most recently hosted a reality TV show called The Mole .

Ms. Chung’s parting with ABC News appears amicable. The network released Ms. Chung from her contract in order to let her move to CNN; she had more than six months left on her ABC News deal.

Though she remains a high-profile name, Ms. Chung’s star has fallen somewhat in recent years. After a failed pairing with Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News and a notorious interview with the mother of Congressman Newt Gingrich. Ms. Chung, who is married to talk show host Maury Povich, left CBS in 1995. She joined ABC News in 1997 and has served as a correspondent for 20/20 and Prime Time Thursday , and also hosted the news magazine 20/20 Downtown .

Recently, however, Ms. Chung’s reputation enjoyed a mild revival as she scored a coveted interview with embattled California Congressman Gary Condit.

It is uncertain what kind of show Ms. Chung will have on CNN, but it is almost certain to revolve around interviews with guests and news and social issues of the day. One early potential problem: conflict over guest bookings with Larry King, CNN’s preeminent heavyweight, whose show already does the same thing.

Tonight on CNN, Larry King asks: Did she get, you know, a plane? [CNN, 10, 9 p.m.]

Thursday, Jan. 24

Meanwhile, it appears that AOL Time Warner’s news network is also trying to get a little younger.

In recent weeks, CNN added Mr. Cooper to its breakfast table with Paula Zahn and Jack Cafferty, and brought on MTV’s Serena Altschul as a news correspondent. And recently The View ‘s Lisa Ling took a temporary crack at hosting the departed Greta Van Susteren’s Point show at 8 p.m.

Both Mr. Cooper and Ms. Altschul can safely be described as “thirtysomething.” Ms. Ling is 28. Mr. Anderson-the silver-domed son of Gloria Vanderbilt-is the former anchor of ABC’s World News Now overnight newscast, who left ABC News (whoops) to host The Mole . Ms. Altschul-who, like Mr. Cooper and Ms. Ling, is a veteran of Channel One, the classroom news channel-was an MTV news correspondent who did on-the-hour updates and had her own series called, alarmingly, Breaking It Down With Serena . Ms. Ling, of course, is the sassy young ‘un on the View couch next to Joy Behar and Barbara Walters who has also served as a pitch woman for Old Navy.

Hey, what’s up here, CNN? Like, when’s Gideon Yago comin’ aboard?

CNN’s president of news gathering, Eason Jordan, downplayed the suggestion that the famously creaky CNN was going through a Cocoon moment.

“It would be a mistake to characterize it as a youth movement,” said Mr. Jordan, who noted-without naming names-that the network has also made recent hires of individuals who would not necessarily be called “young.” “We just want people who are really engaging, distinctive journalists.”

True enough, but every television operation-be it a music channel, a prime-time sitcom or a news program-covets younger viewers, who are prized for their age, durability and attractiveness to advertisers. What CNN is doing is not new. For ages, news operations have hired younger reporters and pursued youth-oriented stories in an effort to appeal to younger audiences.

What’s curious about these hires is that they seem to all be medium-cool, unemotional, urbane types; clearly, they’re not just a bunch of apple-cheeked clucks who’d be happy to stand in the middle of Times Square and count balloons on New Year’s Eve. At World News Now , Mr. Cooper developed something of a cult following for his wry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and his decision to jump to The Mole -as weird as it was-was undeniably against the grain for a network news anchor. On MTV, Ms. Altschul had a low-key, 33 r.p.m. style similar to that of her colleague Kurt Loder, and was far from the goofy screamer/shill type the music network is so known for.

Other CNN recent hires-Aaron Brown and Keith Olbermann, who has been hired to do segments on Mr. Brown’s NewsNight -may not fall into the, ah, “thirtysomething” definition, but they also have a measured, dispassionate, occasionally sharp-tongued demeanor. None of them leap off the screen or have a kind of stentorian anchor-cliché command; you have to spend some time with them to get a sense of their appeal.

And that appears to be the direction-the tone-that CNN is choosing. For a while, everyone thought that CNN would come charging after its chief competitor, the red-hot Fox News Channel, by stealing the Fox playbook: moxie, flash, opinion, sizzle. But the new CNN seems to be adopting a Pottery Barn–like sensibility: sophisticated but democratic,attractive yet not necessarily exciting.

In a way, this change resembles how CNN news president Walter Isaacson remodeled Time magazine by unbuttoning that publication’s top button, steering it younger and having it to pay more attention to pop culture. Time magazine didn’t get recklessly young in a Lollapalooza sense; it only let its hair down so far, and remained pretty middle-of-the-road. The key for CNN, like Time , is to avoid any kind of pretentiousness or preciousness; an NPR-ization of CNN would be deadly.

Not one of these new personalities will change the network alone, of course. Neither Mr. Cooper or Ms. Atschul is enough of a household name to guarantee an audience. Mr. Jordan himself said he hadn’t seen much of Ms. Altschul on MTV.

“I think what was appealing was her journalism and her very fresh, distinctive perspective, her way of reporting,” Mr. Jordan said. “That was what turned me on.”

