Paula Zahn’s new wake-up show, American Morning

If you want my body,

and you think I’m sexy …

Just don’t put it in a house ad, s’il vous plaît ! CNN sure stepped in it the other day when the

network began running ads for Paula Zahn’s new wake-up show, American Morning -hey, that sounds like a

Thornton Wilder play-touting the tall, blond anchor as “sexy.” All that was

missing was a boiiingggg! sound

effect, like on Howard Stern’s popular radio show.

The network blamed the tasteless commercial on some dopes in its

promo department- natch- but the spot

was emblematic of a broader schizophrenia that inhabits CNN. Under pressure to

improve ratings and take a little zip ‘n’ sizzle away from Fox News, the

network has sought to shed its starchy rep, trot out some new faces and let

their hair down a bit. At the same time, it has tried to maintain its position

as an international and domestic news source. Trying to be fun and serious at

the same time doesn’t always work-and some folks in the marketing department

clearly got carried away.

But did they? While no one is saying it was done on purpose, it’s

just the kind of savvy “mini-troversy “

Calvin Klein used to be so good at ginning up. The network gets a wave of

attention for its morning show; Ms. Zahn gets sympathy for being wronged;

network president Walter Isaacson gets to step in to be the good guy and

express his outrage; and every viewer who hasn’t seen this “sexy” anchor’s new

morning show has a new reason ( boiiinggg! )

to watch. Yes, it’s an embarrassment-Mr. Isaacson sternly called it “a major

blunder” and a “serious matter” which the network “was treating in a serious

way”-but then again, everybody wins.

It also signals that it’s sure going to be interesting to watch

CNN reconfigures itself over the next few months, especially if world news begins

to ebb and Mr. Isaacson and his colleagues really rework programming and

presentation, a mission that was underway when Sept. 11 struck.

Already there’s an immediate prime-time hole to fill: Last week,

Fox swiped Greta Van Susteren to assume the 10 p.m. slot vacated by Ms. Zahn

when she skipped to CNN late last summer. Ms. Van Susteren hadn’t been feeling

the love at CNN lately-she was said to be particularly ticked at CNN’s U.S.

executive vice president and general manager Sid Bedingfield, who called her on

vacation and told her that her hour-long show was getting chopped in half for

expanded war coverage. Still, her move caught colleagues by surprise,

especially when she rebuffed a hefty CNN counteroffer. (In a statement, Mr.

Bedingfield noted that Ms. Van Susteren had a half-hour show “for nearly a

year” before the network moved her to a full hour, and that the cut back to a

half hour was not permanent and was designed to take advantage of war coverage.

Through Fox News, Ms. Van Susteren declined comment.)

Who will CNN respond with? Right now, the network could probably

put on The Frank Sinatra Hour Featuring

Jimmy Hoffa and it would still lose to Bill O’Reilly. Whoever it is, a good

bet is that the show will eventually be headquartered in New York-another

indicator that the network’s power base is creeping upward from Atlanta. “I

think Atlanta realizes that everything is moving to New York, and it is,” said

one CNN staffer.

Well, New York is a sexy town! Today on American Morning , new co-host Anderson Cooper points out to Ms.

Zahn that the new set looks suspiciously like Lando Calrissian’s Cloud City

from The Empire Strikes Back . [CNN, 10, 7 a.m.]

Thursday, jan. 10

 After a merry, protracted paid respite,

jock-beat iconoclast Keith Olbermann is finally off the Rupert Murdoch dole and

getting back to the regular grind. He’s possibly going to be warming Greta Van

Susteren’s old CNN chair for a bit now, and in what may be the broadcasting

equivalent of slipping into your father’s old flannel slippers, he’s going to

revive Howard Cosell’s old “Speaking of Sports” and “Speaking of Everything”

radio spots for ABC radio stations nationwide.

