Was The Daily Show Too Cool for the Emmys? … Geraldo Deserts CNBC for the Afghan Front … The Sleepiest Anchor

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

P.M.

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.

Jordan.

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

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 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

around.

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

hair….

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

A.M.]

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]