And keep in mind: CNN has tried to get younger in the past, and it hasn’t always worked. The network recently K.O.’d Take 5 , a Washington-based, youth-skewing talk show, and also has had trouble showcasing Tucker Carlson, a young conservative columnist who had a brief sizzle as the host of a talk show called The Spin Room and now co-hosts Crossfire . CNN also lost one of its brightest young stars late last summer when correspondent Tamala Edwards, herself formerly of Time , was lured away by ABC News.

This time, CNN hopes its young voices will stick-and stick around.

Tonight on CNN, another hot “thirtysomething,” Larry King , talks about his weekend riding half-pipes in Malibu. [CNN, 10, 9 p.m.]

Friday, Jan. 25

Meanwhile, where in the world is super-duper Fox News Channel international correspondent Geraldo Rivera? Last we checked, Somalia.

Hey-wasn’t Mr. Rivera supposed to go over to Afghanistan and whack Osama bin Laden in the nose or something? Or maybe that’s been de-prioritized. Maybe he’s got to first straighten out that Baltimore Sun reporter who questioned the accuracy of Mr. Rivera’s reporting in Afghanistan.

But another question: What the heck is Geraldo going to do once he gets back to the United States on a more permanent basis? It seems improbable, but Mr. Rivera, a perennial 800-pound gorilla in TV news, now feels like a 1,600-pound gorilla after his tough-guy tour of war country. But with Ms. Van Susteren snapping up the last available prime-time slot, it doesn’t look like Mr. Rivera’s going to be getting his own prime-time show for a while.

A Fox News spokesperson said that for the time being, Mr. Rivera would keep doing what he’s doing.

“Right now, the game plan is that he’s going to hop from hot spot to hot spot,” said the spokesperson. “That’s what he was hired to do, and that’s what he’s going to do for the foreseeable future.” The spokesperson also pointed out that Mr. Rivera left his own show on CNBC for Fox specifically to get back into field reporting.

Tonight on Fox News, Mr. Rivera bench-presses six Somali warlords for Brit Hume on Special Report with Brit Hume . [FNC, 46, 7 p.m.]

Saturday, Jan. 26

Viva The Lonely Lady ! It was nice to see the supposedly cleaned-up Hollywood Foreign Press return to its Pia Zadora days by inexplicably awarding hardware to 24 ‘s Kiefer Sutherland (over Jimmy Gandolfini, others) and Alias nymphette Jennifer Garner (over Edie Falco, others). They also gave a trinket to Charlie Sheen-never a good sign.

At least the H.F.P. did have the sense to give a prize to Six Feet Under ‘s Rachel Griffiths, whose alluring genius/psycho-girl character is reason alone to subscribe to HBO. But that frilly pink thang she wore … and that hair ….

Tonight on HBO, Saving Silverman , with another fetching genius/psycho-girl, Amanda Peet. [HBO, 32, 8 p.m.]

Sunday, Jan. 27

Speaking of HBO, anyone with the premium cable channel has probably at one point lassoed themselves to an episode of Project Greenlight , the dopey Miramax–Matt Damon–Ben Affleck reality-TV series about a rookie director making his first-ever feature film with a $1.7 million “pittance.” It’s hilarious to see the fledgling filmmakers sanctimoniously ramble on about the difficulties of guerrilla filmmaking-and then break for a catered lunch or a snooze in a posh hotel.

And if you’ve watched PG , you’ve probably noted that, curiously, one of the things that seems to get skirted over during the TV show is the plot of the film, which is called Stolen Summer . And no wonder. Stolen Summer sounds like a bad short story written in an undergraduate fiction workshop: two little kids, one Jewish, one Catholic … Jewish kid gets leukemia, Catholic kid naively tries convert him to Catholicism, both kids learn to respect religious diversity, Kevin Pollak plays a rabbi … urk!

But you know what? Stolen Summer got better reviews than expected at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Though some attendees reported that Stolen Summer was, in fact, pretty sticky-sweet, the film got a generally warm reception at the snowy showbiz fest. As the filmmakers griped about the hatchet job on PG -and it’s true, the series makes them look like a bunch of putzes-it played to packed crowds throughout the week.

Too bad there’s no more Talk magazine, however-so no cover story for you, Stolen Summer !

Tonight on Project Greenlight , first-time director Pete Jones turns to Ben Affleck and says sharply, “Two words, fella: Pearl Harbor .” [HBO, 32, 9:30 p.m.]

Monday, Jan. 28

So how’s Carson Daly doing in the ratings as a late-night talk-show personality? Pretty much like Mr. Daly himself: okey-dokey, straight down the middle. According to overnight-ratings reports, Last Call with Carson Daly is averaging just over a 1.7 rating and an 8 share for its first two weeks. The high came on the third night of the run, Thursday, Jan. 10-two days after all the press about the show’s yanked premiere-when the first half of a two-part Suge Knight interview got a 1.9 rating and a 9 share.

Those ratings are generally in keeping for the time period. Bob Costas, who used to host Later in the 1:35 a.m. slot, said: “The joke was … if you had Paul McCartney, that might go to a 2.2. If you put on a test pattern, it would still be a 1.1.” Of course, if you had Kiefer Sutherland …. [WNBC, 4, 1:35 a.m.]

Tuesday, Jan. 29

Break out the pretzels! It’s George W. Bush’s State of the Union address. [ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, among others, 9 p.m.]