“It’s the gamut of opinion and story-breaking and then wise-ass,”

said Mr. Olbermann, no stranger to all three. The former ESPN, MSNBC and Fox

Sports anchor actually introduced Mr. Cosell’s “Speaking of” segments when he

was a college-radio host at Cornell University. Lately Mr. Cosell has

experienced a posthumous revival, as the toupéed chatterbox has been portrayed

in the film Ali (by Jon Voight) and

the upcoming TNT TV movie Monday Night

Mayhem (by John Turturro). Mr. Olbermann was a panelist at a Jan. 8

discussion following the lattere film’s New York premiere.

Is this new wave of affection for Mr. Cosell rooted in some kind

of frustration with sportscasting’s current sad state? Mr. Olbermann, of

course, is partly responsible for said sad state, as his dry, often lyrical

sportscasting style has been ripped off (badly) by every under-45,

blazer-wearing wannabe in the business. Is our burst of love for Mr.

Cosell,  the genre’s groundbreaking

self-promoter and a true original,  a

backlash against the sameness of ESPN nation?

“I would love to be able to suggest some sort of backlash from

which we could draw encouragement,” Mr. Olbermann said. “I wait for the

backlash against this faux humor or faux humorist [style]-and then I just see

more and more of it.” As an example, Mr. Olbermann noted Fox Sports’ dopey new

sports-yak show with ( er ) Tom Arnold, The Best Damn Sports Show, Period , calling

it “The Best Sports Show of the Damned.”

Overall, however, Mr. Olbermann felt the Howard Cosell revival

was a natural outgrowth of being famous, controversial and, well, dead . “If the man had a 5 percent

humility rating, he would have been beloved,” Mr. Olbermann said. “Because

name the thing he did not invent.”

Okay, here’s one: Courage, the Cowardly Dog. [TOON, 22, 9 p.m.]

Friday, jan. 11

 This week marks the 10th anniversary of ABC

World News Now , the quirky wee-hour newscast that launched the careers

of new CNN anchors Aaron Brown and Anderson Cooper, among others. The show, now

co-anchored by Alison Stewart and Derek McGinty, has long enjoyed a cult

following among insomniacs, new mothers, security guards, ephedrine addicts,

bakery workers, Entertainment Weekly editorial

assistants and other assorted nightcrawlers, who revel in the show’s

irreverent, casual-yet-intelligent take on world events. Because it’s on so

dang late, WNN can give the headlines

without the shrill, inane pomp of the signature evening newscasts-and the

anchors, thank goodness, aren’t anywhere as huffy as their prime-time

counterparts.

“I think it’s a place where people can find their voice,” said

Ms. Stewart, who came to ABC News from MTV News. “Before we had a permanent

anchor, we’d see a lot of people come in with their anchor voice and their

anchor presentation. And you realize over the course of doing the show that

your voice is just fine, and there is no right way to do it-it’s just your

way.”

Ms. Stewart, who is closing in on Mr. Brown’s record as WNN ‘s

longest host, said the program also bucked the notion that overnight shows

are for network news flunkies. Traditionally, she said, the supposition was

that “if you’re working in the middle of the night, you’ve either been banished

there or you’re a supreme F-up. But that’s not the case. There are some really

creative, smart people who take their jobs very seriously-but they don’t take

themselves very seriously, which is sort of key. That’s the way I like it.”

WNN is celebrating its

10th birthday with some best-of retrospectives and returns from the likes of

Mr. Cooper and Mr. Brown (the latter’s producer at CNN, David Bohrmann, was

also WNN ‘s first producer). You can

also look for that accordion guy, Barry Mitchell, who pops up from time to

time.

Tonight-or this morning-on World

News Now (come to think of it, that’s a funny title: It’s as if they sat

around trying to dream up a name and decided they couldn’t go with “This

Evening” or “This Morning”), look for Ms. Stewart to shotgun a can of Red Bull

while standing on her head. [WABC, 7,

2:40 a.m.]

Saturday, jan. 12

 The Sci-Fi Channel-you know that channel,

it’s the perky one with the Saturn in the corner that showed that Dune miniseries and has that “psychic”

John Edward, the Crossing Over guy

who somehow contacts dead uncles by staring deeply at folks’ L.L. Bean

sweaters-just announced that it has signed Dan Aykroyd to do a paranormal talk

show five nights a week. Called Dan

Aykroyd’s Out There , it’s likely to launch sometime in the spring.

