Now that – can we say it? – world events appear to be settling
down just a bit, CNN is getting back to its pre-Sept. 11 mission: renovating
its news operation. And from the looks of it, AOL Time Warner’s news network is
trying to get a little younger.
In recent weeks, CNN has added Anderson Cooper to its American
Morning breakfast table with Paula Zahn and Jack Cafferty, and brought on MTV’s
Serena Atchul as a news correspondent. And recently The View’s Lisa Ling took a
temporary crack at hosting the departed Greta Van Sustren’s Point show at 8
Both Mr. Cooper and Ms. Atchul can safely be described as
“thirtysomething.” Ms. Ling is 28. But it’s not just an age thing. Unlike the
droves of young journalists who simply try to be mini-versions of their
starch-collared, adult counterparts, these CNN newbies share an unpretentious style,
and all three have already cultivated young followings.
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 reality series, The Mole. Ms. Atchul – 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, Breakin’ It Down With Serena. She is also a fixture
among Manhattan’s young “society”. 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 had 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. Atchul had a low-key,
33 R.P.M. style similar to that of her colleague Kurt Loder’s, and was far from
the goofy screamer/ shill type the music network is so notorious for. Ms. Ling,
too, often stands out as a calm voice of reason, even on The View.
“They have a flair about them, a real personality,” said Mr.
And it’s not just them. 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 also have a measured, dispassionate,
occasionally sharp-tongued demeanor. None of them leap off the screen or have a
kind of stentorial, anchor-clich_ command; you have to spend a 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; smart but not cutesy; attractive yet not necessarily
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 nerdy and 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 Mr. Atschul is enough of a household name that
they can guarantee an audience. Mr. Jordan himself said he hadn’t seen much of
Ms. Atchul 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 had trouble showcasing
Tucker Carlson, a promising 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
Tonight on CNN, another hot “thirtysomething,” Larry King, talks
about his weekend riding tasty half-pipes in Malibu. [CNN, 10, 9 P.M.]
Thursday, January 24
10 CNN seems to be getting close to filling the chair formerly
occupied by Ms. Van Sustren, who’s now at 10 P.M., batting behind Bill O’Reilly
and Hannity & Colmes on the Fox News Channel. Mr. Eason declined to discuss
specific candidates for the 8 P.M. slot, but said the network was “making
headway” in its effort to find a replacement for Ms. Van Sustren.
Whatever the case, it’s a tough chair: sitting across the dial
from Mr. O’Reilly, the king of cable news. It’s like getting hired to be the
backup shortstop on the Yankees. Unless something big happens, no one’s going
to be paying much attention to you.
Tonight on The O’Reilly Factor, Mr. O’Reilly dares CNN to air The
Sopranos against his mouthy juggernaut. [FNC, 46, 8 P.M.]
Friday, January 25
46 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 lb. Gorilla in TV news, now feels
like a 1600 lb. Gorilla after his tough guy tour of war country. But with Ms.
Van Sustren 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, January 26
32 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 HFP 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
Tonight on HBO, Saving Silverman, with another fetching
genius/psycho-girl, Amanda Peet. [HBO, 32, 8 P.M.]
Sunday, January 27
32 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 guerilla 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 show biz 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 pack 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, January 28
4 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/8
share for its first two weeks. The high came on the third night of the run,
Thursday, January 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 at 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
Tuesday, January 29
Break out the pretzels! It’s George W. Bush’s second State of the Union address. [ABC, CBS,
NBC, Fox, among others, 9 P.M]