Mr. Aykroyd, one of the founding geniuses of Saturday Night Live in the 1970′s and an actor in such films as The Couch Trip, Celtic Pride and My Girl 2 , apparently possesses

something of a genius for the strange and fantastical. “Dan is amazing with

this stuff,” said Sci-Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer. “He is the most

passionate believer I’ve come across, and trust me-working at Sci-Fi for the

past couple of years, I’ve come across quite a few fanatics.” (Indeed, Sci-Fi’s

the kind of place where no one asks their colleague “if” they’re going to the Space 1999 superfan convention …. )

“You can talk to him and he will be knowledgeable about

everything from cloning to crop circles to U.F.O. landings to the most minor

genetic futuristic information imaginable,” Ms. Hammer continued.

Well, that’s better than talking about Blues Brothers 2000 , we suppose. Tonight on the Sci-Fi Channel, The

Fifth Element , a film that neither Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman or Chris

Tucker would like you to see. [SCI, 44, 9

p.m.]

Sunday, jan. 13

* Next month, Sesame Street will tackle Sept. 11 with a handful of segments that

address some of the emotions stirred by the terrorist attacks in New York and

Washington. They’re not going to be grim and specific about it-there won’t be

direct mention of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon-but they will try and

help kids sort out any feelings of confusion and concern they’ve had over the

past four months. In a Feb. 4 episode, for example, there’s going to be a

grease fire at Mr. Hooper’s store while Elmo and Maria are having lunch. The

pair will evacuate, the fire department will be called, and Elmo’s feelings of

fright will be discussed-and there will also be a firehouse tour. “We wanted to

get something out in response to 9/11, but we also were very careful about what

we did because our viewing audience is so young,” said Rosemarie Truglio, Sesame Street ‘s vice president of

research and production.

How did the preparation for the 9/11 episodes compare to Sesame Street ‘s other big sensitive

episode-you know, in 1982, when Mr. Hooper (played by actor Will Lee) went to

that big bodega in the sky? Ms. Truglio said that show was far different; the

staff had ample time to prepare. “There was so much lead time, it was done with

lots of research to make sure children understood the concept of death,” she

said.

Today on PBS Thirteen, the American Experience tackles Woodrow

Wilson. Rene Auberjonois, formerly of Benson,

tackles the voice of the ex-President. [Thirteen,

13, 9 p.m.]

Monday, jan. 14

: Wowzers, it only took a couple of

weeks for the newly “Manhattanized” Oxygen network to alienate everyone west of

the Hudson! Just a handful of days after the high holy ones at Time Warner

Cable deigned to invite the Big O into area code 212, Oxygen ran an ad in The New York Times in which headlines

from mock hayseed newspapers- Heartland

Journal, Midwest Gazette ,

etc.-decried the Oprah Winfrey/Geraldine Laybourne/Marcy Carsey/Tom Werner

women-centric network as “too hip,” “too urban” and “too sophisticated.”

Talk about speaking to Middle America! The ad sure miffed Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist

Joanne Weintraub, who blasted O2 for thinking-like a lot of city slickers

do-it’s all that.

“It thinks it’s a shot of espresso when it’s really a lukewarm

cup of General Foods International Coffee,” wrote Ms. Weintraub, who went on to

label O2′s programming as “the same old casserole with slightly more

contemporary seasoning.”

Wait-we’re confused. Is O2 a casserole or a cup of crappy coffee?

Tonight on O2, Chasing Amy . By the way, we caught Chasing Amy’s Ben Affleck on Carrie Fisher’s Oxygen interview show,

and she practically chased him off the couch, that sassy flirt. [O2, 61, 9 p.m.]

Tuesday, jan. 15

Tonight HBO runs a

repeat of Project Greenlight,

the hyper-aggravating yet strangely addictive series about a real-life guy who

gets a million bucks to make a movie for Miramax. Look out for multiple Harvey

Weinstein toadies yapping about the cinematic “process”! [HBO, 32, 11:30 p.m.]